Teachers have been gatherers for a millennia.
They are charged to bring a group of students together and create an experience every day. Basically, teachers are in the transformation business, and at the end of the school year, impressionable students are supposed to leave changed.
In normal circumstances, planting seeds of knowledge is a tough assignment. Fuse a world-changing pandemic into the mix of exhilarative and sometimes cantankerous children and a teacher has a highly onerous assignment.
Local teachers have used numerous ways to stay connected with their students since Franklin Parish schools were closed in mid-March under Gov. John Bel Edwards’ stay-at-home mandate to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Teachers have created take-home packets and modern technology to connect to Franklin Parish students.
Packets contain new material and remedial material, but all of the packets are designed to “keep the students engaged,” said John Gullatt, Franklin Parish schools superintendent
“Some schools are doing a little bit different than others,” Gullatt said. “It is not all uniform, but basically it is.”
During the regular School Board meeting held April 28, Gullatt praised the effort of parish administrators and teachers.
“They have done a phenomenal job,” Gullatt said. “They are doing a great job with the limitations we have. The connectivity with the internet and connecting with people, they are doing all they can do plus more.”
The digital divide is real.
In the beginning of the stay-at-home order, the rush to build a remote learning plan began the old-fashioned way, with paper packets. Each week teachers deliver learning packets to their respective schools to
provide two to three weeks of instruction.
Majority of teachers also instruct students through Zoom sessions and an app called ClassDojo.
Founded in 2011, Zoom is a cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, collaboration, chat and webinars across mobile devices, desktops, telephones and room systems.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays Gilbert second-grade teacher Rebecca Jones holds Zoom conferences with her students. During the conference, Jones teaches and reads to her students along with letting them interact with each other.
“I invite the whole class to the Zoom conference,” Jones said. “I get to talk with the kids, and they get to talk to each other.”
Zoom would be a positive tool in the new screen-to-screen instructions, but “dead zones” are scattered throughout Franklin Parish’s digital landscape. Dead zones are areas where internet access is not available.
Franklin Parish is ranked 33 in state broadband access, according to broadbandnow.com. Fifty-six percent of residents have plan access and 75 percent of Franklin Parish have broadband coverage.
To the south, only 1.1 percent of Catahoula Parish has broadband coverage while northern neighbors, Richland Parish, has 58 percent broadband coverage. Caldwell has 56 percent coverage and Tensas has 16 percent.
Additionally, Franklin Parish has an average of 58.1 Mbps speed. Mbps means megabits per second. Mb is used in reference to download and upload speeds. The nationwide average internet speed is 50.2 Mbps.
According to an Associated Press analysis of census data, an estimated 17 percent of U.S. students do not have access to computers at home and 18 percent do not have access to broadband internet.
ClassDojo comes into play when students cannot access Zoom due to the lack of broadband access.
ClassDojo is a school communication platform that teachers, students and families use to build “communities” by sharing what is being learned in the classroom and home through photos, videos and messages. ClassDojo can be downloaded on a phone, giving more access to students located in a “dead zone” or who are economically disadvantaged and cannot afford broadband access.
ClassDojo allows parents, students and teachers to “text” each other with questions and information.
“A lot of the students don’t have computers, but we can text through ClassDojo,” Jones said. “Every parent and all the kids have communicated with me.”
Angela Teats, Introduction of Business, Computer Applications (IBCA) teacher at Franklin Parish High School, considers herself “very fortunate” because she was teaching a technology-based curriculum.
“We are just continuing what we had been doing except we are now home,” Teats said.
Putting in longer hours and missing students, fellow faculty
Students’ daily lives took a drastic turn with school closing. Separated from friends and teachers, youth had to adjust quickly to different learning techniques and surroundings.
Students were not the only ones who went through changes. Teachers were faced with quickly learning how to adapt to different instruction techniques and for some different hours.
“The hardest part (of teaching from home) is the structure,” Teats said. “I tend to work longer hours. I receive texts and e-mail at all hours.”
Teats said she knows the texts and e-mails are important to her students and parents, so she feels compelled to answer them in a timely manner.
Another obstacle teachers are facing is the absence of other faculty members.
“I miss the structure, but I also miss being at school with my co-workers,” Teats said, laughing. “I think we are worse than the kids. We are communicating everyday. I am blessed to work at FP. They are like family to me.”
Like Teats, Jones fondly talks about Gilbert School’s staff.
“They are doing a wonderful job at Gilbert,” Jones said. “We are communicating back and forth.”
As teachers and students adapt to new ways of learning, many are wondering how long will this last and will the learning ever be the same.
But, one thing remains a constant for teachers, parents and students: their connectivity must never be broken whether it is on a computer screen, phone or in a classroom.