Photo courtesy of Chris Pruitt
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
As the first day of school approaches for school systems nationwide, Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Tony Reddick specified the plan for students and faculty moving forward.
Gadsden City Schools will begin studies on August 17 via remote instruction.
Contrary to speculation that remote instruction will only last nine weeks, due to the seriousness of COVID-19 and the Gadsden City Board of Education’s efforts to preserve the safety of its students and staff, remote instruction will continue until further notice. Reddick and the GCBOE will continue to assess the situation as the year progresses to deem what is appropriate.
“Remote will last until we determine it’s safe to bring kids back in, and here is the reason for that: we don’t know whether COVID’s going to shut us down again or not, or when it’s going to happen,” said Reddick. “We’ve invested a tremendous amount of money, time, energy and civil work in trying to ensure that our schools are safe, sanitized, protected from outside elements and that the air in the classroom is safe. We’ve bought devices to kill the germs in the air [for our] air conditioning units. We’ve provided all kinds of things for our teachers’ safety and our students’ safety for when they come back.”
For those who are skeptical or uncertain, Reddick clarified the difference between remote learning and virtual learning. While some individuals have been using the terms “remote” and “virtual” interchangeably, the two terms actually refer to different methods of instruction.
Remote learning is complete teacher-student interaction via web technology. Gadsden City’s remote learning is interactive between teachers and students, designed for teachers to teach in their classrooms to students listening at a remote location, but learning in real-time as a camera records the lessons live. Teachers will communicate directly with students who are online.
Reddick compared Gadsden City’s remote learning to a Zoom meeting, with students having direct contact with their teachers just as if they were sitting in their classrooms. Likewise, there are multiple options for students to receive instruction throughout the day. Reddick noted that the lessons will be downloaded on students’ Chromebooks so that they can review the lessons again at a later time.
“When our teachers are delivering remote instruction, they are literally face-to-face with their students, except it’s through a computer screen as opposed to students being in the classroom,” said Reddick.
While remote learning is teacher-led education, virtual learning is student-led education. Gadsden City Schools have provided virtual education for several years through the Odysseyware program, where students are assigned modules to complete in various subject areas. Students are given a time frame to complete the modules and work independently.
As opposed to being in school, students who choose virtual education work at their own pace and self-direct their studies. For students who are driven and motivated, virtual education is successful, but for those who tend to procrastinate, it can prove challenging.
“If managed properly, virtual instruction is good because it’s rigorous,” said Reddick. “Students can always call a teacher or someone and ask for some assistance with it, but pretty much they’re working independently at their own pace.”
Regardless of when students return to face-to-face instruction at their respective schools, remote learning will be provided for the remainder of the school year for students who feel uncomfortable returning to an in-person scenario.
“Some parents opted for [remote learning all year],” said Reddick. “The majority of our parents actually requested remote instruction, and there are some who requested face-to-face [when surveyed]. We are going to continue with remote instruction even when schools are open for face-to-face instruction, because there will be some parents out of desire or necessity who will want the child to continue learning remotely. So, remote learning is not going anywhere.”
In addition, Reddick explained that beginning school remotely allows teachers and students alike to become acclimated and skilled in the educational method, preparing them for future potential situations. If the students return to face-to-face instruction only to switch back to remote instruction, both teachers and students will be well-equipped with the knowledge and resources to commence instruction successfully. Reddick also said that the fall semester will not resemble the spring semester, when schools were caught off guard by the pandemic. This semester, students and teachers both will be prepared.
Part of the preparation includes the technology necessary for students to learn remotely. Each child in the Gadsden City School System that indicated he or she needed a computer will receive a Chromebook, according to the survey parents completed. Students who need WiFi will be provided with hotspots or MiFi, a device that goes through a local server that allows students to have their own personal WiFi connection.
Face-to-face instruction opens an entire realm of possibilities regarding the coronavirus. Reddick emphasized teachers are being trained on how to conduct their responsibilities while implementing new regulations designed to protect themselves and students. Social distancing in respective classrooms, encouraging mask-wearing (as well as provided masks for those who need them) and disinfecting classrooms frequently are all topics that teachers will discuss as they prepare themselves for the day students do return to the physical classroom.
Reddick painted a portrait of the numerous questions that arise regarding face-to-face instruction during the pandemic, all of which he and board members are considering before allowing students to return to “normal” school. Though a safe plan for students is in place, a plan for teachers to interact face-to-face with students safely exists as well.
“We do have a safe return plan for our employees, as well as our students, and some options for full-time staff or whoever doesn’t feel comfortable about coming back to work,” said Reddick. “The family-first coronavirus response pack may expand medical leave for those teachers who don’t feel comfortable coming back. The thing I want people to appreciate, realize and understand is that just because students are coming back to school doesn’t mean teachers are willing to stay.
“Right now, I’ve got all our teachers and staff coming back to school because they’ll be coming back to environments that are, in their minds, safe, and they should be, in their minds, safe, because they will be safe. But as soon as we start letting students come back, a little anxiety starts to set in because nobody knows whether or not those students are well.”
Reddick offered encouragement to parents, students and teachers, reminding them that this is a community effort to protect the safety and health of the faculty and youth involved in Gadsden City Schools. He commended the teachers who are dedicated to ensuring that Gadsden City students continue receiving quality instruction, and those who work diligently to preserve the education and well-being of their students. He reminded the public that loss of instruction can be recovered, but loss of life is irreversible.
“The most important thing [that I would like people to know] is that we do understand and appreciate their concerns and their desires as far as instruction is concerned,” said Reddick. “We want them to understand that with remote instruction, it’s going to be conducted as if the kids are sitting right there in the classroom with the teacher. We just have to get our parents and other stakeholders to understand that this is a really tough decision to make.
“It’s not going to be pleasing to everybody, but as long as we’re putting our kids’ safety as our top priority then we’re comfortable with it. We’ll try to get the kids back in the classrooms before the teachers as quickly as we can, and the best way to be able to do that is to ensure the teachers that they too are going to be safe when students return. It’s a tough call, but I feel like we’re making the right one right now.”