Will online learning improve this fall for CA elementary schools? Here's what teachers, officials say

We talked to Bay Area teachers and school officials about virtual learning struggles and what they're doing to make classwork more robust this fall.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In a few days or weeks, instead of walking to school, children will be, once again, stuck at home learning virtually as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Many of you worry about the uncertainties your children now face. Is online learning enough and how has it improved? This is what teachers are saying and what schools are doing to make it more robust.

BUILDING A BETTER BAY AREA: Back to School

School is a big part of life: learning new concepts, forming new friendships, and gaining independence.

For a brief period we thought everything was going as planned. Until it wasn't.

On July 21, ABC7 News reported on California's sobering milestone -- 400,000 cases of COVID-19.

Students, teachers and parents had to face the grim reality as more school districts opted for virtual learning in the fall due to increasing numbers of COVID-19.

"A lot of sadness about it and frustration," expressed Olivia Udovic, an Oakland teacher.

Yet she pauses as she recalls the first day of kindergarten last year. "It's one of my favorite days of the schools year as a teacher. Everything is new, they've got their hair perfectly combed. There's so much nervousness and excitement among everybody, teachers, parents, students alike," added Udovic.

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When she was forced to teach online last April, Udovic already had a relationship with her students and knew how to engage them. She knows nothing about her new students.

"Your classroom is going to be in your home and I will be your teacher, but your caregiver is going to have to play a very different role than they would normally," she said.

We spoke to San Francisco parents about the role parents will now have to play in their child's education.

"I am lucky enough to work from home, my husband is working from home, so we can try to be available to help as much as we can, but I can't do high school math," said Linday, who did not want to give out her last name.

Her feelings are echoed by other parents throughout the Bay Area. She has three daughters. One of them, Sophia, will start high school online.

"I was hoping to meet new people and, through Zoom, that's very hard and, through distance learning, that's harder," expressed Sophia.

With only a few days before the start of classes, parents want to know if the online experience has improved since March when schools went on lockdown.

Here's the short answer:

"I would say we are definitely much more prepared than we were in March," assured Ellen DiGiacomo, the director of information technology at Leadership Public Charter Schools. We caught up with her in a meeting with her staff.

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Last March, schools mostly used asynchronous learning, which uses online channels like Google Classroom, Blogs and YouTube without real time interaction.

"The teacher assigns assignments to all the students here and then the students get the assignments and then they post back to the classroom. It's not live and it's whenever they can do the work," said DiGiacomo.

Schools are now committed to do more synchronous learning, such as Google Meet and Zoom, in real time. "We as the teachers see the students, the students see us and everybody has a chance to share," she explained.

Teachers will also be able to use document cameras commonly known as Elmos.

"You could be sitting at a desk, especially a math problem, and write out that math problem and the students can see you doing this live," said one of DiGiacomo's staff members.

Even though things seem to be coming together, our Oakland kindergarten teacher, Olivia Udovic, worries her incoming students won't have enough tablets to begin the year.

School districts have invested heavily in purchasing tablets and Chromebooks, but not every family is prepared to deal with the intricacies of technology.

"The analogy I've made is that if I had my 27 kids in my class and I said, well I've got pencils for you and I'll get you a pencil in October. I don't know how to think about that aspect of the kids who will be unable to participate," says Udovic.

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