This week, Chicago Public Schools families are learning a new lesson: how remote learning works.
School buildings have been closed for four weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, and while some students have been participating in educational activities for part of that time, the state requires all school districts to have a remote learning plan in place to ensure students are learning more.
LaTanya McDade, chief education officer for Chicago Public Schools, says the district has clear goals in mind for its new remote learning plan.
“We want to keep our teachers teaching and keep our students learning,” McDade said. “We know there is no way we can replicate the educational experience that our students have in the classroom, but we also know that we have to keep engagement. We have to keep our students connected to their school communities and our remote learning plan is really seeking to do just that.”
As part of that plan, CPS distributed around 11,000 iPads and laptops to students from low-income families last week and plans to deliver another 60,000 to students this week and a further 37,000 in the near future.
McDade said she recognizes the challenges parents, and especially parents who are also educators, face when it comes to remote learning.
“As a parent I know how tough that job is, let alone trying to do that as well as educate students,” McDade said. “We are really leading this plan from a place of flexibility and quite frankly, grace, because this is uncharted territory, unprecedented times, and this is challenging for everyone.”
The state's remote learning guidelines set minimal levels of engagement for students by grade level, but the bottom line for McDade is that every student should be connected to the learning community for daily learning activities.
“We’ve established multiple ways for our students to learn, whether it be directly through lessons that are streaming virtually, whether it be through enrichment projects and even daily independent reading,” McDade said. She said the district was also prioritizing social and emotional learning amid the unprecedented turmoil brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know how important it is not just to stay connected but we have to acknowledge the challenging times that we are in and how that plays a role in our students’ ability to learn,” McDade said.
But while meeting the unprecedented challenges of the present is the most urgent task, McDade said CPS was also looking to the future.
“We are not just focused on remote learning during the time of closure but also planning ahead because we know there are going to be major implications as we go into the years to come in terms of learning loss, which is why the remote learning is so important. … But we are also thinking about when school does reopen.”
She said CPS aims to offer “robust summer learning” for students to help them catch up on lost learning time and prepare for the new year.
“We know that when students return we have to have a strong re-entry plan to support all of our students, both those who are engaging through remote learning as well as those who may be non-digital and have not had the same level of access,” McDade said.