By Jordan McBride
With Governor Pritzker ordering all schools to convert to remote learning at the end of March, Johnson County school districts have had to adjust to this unprecedented request. Despite facing logistical challenges and complications on a large scale, faculty, staff and administrators are making sure students have everything they need to be successful during the shutdown.
Goreville students are no stranger to a more connected learning environment. “We have been a 1:1 Technology School District for five years now”, Goreville Superintendent Steve Webb said. “Our students are very familiar with utilizing… online platforms that many other schools are just now learning to use”. In Goreville schools, all K-3 students have iPads assigned to them already, and for grades 4-12, students are issued Chromebooks, lightweight and cheap web-connected laptops optimized for productivity and education. Webb said students have been allowed to take those devices, which are usually kept at the school, home as necessary during the shutdown.
“Every school day, each teacher checks into our online teacher page and then to their Google Classroom or Class Dojo… to roll call their students and provide the necessary communication and instruction” Webb explained. “Most of all, our teachers are able to interact with their student’s parents and to remind [them] that they love them and miss them and are looking forward to being back in school… I have seen our teachers make videos of themselves reading books, doing science projects, taking field trips around their farms and all kinds of different learning opportunities for their kids. Our teachers have really stepped up to embrace the fact that we have to make the best of a bad situation”.
Getting technology into students hands and making sure they are comfortable with the devices and applications they need to learn from home is one thing, but in a rural district where some students do not have access to broadband internet at home, there are other challenges. Webb explained the districts approach to students who do not have internet access readily available, “Last year, we teamed up with Kajeet which is a provider of high-speed internet access for students and checked out several of these devices to the kids who needed them before they left for the closure. These Kajeet devices are hotspots that are monitored and filtered through an administrative portal so we know what the kids are using them for”. Alternatively, students who do not check out one of these devices, or that simply need a faster or more reliable connection have access to filtered, fiber-optic internet through the school’s Wi-Fi network, which is accessible from the parking lot.
While the classroom portion of school often gets the most attention during a closure, other facets of school life are equally important, and Goreville schools are taking measures to make sure their students are cared for holistically during this crisis. “Our cafeteria supervisor, Joni Foster has worked extremely hard to make sure our students have meals and an opportunity to get some proper nutrition during the closure. She and her other cafeteria workers have just really turned it up a notch to get the food to the kids. The bus drivers taking the meals to the kids… are to be commended as well. It is tough to go into the neighborhoods and see our students and not be emotional about missing them, but I have heard from several parents how much their kids love seeing the buses coming and it brings a bit of normalcy back into their lives”.
“I am so proud of the way our parents, teachers, principals, and supporting staff have stepped up to make the best of an awful situation” Webb said. “We love and miss our students and look forward to the day we can all be back together. Thank you all for your support”.