School districts seek ways to offer virtual activities during shutdown

“We were not surprised by his announcement,” Dr. Timothy S. Bowers, superintendent of Williamsport Area School District said in a statement released Monday, speaking about the news from Gov. Tom Wolf that schools in the state will remain closed until at least April 6.

Bowers’ statement was echoed by many of the county’s school superintendents.

“I fully anticipated that the closure would be extended,” Dr. Mark Stamm, superintendent of South Williamsport Area School District said, adding that he had expected it based on what was happening throughout the state and neighboring states. “I was very grateful that the governor gave us a new deadline so that we can begin to plan towards that.”

Michael Pawlik, superintendent of East Lycoming School District, noted that it was understandable that the closure would continue.

“It is the best way to keep students safe,” Pawlik said.

Moving forward during the closure, several local districts are exploring options to either offer activities, which students can do voluntarily, or to provide remote learning.

One major obstacle to providing remote learning for many students in the county is the lack of internet access.

With many of its students in a rural area, East Lycoming School District is formulating a way of delivering instruction remotely to students without access to the internet.

“We are exploring the best way to create work for our students remotely,” Pawlik said. “The biggest challenge is lack of internet access. We are creating packets, and a platform for delivering instruction.”

Pawlik said students without internet access might be able to call in for a session.

The administration at Loyalsock Township School District is also working with teachers and their curriculum staff to formulate a plan for remote instruction for students that could start March 30, according to Gerald McLaughlin, the district’s superintendent. McLaughlin said that the instruction will include packets for elementary students and virtual learning for middle and high school students.

“We’re not sure what it will look like, it isn’t defined yet,” McLaughlin said, noting that the administration will be meeting later this week with teaching staff.

Other districts are taking a different approach to providing students with enrichment during the closures.

At South Williamsport, the district, with the help of teaching staff, has been posting information on activities on its website. Called “Mountie Moments,” the postings offer enrichment activities for students at all grade levels as well as some for parents and caregivers. In addition, beginning next Monday, review activities will be available on the website.

“My staff is developing review activities for students to re-engage them where they left off on March 13 when schools were closed, in preparation for them to return to school on April 9,” Stamm said.

He stressed that students are not required to do these activities. “This is not instruction moving forward,” he emphasized.

“We’re offering web-based learning opportunities for students and families based around what they were last doing when the schools closed,” Stamm added.

South Williamsport faces an additional difficulty in providing remote learning for students. Although the percentage of students in the district who do not have internet access is small, according to Stamm, students have not been provided with devices by the district for instructional use.

“My challenge as a district is we have never provided devices to our students or our staff,” Stamm said.

“This emergency situation highlighted very significantly our inability to educate kids when they are not inside our buildings. I’ve never felt so helpless to provide education to kids as I do right now,” Stamm said.

“We have always looked at that (student devices) as a luxury add-on to our curriculum. This has been an eye-opener to me that we can no longer view it that way,” he added.

Jersey Shore Area School District will also be posting links on the district website for students and families.

“We’ve been having a lot of families asking for things that their kids can do that are considered review and enrichment types of thing,” said Dr. Ken Dady, assistant district superintendent.

“Those things are coming .The teachers have been diligently working on them. Once it’s posted, you’ll be able to click on the grade level or in the high school, on the content, such as social studies, science, music, art,” Dady said. “They are welcome to do so, there are no requirements or accountability measures for these.”

He said that the district cannot guarantee that every student has accessibility, so they can’t continue instruction.

“We are able to provide things for students to be able to get engaged with and work on during this time,” he added.

In his statement to students and families in the Williamsport area, Bowers said, “Our district is continuing to respond the best we can to this very serious public health crisis. We hope that all district residents comply with the governor’s orders and also continue to check our website and district social media pages for important updates.”

A spokesperson for the district said that the district is “investigating online platforms right now if this becomes an extensive closure.”