Unless the pandemic numbers improve dramatically, the next school year is likely to begin with distance learning only, no kids or teachers on campus.
Broward County Public Schools superintendent Robert Runcie has already recommended remote learning for at least the first quarter, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho says that he won’t allow schools to physically open until the he Covid19 positivity rates are below 10% and heading toward 5%.
That has left many parents and teachers thinking of ways to instill some face-to-face learning into the equation, to reinforce distance learning.
Summyr Siegel has the advantage of being a retired teacher, so she can help her own kids with her expertise. For everyone else, Siegel set up a Facebook group last week called Matching Students With Teachers Broward. It already has 1,700 members, and similar groups have formed in Kendall, Brickell, and North Miami.
“It’s for people who are choosing not to do the e-learning, to help them find a family who can together and build those little pods of learning where their children can socialize and learn at the same time,” Siegel said. “It’s parents looking for teachers, parents looking for other families, teachers looking for parents to help them tutor, retired teachers who are willing to help.”
Melissa Schreiber is a first-grade teacher. When school starts, she will be teaching her class, and then more kids after school.
“I'm gonna be working with two different families in one of their houses after my work day is done for a few hours every day to just reinforce skills that would be missed during the school day and to also make sure they’re keeping on track with their online learning,” Schreiber said.
Schreiber, like every educator, says there’s no substitute for face-to-face teaching, but also says she would not be comfortable going back to the classroom with the current state of the pandemic, noting that it’s just not safe yet.
Florida's coronavirus outbreak forced the school districts to dive head-first into distance learning last spring, with no time to thoroughly train teachers or to prepare parents.
“And it was a disaster, some of the teachers were just basically posting programs on the internet and giving deadlines and that was it,” said Rod Velez, a parent who has an 8th grader and a 4th grader.
Velez says he’s setting up his house to safely accommodate a small group of kids from his son’s Cub Scout troop to learn together, from a teacher, in person.
Kelly Dweck told us she’s making a similar arrangement with parents in her neighborhood.
“Just like four kids in the group,” Dweck said, explaining that the idea is to give kids socialization time and in-person instruction while keeping the environment as safe as possible.
“At the end of the day, we all want what’s best for our kids which is education, and I’m gonna do it whichever way I need to,” Velez said.
For parents who can afford it, that means hiring teachers to improve the online learning experience. The rates range widely depending on how many students are involved, how many days a week the teacher is expected to be there, and the level of instruction. Right now, it’s a seller’s market. Teachers are in demand.
“I do know a handful personally, teachers who are taking a year leave, and they are going into individual family homes to teach those small groups during the day,” Siegel said.
The school districts are keenly aware of the shortcomings of distance learning. Each of them are promising to improve it, saying they’ve learned a lot from the experience they’ve already had.