LBUSD Works Around COVID-19
By Dianne Anderson
Ammons Smith, a senior at Long Beach Unified School District, isn’t dealing with the uncertainty facing many of his peers these days.
All of his core classes are finished. He has cleared major hurdles, all set to graduate and ready to move on to bigger things, even despite the school shut down amid the coronavirus.
He said there are some online classes, and available lecture, but some teachers are more hopeful than others about this situation.
“For the most part they’re still assigning work, it’s not mandatory. They’re hoping when this all dies down that we go back to school, and points applied that we’re doing right now,” he said.
Mostly, his spare time is deep digging for whatever scholarships are available. Undeterred, he’s doing all the positive things that his mentors at the 100 Black Men of Long Beach has taught him over the years.
For college, Smith is planning for pre-law, heeding the advice of his mom and sister to pursue cognitive sciences as a minor, and he is equally excited about both studies. He’s been accepted to every university in California that he applied to, but Howard University came back with its early decision. To him, the choice was easy. Howard was his personal favorite.
Smith also has a long history of participating in Youth in Government, a national program of the YMCA. He has presented legislative bills in Sacramento.
“You go through the actual processes that the government goes through. The bills that end up passing through Youth in Government end up going to the state desk and they have a chance to become actual bills that people vote on,” he said.
Dwanna Smith, recalls when her then ten-year-old son first started with “the 100” program, he wasn’t thrilled at getting up at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings, but before long, he couldn’t wait to go.
“Now he says that he’ll always give back and always be in the program,” she said. “It’s sewn into the fabric of who he is.”
Still, she is concerned about the lack of school information as the weeks go by.
“What happens to my senior?” she asks, adding that her heart goes out for kids that do not have the early decision that Ammons received.
The SAT test is canceled indefinitely, and some students needed that test. Colleges most likely will be extended, yet some students do not know if they need the whole 180 days of instruction to complete school.
“I’m being very prayerful that things turn around, and that the country opens back up,” she said.
To stay inspired, her son hangs out in a Howard University 24 group chat, named after the year that he will graduate at the university. It’s keeping him upbeat.
“He deserves to have his accomplishments acknowledged and not just swept under the rug, I don’t want his graduation to be online,” she said. “He works hard.”
Dr. Lance Robert, president of the 100 Black Men of Long Beach, Inc., said that the group was supposed to meet up with their young men two weeks ago, but canceled because the classes are held at CSULB which is closed for COVID-19.
In the meantime, they are text messaging the young men, calling on the families, using social media. Lately, they are learning the online conference platform Zoom to help stay connected, but some kids may not have the internet.
He commended Ammons, or “A.J.” as he’s known, as a model student. The organization has watched him grow up to a fine young man with a great future.
“He’s always wanted to be a lawyer, he’s been with us since he was a tiny kid. Now he’s like a foot taller than I am,” he said.
Chris Eftychiou, the district’s spokesperson, said many unanswered questions linger statewide, but details are being worked out in partnership with county and state agencies.
He said the district is communicating with state university systems to ensure that students aren’t penalized for the pandemic.
Home learning opportunities for general and special education students started Monday, March 23. During school closures, students and parents can visit the district’s webpage to find resources specific to each school at www.lbschools.net/hlo http://www.lbschools.net/hlo
Within one week of school closure, he said the districtwide online learning platform launched and students are interacting with schools and teachers. Lessons and assignments will not be graded, but developed to support students through April 9, the day before the planned April 10 admission day holiday, and the planned spring break the following week.
In recent days, the district provided over 6,000 Chromebooks for students needing devices in addition to the existing 20,000 used Chromebooks provided to students last fall. The district is also considering hotspots for students to use the internet at home if needed, and informing parents of low-cost internet at home.
“Our best estimates are 10-12% students might lack internet access at home so we look for ways to address that,” he said.
LBUSD is the fourth largest district in the state with 72,000 students.
Over two-thirds of students live in poverty and qualify for free meals. The sites list is being revised based on need, and more families showing up with 20,000 free meals picked up daily.
Starting this past Monday, the district distributed meals at 35 sites from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m during weekdays. No paperwork is required, but children must be present to receive a meal that includes lunch and breakfast items for the next day. Meals are free to all children to age 18, and families can go to the closest meal sites even if their student isn’t enrolled at the school.
The website is by grade level with tools, such as Google classroom. Some teachers use Zoom for meetings and professional development, and combined technology.
“One of the good things that may come out of this long term is that we’re all pushed toward better use of technology for learning,” he said.
Paying attention to students’ emotional well being has been another big focus.
“School district leaders, administrators and teachers have been reaching out to families via video and email to provide advice on coping through these circumstances,” he said.
For more information, see http://www.lbschools.net/