On Mar. 17 Governor Laura Kelly, in conjunction with the Kansas State Board of Education announced that all public schools were to be closed for the remainder of the school year and class were to be held remotely. Subsequently, heads turned to the leaders of our district asking one question: “what now?”
“My first thought was ‘oh no’. My heart hurt for all the spring events our students would miss out on. That was quickly replaced by determination. If anyone can handle this it will be our staff, our students, and our community,” high school assistant principal, Mrs. Sherri Monhollon said.
Preparing for virtual learning
This was the start of the district’s take on virtual learning for all students. On the high school level, the transition was simpler because of the one to one IPad ratio and the student utilization of Canvas. But tackling this new way of learning required heavy collaboration, most of which was with the district’s IT Department who had geared up for this outcome prior to it being announced.
“The IT Department anticipated that schools would close, so we were already preparing devices and systems ready for continuous learning,…” head of the IT Department, Blair Anderson said. “Luckily, we didn’t have to implement or change anything major to get ready for virtual learning. We modified some iPad policies and tweaked the filters a bit but otherwise, our systems were set up to handle this. The biggest obstacle was finding the best way to provide technical support to users, which we are doing through zoom…IT and curriculum work together on a daily basis, so with the help from KSDE, we put together a plan for the district and worked together to roll this out. Building administrators and their staff played an integral part in helping get devices out to students at the middle school and the elementary schools,”
Next administration and the IT department had to tackle a more demanding issue that wasn’t so straightforward, students and their access to the internet. The first approach was to order hotspots for students to rent from the district, but with companies around the world having to adjust to drastic measures the order of 50 hotspots faced some complications.
“The district originally purchased mobile hotspots to distribute to families throughout the community. Unfortunately, the ship date on those hotspots keeps getting pushed back and are possibly not arriving until May,” Mrs. Mohnollon said.
Thus the IT department resorted to relying on “external access points” within the district for students to access free Wifi. On Mar. 27 the district announced that these “external access points” are located at the district bus barn and transportation department, and at Berryton Elementary School.
“For several years, we have had an external access point mounted on the TB&G (bus barn) building to provide wireless for bus diagnostics. We deployed an additional external access point at Berryton Elementary to help support students who have limited Internet options,” Anderson said.
Students without internet access are able to visit these sites and use Wifi whenever they need, but are advised to visit them at the beginning of the week to turn in last week’s assignments and download the current week’s assignments to work on. Although, some students are noticing experiencing some technical barriers when it comes to having access to assignments and turning in assignments.
Sophomore Pierce Gutierrez does have access to the internet but has experienced some issues with the function of science labs, assignments not submitting, and videos not loading at home. According to Gutierrez, he has used the district’s new external internet access points and thinks that they are only helpful to a certain extent.
“[Having] the ability to upload your assignments that week is great, but unfortunately all the teachers have assignment due dates on different times so meaning you have to take multiple trips,” he said.
Senior Makenna Orton has not used the external access points but has similar experiences as Gutierrez with assignments being due in the middle of the week that require access for an extended period of time and Zoom sessions that are difficult to keep track of.
“ AP calculus assignments take the longest for me, so they end up being the hardest to keep up with. My college bio class has earlier deadlines, but I feel like that helps me get things done faster…One thing that’s tricky is keeping track of all the zoom mtg invitations because some teachers send them out every week and it’s different every week, while others have one that repeats so I have to search through emails for the right invite info,” Orton said.
If students are having difficulty accessing certain content for virtual learning, they are advised to communicate with their teachers and contact an administrator, Mrs. Shannon O’Connor, Mrs. Leslie Weishaar, or the IT department via email to find solutions.
“Everyone is working non-stop to make sure staff and students have the resources they need for continuous learning. We appreciate everyone being flexible and supportive during this time,” Anderson said.