MOJAVE — The Mojave Unified School District made its decision to start the school year on Aug. 6 with a distance learning model in response to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the state.
Staff, teachers and administration members rolled out a comprehensive learning plan to teach students remotely for at least the first quarter, the district purchased Chromebooks and Kajeet mobile hotspots for students and began instruction in earnest. The district utilizes Google Classrooms to deliver instruction and assignments.
But some parents are saying their children are having a hard time getting the hang of distance learning, something they expressed during MUSD’s Sept. 1 board meeting.
Parent Sively Garcia said her kindergartner struggles with understanding the technology, including the fact all of his assignments are on the provided Chromebook.
“He has been struggling a lot on his computer to the point that he cries and doesn’t want to do the work,” Garcia said. “It’s very difficult for him and I understand him.”
She added that based on her experience, “half of the parents don’t know how to work the computer.”
“How do we expect a kindergartner that is learning how to write to use a tablet?” Garcia said.
She suggested that perhaps teachers could provide parents and students with a work packet for learning activities related to writing.
“There has to be something and we parents are willing to pay for materials so long as we don’t see our kids struggling,” Garcia said.
Parent and teacher Kimberly Swaim noted some concerns about the school schedule and sitting in front of a computer for eight hours.
“I know my son gets restless and overwhelmed,” Swaim said. “It is a lot for him to sit there and do all this work on a computer.”
Swaim said she has a seventh-grader in her class “who is so overwhelmed with all of the online work.” She added she has a total of nine students in her class, but only two complete all their assignments.
“It’s not just an issue with the younger kids ... some of the older kids are having the same issues,” Swaim said. “They don’t want to be digital, they would like paperwork or workbooks or something to write and do themselves while not stuck at a computer for six to eight hours a day.”
MUSD Superintendent Katherine Aguirre noted it was very difficult to provide any materials do to current mandated social distancing requirements. Aguirre said she could take Garcia’s request to the distance learning committee and “and make sure everyone has the materials that work or are provided to our youngest learners.”
She added that students from kindergarten through third grade were provided with a backpack of activities, materials and things like flashcards and a small whiteboard.
She added workshops in English and Spanish was set up for parents to attend to help with technology use.
“We’re also putting together some more resources in the form of parent education,” Aguirre said.
California City resident Carolinda Fleming noted internet connections have provided a challenge for some families she’s spoken with.
“There’s a family that lives across from the middle school and one of them said the internet service is horrible,” Fleming said. “He has children from elementary school to high school and they are literally being absent because every time they try to get online, they get kicked out.”
She said contact information for someone at the district would be great.
Aguirre said it’s something the district can provide adding that MUSD is asking everyone with connectivity issues to please contact school sites to troubleshoot.
“We knew we have some reprogramming to do with some of the Kajeets because they did not come programmed with the right bandwidth,” Aguirre said.
First-grade teacher Namoi Gilliam said she understood concerns similar to Garcia’s son.
“Most five, six and seven-year-olds can’t get their letters that small, so maybe we should get some fresh materials for our kindergarten, first grade and second-grade students,” Gilliam said. “A perfect solution that has been offered is something our district already purchased with our curriculum a few years ago.”
That resource, she said, is a 500-page “reader’s notebook” meant to allow students to practice on.
“They’ve got their hands on their pencils, learning how to do their spelling words, their grammar,” Gillim said. “This has been hard on first and second-grade teachers just to reproduce because it’s 500 pages.”
She noted an idea would be to produce two volumes split up among the curriculum. The first part would be distributed to parents of young children while picking up school meals in the morning.
Gillam called it a developmental element “that the younger kids need ... to get a pencil in the hand to learn how to write because they’re not going to do it with the tip of their finger.”