Students, staff share their online learning challenges during recent school board meeting

During last week’s board meeting, Edmonds School Board President Deborah Kilgore speaks to Westgate Elementary School students Melissa Elezi and Clara Hsue (both bottom right).

From fewer homework assignments to dealing with persistent technology issues,  two Westgate Elementary Schools students shared their thoughts with Edmonds School District leaders on how remote learning is going while schools are closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Westgate Elementary sixth graders Melisa Elezi and Claira Hsue weighed the pros and cons of learning online during a pre-recorded video presentation played at the Edmonds School Board’s Nov. 24 business meeting.

“I think that I was expected to be more excited about online learning because you don’t have to go to school and stuff, but I do miss going to actual school,” Hsue said.

Since March, district schools have been closed to in-person learning, prompting district staff to implement a continuous learning model that educates students while school buildings remained closed. At the advice of public health officials, students began the 2020-21 year remotely.

Last month, the district began Stage 1 of its school building re-entry plan, which reopened the Lynnwood-based Hazelwood Elementary School’s Visually Impaired Program and Edmonds-based Madrona K-8’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program. To learn more about the district’s four-stage re-entry plan, read our earlier story here.

Hsue said her favorite thing about virtual learning was being able to continue to see her friends and classmates while schools are closed. Elezi said she was grateful that the lessons were short and students didn’t have to strain their eyes staring at computer screens all day.

During the presentation, both students spoke about the challenges of remaining active while working from home. Without recess, Hsue said she doesn’t get up and move around as much. Elezi said she has noticed that some students are starting to get sluggish and show up to online lessons in their pajamas. She encouraged her classmates to establish a daily routine that she said will help them when schools reopen.

“That’s why you should always be ready because you never know when you start school,” she said.

Another concern from Hsue was the lack of time allotted for small group work with her classmates, which she said can be difficult to do in an online setting.

Prior to schools starting the 2019-20 school, the district announced that students would not be returning to in-person learning until advised to do so by public health officials. To facilitate remote learning, students have been issued Chromebooks. The district also provides some families with wireless internet hotspots.

Now that early software, login and internet connection issues have been resolved, Westgate Elementary teacher Cassandra Sorge said some students’ Chromebooks are starting to deteriorate from wear and tear. She said some students are on their second, third or fourth district-issued Chromebook.

According to Sorge, a lot of her time is spent helping students resolve these and other technical issues, leaving her with little time for other students. When asked if she has been able to teach as efficiently as if she was teaching in a classroom, Sorge said she hasn’t been able to cover as much material online.

“It’s not even close to the same amount,” she said.

Also during the presentation, Elezi demonstrated how she uses Canvas — a learning management system that third- through sixth-grade students use to complete and submit work online. During the discussion, Westgate Elementary Principal Mary Freitas and school board members praised students’ skills with technology.

“More students know how to use the technology than I’ve ever seen,” Freitas said.

In other business, Superintendent Gustavo Balderas provided the board with an update on the district’s school re-entry plans. During the report, Executive Director Equity & Student Success Victor Vergara was invited to speak about “Edmonds Hub” (or E-Hub). The site — planned for the former Alderwood Middle School library — would be an access point that offers Wi-Fi, meals and laundry service for homeless students during remote learning.

The district planned to provide support for its approximately 300 homeless students as part of Stage 2, but staff have since decided to include them — through E-Hub — in the soft rollout for Stage 1. According to Vergara, 110 students have expressed interest in using the site. Vergara said staff now have to figure out how to accommodate them all and suggested offering a.m. and p.m. times or allowing students onsite every other day.

“It all depends on how often (students) want to come,” he said “Some of them want to come for only one or two days a week, some of them want to come five days a week,” she said.

E-Hub is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Transportation services will also be available to take students to and from E-Hub.

Board President Deborah Kilgore asked if the idea for E-Hub could be expanded to create other sites that offer internet and food services for high school students in need. In response, Balderas said the idea is being considered by other school districts and could possibly happen in the future.

“That’s a really strong possibility and it’s something that people are looking at right now across a variety of districts,” he said.

Also during the public comments portion of the meeting, Kilgore read a comment submitted by Mountlake Terrace resident Karen Mosman, who criticized the board’s support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

In her comment, Mosman wrote she disagrees with the board about the meaning of the BLM movement and accused board directors of not educating district families on what she called a “disruptive cause.”

“BLM is specifically and pointedly partisan and political and I exempt myself from embracing its objectives,” she wrote.

By not recognizing work by white students, Mosman said the board was not adhering to its own race and equity policy adopted in 2017.

“Why must the focus continuously be on the students and staff of color and not white students and staff,” she wrote.

As a single mother of four children, Mosman said if her kids wanted to go to college they had to work to pay for tuition on their own with no help. During her comments, she also proclaimed that “all lives matter.”

After reading the comment, Kilgore denounced Mosman’s comments and said on behalf of the board of directors that the board remains committed to supporting BLM.

“I speak for myself when I say that I take my duty to protect and serve our children very seriously,” she said. “It’s my position that the comment that i just read perpetuates an unwelcome environment for Black and other students in Edmonds (School District).”

Superintendent Balderas said that while he agreed with Kilgore’s remarks about Mosman’s comment, he appreciates receiving feedback from district families.

Balderas also pointed out that America’s education system was not designed to accommodate women or people of color. Initiatives like the district’s race and equity policies are put in place to allow students from those and other disenfranchised groups to have access to an education equal to that of their white peers.

“The U.S. system of education was created in the 1600s by white men for white men,” he said. “Since then, we’ve worked to equalize and provide education for all genders, for all kids…regardless of color and will continue to do so.”

— By Cody Sexton

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