Tech Ready S.B. Schools Adapt to Covid Crisis
By Dianne Anderson
No one really imagined the coronavirus impact of recent weeks, but some local educators were prepared far ahead of the pandemic to give their students an academic edge.
Some schools already had the right technology at their fingertips, and simply needed to put some last-minute moves into motion.
Dwaine Radden Sr., CEO of the PAL Center, said their charter school has utilized Edmentum for years, a curriculum program through a Zoom-based software for their regular Friday classes.
Adapting to the pandemic would have been very difficult without it. He said they didn’t have to start from scratch, just expand the current model to five days a week.
Before the official shutdown, he staffed a committee, planned home visits, sent out a survey to determine which students didn’t have a Chromebook. Students without access received school assignment packets. Staff worked to get them a hotspot and Chromebooks by the following week.
Under their system, students not only show up for the class on time similar to a seat based class, but they also have bells, and a dress code.
No pajamas or pink bug slippers allowed.
“Even in a pandemic or any crisis, we must hold to our rules and regulations. We can’t get away from the structure. This is what we need right now,” he said.
Currently, they have 367 enrolled at their two campuses, a middle and high school. Pal Center is a charter school authorized by San Bernardino City Unified School District.
They also serve massive amounts of food. Recently, they opened their third location by Community Hospital of San Bernardino, averaging well over 50,000 meals per month, about 2,500 meals per day, five days a week. Some people drive up, and some walk in.
“You’ve got four mothers in the car,” he said. “We hand them the bags that will feed their households. The reason they’re carpooling is that some can’t get there.”
When Radden took over as CEO of the school four years ago, technology was a priority. If needed, students could download the app and do their homework on their smartphone. Before the pandemic, about 75% of students had internet access. Those that didn’t have access received a free hotspot.
He feels their distance learning approach is a dynamic classroom.
“They have bells, they’re in session for 45 minutes. You stay in that class for 45 minutes, and you log in to your science class for 45 minutes. You get a lunch break and log back in,” he said.
Teachers have full control with real-life class monitors to make sure students are paying attention.
“If they misbehave or if they’re not dressed appropriately, we block them out and call the parent,” he said. “You can see them and the parent can see you.”
Principal Michelle Cleveland of Serrano Middle School also believes her school was in a good place to make the transition to the technology side when local schools closed down. Serrano Middle School is part of the San Bernardino Unified School District.
Cleveland has served as an administrator there since 2011, and said their school has been on a technology journey for years. Early on, through federal funding, they were able to buy enough iPads to go one to one across the campus five years ago.
Since then, they have continued to prioritize technology. Students checked out iPads like textbooks, and when her students left campus on March 13, they had everything they needed.
“We were in a great position to communicate with our kids, to check on them to reach out and provide those pieces,” she said.
They had a school-wide Google classroom already in use to run their intervention programs, and students had prior access. She was able to keep parents and students informed and leave messages at each phase.
“We are very fortunate that we were thoughtful in making sure our kids had access to technology during this past four to five years,” said Cleveland, who is the principal to 925 students, and also homeschooling her young daughter.
When she first heard of the shutdown, she recalls how she has seen so many crises at varying levels over the years. She knew they had to move through the current situation.
She believes that schools focused on technology are poised to play a big part in student success in the months and years ahead. She commended Serrano’s technology coach who helped clear the path.
“We have Google forum. Kids or parents can let us know if their charger isn’t working, or if something is going on with the iPad. He meets parents at a central location once a week, and changes devices,” she said.
If students are to survive community college, private college or the state college systems, they must master technology, but she said so many brilliant kids from the community become intimidated because they feel they can’t compete with students coming from more affluent districts.
Even during this crisis, she believes students and the education system will become stronger.
Eventually, they will go back to school. Experts in the field will be called upon heavily in the first weeks to a month to help students catch up to return to their traditional classrooms.
“We can get through this, there are decisions to be made,” she said. “There will be challenges, but we have the ability and have the expertise in the staff to figure it out.”