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Home Education How the School Closure Has Changed this Final Semester for AACPS Students

How the School Closure Has Changed this Final Semester for AACPS Students

“Building the plane as we’re flying it.” That’s how superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Dr. George Arlotto, has described the process of adapting education during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a challenge that goes beyond merely providing academic lessons that students can do remotely—AACPS and other school systems across Maryland and the rest of the country have had to figure out how they can administer exams, provide fair grading, bridge opportunity gaps, provide meals for underserved students, counsel students going through crisis, and celebrate the accomplishments of 2020’s graduating seniors. And they’ve had to make all these adjustments with no advance planning.

Now two months into the pandemic, some problems are still unsolved and some questions about the future remain. And some families of students might still find themselves wondering why—why did the Maryland Department of Education or the AACPS Board of Education make the decisions they did, or why are students expected to learn the way they are? More importantly, what can families expect in the weeks or even months to come?

Let’s take a look…

How did we get to where we are now?
When schools first closed in March, nobody knew for certain whether they would be closed for a couple of weeks or for a longer period. During those initial two weeks, AACPS provided activities and lessons online and on its television channel to keep children engaged; meanwhile, behind the scenes, leaders started to consider the school system’s role if the closure had to last longer than its initial two weeks.

“Whether buildings remained open or closed, we continued to build in what resources we had available,” explains Michelle Corkadel, president of the AACPS Board of Education. “As we progressed through the month of April, we built ourselves into an e-learning environment that, if need be, could continue through the duration of the school year.”

And continue it shall. On May 6, Dr. Karen Salmon, the state superintendent of schools, announced that schools would stick with online learning for the duration of the 2019–2020 academic year. “After extensive discussions with the Maryland State Board of Education, the Maryland Health Department, and additional health experts advising the governor, I am convinced this is the appropriate decision in order to continue to protect the health and safety of our students, educators, staff, and all members of school communities throughout Maryland,” Salmon said during a livestreamed update from Hogan’s office.

GettyImages 1216391310However, educators are quick to point out that e-learning is easier for some students than it is for others. Children with disabilities and children for whom English is their second language need extra assistance, and many children enrolled in AACPS lack computers or even internet access. Other families might have internet access, but not enough computers or other devices for their children to have equal access. “We had every single hand on deck helping us meet those bridges,” Corkadel says. “We recognize the need to be supportive, the need to maintain our equitable integrity.”

AACPS put out a survey on technology needs to assess how many devices are in each household, and then based on need, began distributing 10,000 Chromebooks to students, prioritizing seniors and households with no devices. For those families without internet access, AACPS strengthened the Wi-Fi in each of its schools so that the signal extended beyond the building and into the parking lot. Although it would be unrealistic to do all schoolwork while sitting in a parking lot, AACPS Communications Officer Bob Mosier explains the idea is that families can download their assignments and then take them home to work offline. Other families are turning their smartphones into mobile hotspots to access the internet.

In the few cases where students are still unable to get online, teachers have provided printed-out packets of schoolwork that can be picked up at the same sites where the AACPS Division of Food and Nutrition Services provides free breakfast, lunch and dinner to children during the shutdown. (For more information on AACPS meal distribution, including a list of distribution sites, visit www.aacps.org/mealpickup.)

What will this final quarter look like?
Now that schools are closed through the end of the academic year, how are final grades going to be determined? Per a vote by the AACPS Board of Education on Wednesday, May 6, all students enrolled in high school courses (which includes middle schoolers enrolled in algebra and foreign languages) will receive a designation of either “satisfactory” or “no grade” for the fourth quarter. A “satisfactory” designation will raise a student’s semester average one letter above their third quarter grade. A “no grade” designation will not hurt the student’s average, and their semester grade will reflect what they earned in the third quarter.

For example, if a student earned a B in a class in the third quarter and earns a “satisfactory” in the fourth quarter, that student will earn an A for the semester. If a student earned a B in the third quarter and receives a “no grade” designation in the fourth quarter, that student will have a B overall.
Middle school students who receive a satisfactory designation will have a final grade one letter higher than the average of their first three marking periods; a student with a “no grade” designation will receive the average of their first three marking periods.

A few other developments from the latest board meeting include adding two more days to the academic year, extending the last day to Thursday, June 18, to meet the required minimum 180 days. Also, online enrollment for kindergarten is open as of Monday, May 11, at www.aacps.org/kindergartenregistration.

For the juniors and seniors

How to Celebrate 2020 Grads!

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While AP exams moved to an online platform, SATs were canceled, meaning that many juniors who planned to take the standardized test this spring will have to take it during the summer or in the fall.

Many graduating seniors were disappointed to find out that all proms were canceled, and although graduation ceremonies have not been officially canceled yet, it’s not looking good. Senior award ceremonies have been moved to an online platform, and it’s likely that graduations could be done the same way.

Regardless of whether students will have the opportunity to walk across a stage and receive their diploma, there will be some way of recognizing their accomplishment. “Dr. Arlotto is really committed to doing everything we can to celebrate the class of 2020,” Mosier explains. “Their senior year has been changed in a way nobody ever could have anticipated.”

What about next fall?
Because it’s unclear how long the pandemic will progress, educators have to plan for long-term adjustments to the way schools are run. In other words, when schools reopen in the fall, it may be with some very drastic changes to protect the health and safety of students and students.

On May 6, the Maryland Department of Education released a comprehensive long-term plan titled “Maryland Together: Maryland’s Recovery Plan for Education” which details the possibilities being explored—for example, having students attend on alternating days so that classes can be kept smaller and a safe 6 feet of physical distance between students can be made possible. On the days they are not physically in the building, students could work remotely from home. Other options include two-day in-school instruction (eg. Tuesday/Thursday), or an A/B, one-week on, one week at home schedule. Other items addressed in the Recovery Plan include fall assessments, Special Education needs, CTE student learning, IEP learning, and IT issues.

Although it’s stressful for everyone involved, AACPS remains hopeful that this process will strengthen education in the years to come. As Corkadel explains, schools are figuring out ways to flip in and out of an e-learning environment based on any number of circumstances that might force schools to close. “If it’s not COVID, there’s other things out there,” Corkadel says. “We’re going to grow a lot from this experience. We’ve already seen growth. We’re going to build a stronger, more resilient school system. I’m seeing that resilience being developed and already being deployed.”

How can I learn more or have a say in all of this?
Parents might still have a hundred questions for the teachers or administrators about the end of the school year. In those cases, they can consult www.aacps.org/coronavirus to find out about school system operations during the pandemic, or they can visit www.aacps.org/learningfaq for frequently asked questions about e-learning. They can also call 410-222-5001 and leave a message in English or Spanish, and the message will be forwarded to their child’s teacher.

The next public session for the AACPS Board of Education is set for June 3 at 7:00 p.m., although meeting dates and times are subject to change due to the pandemic. Parents are able to view the meetings at www.aacps.org/livestream, and they can find more information about providing testimony at www.aacps.org/boardtestimony. Input from parents is appreciated.

“Our recovery is going to be based in part on the relationship and willingness of the community to support us,” Corkadel says. “We can’t do this alone.”

—Dylan Roche

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