Chromebooks keep students online

Photo by Gary Kohatsu – Teacher’s assistant Jenny Lemus loads a chromebook into a vehicle last week as 153rd Street School was one of 14 Gardena schools in LAUSD District 8 to provide the devices for online instruction.

By Gary Kohatsu

From 9 a.m. to approximately 1 p.m. on April 1, cars lined up and entered the 153rd Street playgrounds. It was the most parental activity at the school in two weeks, when every school in the LAUSD shut down its campuses due to the coronavirus outbreak.

As teachers and students have moved to online instruction, about 90 parents arrived at the Gardena school to receive chromebooks for their children. The chromebooks are laptop-style computers with a Google-based operating system.

“Parents had to pre-register for a chromebook,” Principal Helen Choi said. Slightly more than 50 percent of Choi’s students in grades 3rd to 5th received devices.

Mike Romero, administrator for Local District South, which includes Gardena’s 14 public schools, told the Los Angeles Times that by April 3, all of district schools will have distributed their laptops.

District 8 officials said they wanted to get the laptops in the hands of their students before the spring break, which is this week.

Some students were given laptops before the school lockdown, according to Terry Ball, District 8 interim community of schools administrator, told the GVN last Friday.

“The two weeks (since the school shutdown), students received school work assignments,” Ball said. “This week (March 30 to April 3), begins distant learning for the students.”

The key is maintaining continuity in the lessons provided by teachers.

“We are asking teachers to hold two lessons per week, per course,” Ball said. “All teachers now have three one-hour a week office hours.”

Since students who borrow laptops might not have internet service at home, they were given hotspot access to Wifi for their computers.

“The hotspots are very limited now,” Ball said. “We’ll have more following the spring break. Some internet providers, such as Spectrum, are offering discounts at this time.”

Since online learning at the elementary and middle-school levels is breaking new ground, school officials have had to make unusual adjustments, often on the fly.

“I’m extremely impressed with the administrator teams and teachers, rallying around this, my feeling is that there is strong sense of community at work,” Ball said. “Everyone is conscientious about the students. If there is a silver lining (in this pandemic), that may be it.”

Student grading will be a challenge for administrators, Ball acknowledged.

“A decision on the grades will be handled by the LAUSD superintendent (Austin Beutner),” Ball said.  “We are asking teachers to assess their students. No student grades will go down (if they complete their online work), but we also need to hold students accountable. These are extenuating circumstances, so we’ll see how this works.”

Beutner has only declared the shutdown of LAUSD schools until May 1. As the weeks of coronavirus mandates, such as social distancing, continue, schools could see distant learning carry on through the end of the school year in June, Ball said.

Besides the laptop distribution, LAUSD has implemented the Grab-and-Go meal program during the coronavirus outbreak.

Peary Middle School is the designated sight for the local food distribution, which includes two meals — breakfast and lunch, Ball said.

“This program is serving close to 4,000 people and there are no signups,” Ball said.  “There are people on the front line, working super hard while also keeping it safe. We commend them for their compassion and work ethic.”

Initially, the meal program saw a lot of staff workers distributing the bags of food. But since many have gone back to teaching now that distant-learning has begun, Ball said that the meal program is operated by a mix of LAUSD staff, Beyond the Bell (an afterschool program) staff and the Red Cross.

Hours for the grab-and-go food program are 8 to 11 a.m. at Peary Middle School  from Monday to Friday.

The meals program will continue indefinitely.–