With school districts throughout Northern New Mexico finalizing their plans for continuous learning this week, concerns are being raised about how some students who already experience inequities in education could fall behind.
Española School District’s continuous learning plan, which began in full on Tuesday, provides offline and online resources. Teachers are not expected to hold online classes, but must provide a weekly plan covering the next five weeks. The five-week plan runs until May 15.
The online element, for students with access to devices and to the internet, uses virtual programs including Google Classroom, Edgenuity and Synergy, as well as iStation for elementary school students.
There is also an offline program for students who cannot access the technology. This includes paper packets dropped off with meal delivery. Students return completed packets either by sending pictures to teachers, or over the phone.
Grades for Española students will be pass/fail based on participation.
The Española plan focuses on reaching out individually to seniors and ensuring that everyone is on track for graduation.
All teachers with the Española School District must keep a communication log of all contact with every student, and are expecting to communicate with every student weekly.
McCurdy Charter School is offering a combination of online and offline programs, said Director Sarah Tario.
Like Española, McCurdy will have pass/fail grades for the fourth quarter, based on active participation. They started regular classes April 6. McCurdy is offering virtual, scheduled online classes through Google Classroom and Zoom, with every class every school day.
For students without internet access, the school is providing offline work through grab-and-go distribution, and has provided Chromebooks to every student who needs one.
Tario also emphasized other areas of ongoing learning outside of school, such as learning to cook with family, or how to manage free time.
“The building and campus is closed,” Tario said, “But we’re doing everything we can to keep loving learning.”
The Pojoaque School District is also offering virtual class hours and office hours.
Pojoaque, having ordered 1,300 Chromebooks, is distributing devices to cover all students, though Adams said that process could take weeks. She said half of Pojoaque students do not have access to a device.
“A lot of times, our families have a device,” Adams said. “But, mom is working from home, dad is working from home, and brothers and sisters are trying to work from home. So, even though they might have a device in the home, they don’t have enough to help everyone.”
The Pojoaque district is not offering any paper materials for students without internet access. Instead, those students will be given work on jump drives to complete with their Chromebooks, and will exchange completed work for a new jump drive, an exchange they plan to start this week.
“Our biggest challenge is with connectivity,” said Adams. “Not just with our students, but with our staff.”
Unlike Española and McCurdy, Pojoaque is not offering pass/fail grades. Instead, they are doubling grades from the third quarter to use for fourth quarter grades, which can be improved but will not worsen, though the third quarter was cut a week short.
“Our goal is to make sure that students improve on what they’ve already been taught,” Adams said. “Get the kids solid in what they have been taught this year, and come back ready to learn.”
But much of their program is still self-guided. For example, middle school students are given “bingo cards” and have to complete a “bingo” each week that incorporates every subject.
Around the state, there is concern about how these plans will affect students.
Transform Education New Mexico sent an open letter to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and to the Public Education Department calling for the establishment of a Coronavirus Education Task Force.
“No matter how well school districts and the Public Education Department respond, we can anticipate that a significant number of students will fall behind educationally while their schools are closed,” the letter read. “This group may include, but certainly is not limited to, preschoolers, students in the early elementary grades, students with disabilities, English language learners, students who are homeless or in foster care, and all at-risk students throughout the age spectrum.”
Transform Education Director Charles Goodmacher said that while he has not seen anything from the plans that is concerning, he wants to ensure that people outside of state government are involved in the process.
“We have no complaints about the PED’s efforts so far, or the governor’s office,” Goodmacher said. “We applaud them for what they’ve done so far. We just think that, the path forward out of this crisis, the opportunity here to put equity at the center of everything going forward is really important.”
Goodmacher’s biggest concern is that, with varying numbers of students having access to the internet or to devices, not everyone will benefit equally from the continuous learning plans.
“Most districts are doing a really good job of trying to address all of these access-type issues,” he said. “But many of them lack the funds to ensure that 100 percent have that access.”
Public Education Department Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment said that the Department has reviewed 245 continuous learning plans from districts and charter schools as of Monday afternoon.
The full continuous learning plan for every district in New Mexico will be posted to the department’s website.
“It’s important that our students know that we’re here,” said Adams. “We’re here for opportunities to learn. We’re here for support. We want everybody to stay healthy and safe. We’re going to work through this together, and we’re going to come back and be ready to go.”