Education

Schools across Kentucky are gearing up to begin the school year through remote learning.

In Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), teachers and staff are creating lesson plans, learning new technology platforms and trying to get students connected to the internet. JCPS officials say they’ve purchased 30,000 Chromebooks and 10,000 Wi-Fi hot-spots. It’s up to schools to distribute them.

At Smyrna Elementary School, it’s compassion teacher and technology coordinator Kerri Massey who’s in charge of figuring out how to get devices and hot-spots into students’ hands amid the pandemic. About 71% of Smyrna students are from low-income families. And at least 116 students have requested devices, with more orders coming in.

On Friday, Massey organized a drive-through pick-up outside the library.  As parents rolled up, Massey got the student name, scanned the devices to register them to the family, and handed them through the passenger side window, along with a slip of paper with each student’s email and password. Massey then directed them to the parking lot where they could try to login for the first time.

“That way they can try it out here, and tell me now rather than going home and saying, ‘hey it doesn’t work.'”

That’s a lesson Massey learned during the first round of non-traditional instruction in the spring. Last semester, Massey spent many hours fielding calls from parents who had trouble logging in once they received their Chromebooks in the mail from the district.

One parent who rolled up was Jessica Myatt. Her daughter Lily was in a car seat in the back. She’s about to enter kindergarten.

“The first day of school is definitely not how we envisioned it,” Myatt said.

But Lily said she’s still excited.

“I get to see my teacher and stuff, and then I’m going to almost like help other kids,” she said. “And I also lost like three teeth,” she said pulling down her cloth mask to show off the gap in her bottom row.

Smyrna Elementary School teacher Kerri Massey registers hot-spots and Chromebooks to students ahead of the school year.Jess Clark | wfpl.org

Smyrna Elementary School teacher Kerri Massey registers hot-spots and Chromebooks to students ahead of the school year.

Many parents who drove up were very pleased that for this round of remote learning, JCPS is planning to provide a device for every student who needs one, not just one per household, which was the case in the spring.

Smyrna Elementary dad Deandre Wells said his six children had to share one Chromebook during the spring. He thinks having the additional devices will make online learning go much smoother this fall.

“Then, they don’t have to sit around and wait for the other siblings to finish their work for them to log on and do their assignments,” he said.

JCPS is not limiting distribution to families on free-or-reduced-priced lunch. Any family can request one.

Marion C. Moore School 7th grade student Lauren Bowman gasped with delight as Massey handed two Chromebooks through the car window — one for each of her younger brothers, who attend Smyrna Elementary.

Lauren’s family wasn’t eligible to get a Chromebook in the spring, and she had to share the family’s one laptop with her brothers. It was a big problem.

“We each had to have our own portion of time, and I didn’t have enough time to finish everything, so I did get behind on work,” she explained. “I did, in the end, get caught up though, thankfully.”

A little later, Sheila Slaughter pulled up with her sister-in-law Blanca Alvarado in the passenger seat and their kids in the back. Alvarado doesn’t speak much English, and Slaughter said it’s been difficult for her sister-in-law.

“Everything that has to do with English she calls me to help her,” Slaughter said. She explained that Alvarado’s family didn’t have a computer or Chromebook during the spring.

“I’ve been scratching her nerves to get a computer, ‘come on you gotta get a computer before all of them go. Come on let’s do it!'” she said.

But there was a snag. Massey looked at her records and saw that the family had only requested a hot-spot, and no Chromebook. The online request form is available in many languages, including Alvarado’s native Spanish. But Slaughter explained that Alvarado asked her 8-year-old daughter to fill it out, possibly not seeing the drop-down tab to change the Web page to Spanish. And her daughter made a mistake.

“Let me see what I can do,” Massey said. The inventory software wouldn’t let her change the request form. So she found a work-around, and recorded a verbal agreement that the family would return the Chromebook.

Massey is hoping communication will be better with immigrant families this year. She’s excited about a new messaging app that automatically translates messages from the school into the parents’ native language.

By the end of the afternoon, Massey had given out about 30 devices. More pickups are scheduled for Smyrna parents this week.

All JCPS families can request a Chromebook or hot-spot here, or call 3-1-3-HELP.  Interpretation is available in many languages. Families should make sure their contact information is up to date at the Parent Portal.

School starts Aug. 25.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.