TAMPA, Fla. — Students and teachers in Hillsborough County will start the school year with one full week of remote learning, or eLearning. It's called Smart Start Week, and teachers will be issuing assignments and taking daily attendance.
Administrators say it's absolutely critical that all students, even those who will return to brick-and-mortar schools next week, are logged on and do not miss anything for these first few days.
School leaders also say Smart Start Week is an excellent way to become comfortable with Canvas and Edgenuity.
Canvas is the district's new Learning Management System, and it’s what all teachers will be using for the entire school year, regardless of whether or not students will be continuing with eLearning or moving on to in-person classes. Parents can also lean on the Canvas Student Guide and the Canvas Family Guide for help.
Some families reported issues connecting to Canvas on Monday. The district explained they had pockets of connectivity and lagging issues early in the morning, but Canvas acted fast to fix loading delays. Parents remind others to be patient as students and teachers work through changes this new school semester.
"All these little things we kind of take for granted when we drop our kid off at school and forget about, these are things that we have the opportunity in the next three, four, five days to make sure that when we hit next Monday and we go full tilt, that we are all ready to go forward and make this the most successful and best teaching environment for our students," said Hillsborough County Council PTA President Frank Reyes.
A parent also reported to ABC Action News a disruptive moment in her daughter's class. The parent explained someone spouted expletives in a zoom class, and a teacher had to cut the call to stop it. The district explained the teacher may have been trying to get the class moving because of the Canvas delays and let everyone on the call, where generally they would check a student roster first.
School leaders also said this week is a good way to get a proper base of eLearning skills.
"There is the chance that your school may be affected by a case of COVID-19 and your child will have to be quarantined," school leaders said on the district's website. "If that’s the case, Smart Start Week will provide them with a strong eLearning base so they can transition seamlessly from brick and mortar to eLearning if the need arises."
They said everyone will still be held to the same standards as any first week of school.
"Even though we will be learning virtually, the expectation of Smart Start week is the same as any other first week of school," school leaders said on the district's website. "There will be assignments and there will be learning. Missing this week is just like missing the entire first week of school."
This comes as some parents are leaning on eLearning day camps to assist with childcare during this first week and beyond. For a fee that is typically a few hundred dollars a week, children can complete eLearning in a smaller environment.
Shannon Lee just resigned from the Hillsborough County School District a few weeks ago, leaving her job as a certified teacher and reading coach. She is now launching Lee's Learning Loft as a means to help parents and kids through the eLearning process.
"It's not going to be busywork," Lee said. "It's going to be actual instruction that these teachers are expected to provide. These teachers are being evaluated."
At Lee's Learning Loft, face masks will be required and she will have no more than 17 children at once, ranging from second through 10th grade. She said the goal is to offer childcare for essential workers and those families that prefer their child receive support from a certified teacher during eLearning.
At Shinobi School in Temple Terrace, staff is running distance learning camps. Students get their temperature checked on arrival, wear masks, and are able to socially distance while getting help through the eLearning process from tutors. In their downtime, students are able to play or exercise in the ninja academy's facilities.
“We’re just trying to help the community as much as we can," said co-owner Shinobi Poli. "I feel like with the amount of space we’re able to offer people and the amount of attention, I feel like this is a great fit for parents who don’t have an alternative and are essential workers right now.”
Some Tampa Bay area churches are also offering eLearning Day Camps to help parents bridge the gap for childcare.
Pastor Mike Meadowcroft with ASAP Church in Tampa is helping lead one of those camps. Face masks are not required for children who attend, but staff will be completing temperature checks and sanitizing.
Meadowcroft said it's critical that the community helps provide places families can lean on for childcare during this time.
"We're here to support them all the way through this whole process," Meadowcroft said. "Who knows how long this is actually going to be. But during this time of uncertainty, they can have one thing really certain in their life, which is their kids' education is going to get done."
Teachers are already certified by the state to have children in their care and churches are already allowed to host day camps.
However, families should check and ensure any eLearning facility is licensed by their local county for childcare prior to signing up.