By Stefanie Jackson – At least 145 Accomack public school students are ready to give up on 100% virtual learning barely one month into the new school year, Assistant Superintendent Rhonda Hall reported to the school board Oct. 6.
“I think parents are finding out that the virtual (learning) is not what they thought it was going to be. I think our students are finding that out,” Hall said.
Accomack students in the virtual learning program spend a full day up to five times a week doing school work, just like they would if there were no COVID-19 pandemic and they were full-time students attending classes in person.
Most virtual students have been issued Google Chromebook laptops and must have reliable internet access to complete their work.
Virtual students receive instruction through educational videos made by their teachers or from other sources. Some of the videos are interactive. Students also have the option to receive live instruction via Zoom, a video conferencing app.
Virtual students type answers to writing prompts, complete worksheets online using text, drawing, and graphics tools, and upload photos or videos of assignments written or drawn by hand.
The rush over the summer to complete Accomack’s Return to Learn plan didn’t allow time to schedule training for students and parents to learn the new apps and technology before the first day of school.
But teachers and school staff have been available to help parents and students by phone, text message, email, and video conferencing, and tech-support workshops have been held at individual Accomack schools.
Nonetheless, Hall warned school board members that they may be receiving phone calls from parents wanting to remove their children from the virtual learning program after interim reports are sent home this week.
There are about 75 Accomack elementary school students on a “waiting list” for the hybrid learning program, which includes two days a week of face-to-face instruction. The numbers of students on the waiting list for each elementary school are: Accawmacke, 20; Chincoteague, six; Kegotank, 23; Metompkin, 21; and Pungoteague, three.
There are approximately 70 Accomack middle and high school students on the waiting list. The numbers for each school are: Arcadia High,12; Arcadia Middle, between 40 and 58; and Nandua Middle, 11. Hall did not report a number for Nandua High School.
She said the schools have enough space to accept more hybrid students and maintain social distancing.
But there aren’t enough bus drivers to transport the students to school, Finance Director Beth Onley said.
Accomack schools have 22 fewer bus drivers this year. Many of the bus drivers were older employees who retired. The school division is advertising to fill the vacant positions.
The bus situation is further complicated by the regionalization of self-contained special education programs, meaning some students are bused farther to school.
For example, some students are being bused from Captains Cove to Nandua middle or high school.
Accomack and Northampton are the only school divisions out of 15 in the Tidewater region that are busing students in fourth grade or higher.
Accomack ranked 17 out of 132 Virginia school divisions for the number of students participating in in-person learning, Onley said.
School board vice chairman Ronnie Holden wants to “minimize the lag” in education that many students have been experiencing since schools closed in mid-March.
That educational lag is reflected in student test scores.
Hall said children in kindergarten through third grade have been taking PALS (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening) tests and the results are “not good.”
“We’ve got to try to … provide a way to help these students, because they’re not learning like they should,” Holden said.
He is hopeful that Accomack will be able to allow all students back to school for face-to-face instruction within six months.