by Sunny Morgan
Philadelphia— In cities across the country, students and teachers have been getting acclimated to the current reality that is virtual learning. While many students have adjusted well, others have had roadblocks. Many families reside in households without accessible computers or access to internet altogether. The School District of Philadelphia, like many, have programs to loan Chromebook computers to any student who needs it. The internet issue in Philadelphia, however, hasn’t been fully resolved for those who may not be able to afford it.
Comcast says they are offering their Internet Essentials program for free to “eligible new customers.” Eligible residents get 60 days of free access to the web. For those who are not eligible for programs like this, the options become slimmer. The City of Philadelphia’s other offerings include public Comcast and AT&T wifi-hotspots throughout the city; LinkPHL’s 15 Wi-Fi kiosks that are only in Center City, Wi-Fi access at School District schools, and access at Free Library of Philadelphia branches while they remain closed. All these options suggest that students who need this access have to sit outdoors with devices to try and connect.
Sitting outside in public trying to get work done when you don’t have internet at home is not ideal, so the City of Philadelphia later announced they were opening Access Centers. These centers “provide Philadelphia’s most vulnerable students with a safe space for digital learning,” according to the City of Philadelphia website. They are registration only, free of charge, and are staffed with supervisors during digital learning time. There are also meals and activities provided.
While families have explored their options and adjust to virtual learning, teachers and supporting staff are also facing a heap of adjusting themselves.
“It’s been challenging,” said Amy Miller, a counselor in the School District of Philadelphia, referring to the various new technologies implemented to teach online. “I think the teachers have been scrambling to learn all the computer learning platforms to use with the classrooms.”
First-year Resident Teacher Aishah Nashedeem, also of the School District of Philadelphia, sees the brighter side of learning online, while also acknowledging the hiccups. “It has been amazing to see the students’ faces, how excited they still were, and how determined they are to operate these new systems forced upon us,” she said.
“The things that worry me are when I see some students who can’t operate systems as quickly as others, or when I think about some students who have to share a learning space with other siblings and are often distracted by that,” said Nashedeem. “In this time, it is most important that we as teachers remain hopeful and patient with our students, while also trying to make things as engaging as possible for them.”
Teaching general education is already an adjustment, but for Philadelphia’s teachers who educate pupils with intellectual disabilities, it requires a whole other level of commitment.
“I dropped off all my kids’ reading and math workbooks, so I don’t have them doing actual work online,” said Kenyra Corbin, a 3rd through 5th grade Life Skills Support teacher in Philadelphia. “I post homework every week for them to do, but they have the workbooks [for daily work].”
Corbin says she has three other staff members in breakout rooms online that assist her, because having all her students together will distract them.
“The kids that struggle are the ones that need someone in front of them to help navigate the work. I have 20 kids, three of them have not logged on at all,” said Corbin. “The three that haven’t logged on need someone there with them. Out of the three, there’s one I haven’t made contact with.”
Corbin expressed the desire to be back in the classroom as one change that would make things easier “It’s really hard, I would love to be back in the classroom. I haven’t been doing more [to help other students] because I don’t have the time for it.”
Arts and technology teacher Miranda Thompson says she has been spending extra hours just to help students adjust.
“I am spending more time, probably 10 extra [hours] a week, just on getting lessons and activities converted and uploaded for students,” Thompson explained. “It is more challenging to get to know students, to gauge how they’re doing and how much they’re understanding.”
Thompson still sees a plus side, stating that virtual learning has allowed a lot of growth as an educator.
“I think for virtual learning to be successful we will have to continue to push ourselves and our students to find ways to engage and connect, and find new ways of learning that weren’t possible before.”