The majority of schools in the Washington region will be closed this fall amid the coronavirus.

The majority of schools in the Washington region will be closed this fall amid the coronavirus.

As coronavirus cases spike across the Washington region and beyond, most schools in the DMV are beginning the year online. But how will school districts accommodate students and families who lack access to the necessary technology and internet for a successful remote education?

In D.C., teachers, parents and legal advocates are pressuring the school system to equip each of the more than 51,000 students with a laptop and internet access.

So, how is the school district responding? And, across the region, what efforts are being made to bridge the digital divide? Can remote school really replace in-person instruction? And who will be most affected by the loss of the classroom experience?

We’ll discuss with digital learning experts and WAMU education reporter Debbie Truong.

Produced by Julie Depenbrock


  • Debbie Truong Education Reporter, WAMU; @debbietruong
  • Natalie Milman Professor of Educational Technology and Director of the Educational Technology Leadership Program, George Washington University; @nataliebmilman
  • Grace Hu Parent and Leader, Digital Equity in D.C. Education
  • Scooter Ward Senior Director of Technology, KIPP DC
  • Nicole Tuchinda Visiting Assistant Professor and Director of the Juvenile and Special Education Law Clinic, University of the District of Columbia


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. As coronavirus cases spike across the Washington region and beyond most K through 12 schools in the DMV are beginning the year online. But can remote school really replace in-person instruction? Who will be most affected by the loss of the classroom experience? And what lasting impact might COVID-19 have on school age children? Joining me now is Debbie Truong, WAMU's Education Reporter. Debbie, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:33

    DEBBIE TRUONGThanks for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:00:34

    NNAMDIDebbie are any public schools across the Washington region opting for in-person learning or have most landed on a remote model for the fall?

  • 12:00:44

    TRUONGYeah. So most public school systems in the Washington region have decided to start the school year online. The only school system that I know if in the region that hasn't finalized their plans for the fall is Alexandria City Public Schools. The superintendent there has proposed a plan that would start the school year online and the school board is expected to vote on that plan tomorrow. With that said, there are some charter schools in D.C. and some private and parochial schools that are offering some in-person instruction.

  • 12:01:15

    NNAMDIMany local school districts initially proposed hybrid models for the school year with a mix of in-person and remote classes. Debbie, why were those plans scraped?

  • 12:01:27

    TRUONGYeah. So some of the largest school system in Northern Virginia including Fairfax County Public Schools and Loudoun County Public Schools had initially offered parents and families the option of bringing students in for part of the week. They reverse course on that over the summer citing rising infection rates across the region and across the country. Teachers unions really across the District, Maryland and Virginia also really pushed back on the idea of returning to school in the fall.

  • 12:02:01

    TRUONGTeachers brought up a lot of logistical concerns about, you know, having students especially young students return to classrooms and social distance and keep their mask on during the day. They also pointed out issues with school buildings and whether or not they felt safe in older school buildings that had poor ventilation systems. And I think those concerns really swayed a lot of these school districts.

  • 12:02:28

    NNAMDIWhat about private schools in the region?

  • 12:02:31

    TRUONGYeah. So guidelines in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. allow for schools to reopen. Obviously schools can choose not to do that. They have to open with enhanced safety precautions. And there are some private schools that do plan on reopening. There's an interesting case, I think, happening in Montgomery County right now. So Governor Larry Hogan has said that schools can choose to reopen.

  • 12:02:59

    TRUONGThe Health Officer in Montgomery County ordered last week that private schools must stay closed to in-person instruction until October 1st. Hogan this week reversed that order and said that basically counties can't issue these blank requirements that schools close. Montgomery County says that they're reviewing that order.

  • 12:03:25

    NNAMDIDebbie, you've been reporting on digital inequities in schools across the Washington region. What is the nature of this digital divide and who is most affected by it?

  • 12:03:34

    TRUONGSure. So a digital divide is the gap between families who have access to laptops and high speed internet and families who don't. And so in terms of distance learning you have some students who can get online and download their assignments and hop on to a video call with their teachers without any problems. And then on the other side of the divide you have families who maybe don't have a computer at home or they have one computer and, you know, two or three kids who have to share one device. Or they only have a cell phone, which as you can imagine can be very difficult and tedious if you're trying to type and get hours of work done throughout the day.

  • 12:04:18

    NNAMDIWhat does all of this mean for families in the Washington region?

  • 12:04:22

    TRUONGBasically this means that, you know, some students are getting a fuller and more comprehensive learning experience than others. You know, I do think that it's important to note that schools and teachers are trying really hard to close this divide. In D.C. Chancellor Lewis Ferebee has said that every student who needs a device or the internet for the fall will have access to that. I've also heard from teachers who are embarking on these sort of like herculean efforts to get devices to students. You know, I heard from one teacher who gave his personal laptop to a student who struggled to participate in distance learning.

  • 12:05:04

    NNAMDIJoining us now is Natalie Milman, a Professor of Educational Technology at George Washington University. Natalie Milman, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:05:11

    NATALIE MILMANThank you.

  • 12:05:14

    NNAMDIWhen you joined us back in March, Natalie, you were careful to distinguish that what was happening was emergency remote teaching not online teaching. Six months later, is that still the case?

  • 12:05:26

    MILMANI will say absolutely yes. However it has to be better than it was in the spring. In the spring teachers and school systems only had -- some only a couple of weeks, maybe even one week, some even days to shift to online virtual teaching and learning. Now school systems have between six to eight weeks at least in the D.C. metro region. So it should be better. But I'm still calling it emergency remote teaching and learning, because we can't -- the pandemic still exists. That we're still in a pandemic and we're still teaching and learning in a pandemic. And all of the things, all the stresses that we have had for months now, they still exist.

  • 12:06:16

    NNAMDINatalie, what should schools be doing to make sure digital learning is effective this fall especially compared to the rush roll out in the spring?

  • 12:06:23

    MILMANThere's a lot of things that they can be doing. One in particular is for teachers to be getting professional development, and professional development not only about how to use various digital tools. But also about, you know, we have to recognize that we have another pandemic that's going on, so we have to incorporate anti-racist and anti-oppressive teaching practices. And along those lines, trauma informed teaching practices. So professional development that gets at how to prepared students for learning no matter what the situation is, whether it's blended or online, how can they best learn, how can schools help parents also do that.

  • 12:07:15

    MILMANSchools should be working towards equipping families with the necessary equipment -- or rather the students with the necessary equipment that they might need. There's, you know, a slew of things I think that they can be doing to help with that transition. They should be reaching out to the communities. Also informing them about what's going to happen and when and how and how to get help.

  • 12:07:42

    NNAMDIHere is Richard in Takoma Park, Maryland. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:07:48

    RICHARDYeah. I am a parent of a child. I'm a husband of a teacher at a private school Takoma Adventist Preparatory School here in Takoma Park Montgomery County. And we got a letter this morning that stated that the individual at Montgomery County that had made the edict previously that had been barred by the governor has put out a new edict. I guess he dug deeper into the laws and whatever he had reached into in the first place. And found a new way to keep the edict in place. And so that to our understanding, I'm a vice president at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park as well. That means that mandate is back in place and is -- to my understanding just for K through 12. But we're looking at it and considering what it means for us as the only four year university.

  • 12:08:55

    NNAMDIAre you saying that the mandate came from County Executive Mark Elrich, who by the way also lives in Takoma Park? But is that who the mandate came from or from the Chief Health Officer?

  • 12:09:06

    RICHARDThe Chief Health Officer, to my understanding. The letter that we got this morning put it back in place with a different -- I guess a different angle on a way for them to keep that edict in place.

  • 12:09:21

    NNAMDIDebbie Truong, are you aware of that?

  • 12:09:23

    TRUONGYeah, yeah. I think that was sort of what I was trying to point to earlier. The County Health Officer Travis Gayles issued an order last night essentially, you know, saying that they are still -- that the order that would bar private schools from operating in-person until October 1st is still in place and that the county is still reviewing Hogan's directive that they can't do that.

  • 12:09:56

    NNAMDILet's hear from Susanne in Pasadena, Maryland. Susanne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:10:00

    SUSANNEExcellent. I'm a teacher. I've been teaching for over 20 years and I teach special education. And I'm aware of all of the issues that are facing us. And it's awful. But I wanted to talk about a friend of mine who is teaching in upstate New York and she's teaching kindergarten. And they're opening. And I understand parents when they say the kids need the full school experience.

  • 12:10:28

    SUSANNEBut this is what it's going to look like for these kindergarteners in the fall. They're going to be sitting at their desks all day, lunch. The specials like art and that are coming to the classroom. Gym can be outside. But I'm assuming if it's raining it will be in the classroom. They're not allowed to share any kind of materials. They're not allowed to sing.

  • 12:10:54

    SUSANNEAnd I want people to just think about what it would be like for your four and five year old to be starting school in this environment where they can't see the teacher's smile. They can't interact with friends, which is so important, such an important part of developmental kindergarten. And I think sometimes when we're not someone who's been in the classroom it's hard to understand those little intricacies of what's going to happen.

  • 12:11:22

    NNAMDILee tweets, "As a mom of a middle schooler, I know distance learning is not ideal. But it is the responsible thing to do. I do worry that children will miss out tremendously academically and emotionally. We as parents need to fill in the gaps." Again, 800-433-8850 if you'd like to join the conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:03

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the continuing online education that will take place when schools open in this region and how that may be affected by the digital divide. We're talking with Debbie Truong, WAMU's Education Reporter. And Natalie Milman, a Professor of Educational Technology at George Washington University. And before we went to that break, Natalie, our caller was expressing concern that it would be very difficult for kindergarteners to learn the way they need to in an online situation, because they need that interaction for their development. How would you respond?

  • 12:12:37

    MILMANWell, I understand from Susanne who's a special educator and I want to thank her for that pointing out kind of giving us a sense of what it's like for those, who are teaching in-person during this COVID-19 era. And it's, you know, good teaching involves a lot of engagement, a lot of collaborative learning and in particular when I think of young children and connecting with their teachers imagine walking into a classroom. I think what she was trying to paint was like what it would be like, and the challenges of just the teacher being unable to share a smile unless he or she had a special mask that is clear and you can see the smile and, you know, see what they're saying.

  • 12:13:23

    MILMANIt is really challenging. You know, really either way you put it, it's challenging in-person to design learning that's collaborative when everyone is sitting in rows. They can't share materials. They can't really hear one another.

  • 12:13:42

    NNAMDIOkay. I got that.

  • 12:13:43


  • 12:13:45

    NNAMDIOkay, joining us now is Grace Hu. Grace Hu is a D.C. Public School parent and the Leader of Digital Equity in D.C. Education. Grace Hu I didn't hear you the last time. Can you hear me and can I hear you this time?

  • 12:13:58

    GRACE HUYes. I can, Kojo. Can you hear me?

  • 12:14:01

    NNAMDIYes, we can. How did you feel when you heard the news that D.C. Public Schools would be remote this fall?

  • 12:14:09

    HUWell, initially I felt relieved that at least we had an answer so that parents can start planning. But then I realized, wow, we have four weeks to get ready for virtual learning. And that's when some of the anxiety kicked in.

  • 12:14:23

    NNAMDIWhat do you think the school system needs to do in order to bridge the digital divide?

  • 12:14:29

    HUWhat our parent group was advocating for was to automatically give every student a device to use for distance learning just like other school districts and some charter networks have done, because we felt like that was the best way to make sure that no child would be left behind and to make sure that everyone was on the same platform for learning. DCPS instead has chosen to do a need based approach, which, you know, sounds good in theory. But we think will be difficult to implement.

  • 12:14:57

    NNAMDIYou have talked about a band-aid solution or a band-aid solutions. What are you looking for when it comes to long term change?

  • 12:15:05

    HUWell, looking for a citywide plan to close the digital divide for D.C. residents. And that means figure out long term what does internet access look like. Like do we need to be doing more than providing hotspots or paying for a couple of months of internet access for people. And so we've always said we need a comprehensive plan for D.C. Public Schools and we need a comprehensive plan for closing the digital divide. And not just like solutions that work a couple of months.

  • 12:15:32

    NNAMDIWhat have you been hearing from D.C. Public Schools in terms of their responses to your concerns?

  • 12:15:38

    HUDCPS has said that they believe they have enough devices and hotspots to meet the need of students. And so what gives anxiety to parents right now is there are a lot unanswered questions about how that would work. How would DCPS determine who needs a device? They have a survey out right now, but it's not clear, you know, how DCPS will use that survey to determine, "Okay, who get the device and who doesn't." We also are concerned about IT support and the other things that go along with making sure distance learning works. And so to us there's just a lot of unanswered questions and lack of information on how all of this will work.

  • 12:16:21

    NNAMDIGrace Hu, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:16:24

    HUThank you.

  • 12:16:25

    NNAMDIDebbie, as far as you know how are local schools tackling remote education this fall? And what does it look like at the elementary, middle and high school level?

  • 12:16:33

    TRUONGSo when schools closed in March it was pretty abrupt. You know, teachers and administrators were really forced to scramble. And I heard from students and it sounded the quality of instruction that they were getting really ran the gamut. Some of the larger school systems including Fairfax County Public Schools and Montgomery County schools have put out some pretty detailed plans for what learning will look like in the fall. And, you know, the way it looks now seems to be a lot more structured than what was offered in the spring.

  • 12:17:10

    TRUONGI was looking at the preschool schedule that Montgomery County Public Schools have put out and, you know, they've built in time for English and Science and Math. But they also have like prescheduled times in the day for breaks and snack time. And that really was sort of lacking I think in the spring. The school systems also put out pretty detailed class schedules for the middle and high school students. So they've designated, you know, periods of time for first period, second period, third period and so forth. And the times that teachers are expected to teach their students live virtually.

  • 12:17:55

    NNAMDIOne major challenge is making sure all kids have devices to access online learning. What are school districts doing about that and what are the roadblocks there?

  • 12:18:03

    TRUONGYeah. So school systems in the spring -- well, I should start by saying that, you know, school systems across the Washington region have in recent years really pushed to equip students with devices. When schools closed in March, schools opened and they distributed laptops and hotspots to families that needed them for the upcoming school year. I know D.C. Public Schools is currently surveying parents about their needs and plans to distribute the devices sometime before the fall. You know, I've also heard from teachers and parents who are unsatisfied with the way that that distribution has happened so far both in the spring and over the summer. You know, I've heard some issues with devices being broken or being too slow.

  • 12:19:03

    TRUONGAnd schools sort of running out of devices and not being able to provide a laptop to every student who needs one.

  • 12:19:11

    NNAMDINatalie Milman, can online learning ever really be as good as in-person instruction?

  • 12:19:16

    MILMANAbsolutely. And there's lots of evidence that it's just as good just like in-person instruction can be worse than online instruction. I think that's -- there's substantial research that already exists. Now there's also research that certain populations have tended not to do as well. And there needs to be more research about what kinds of supports are needed for all students to be successful. But one of the things that I've been recommending to all school systems that I've communicated with as well as my own institution is we need to teach students how to learn online. And we need to support parents and guardians about how to support their own students online as well.

  • 12:20:02

    MILMANThey need some kind of a welcome back orientation. So all of these schedules, you know, I think having a structure to the day, providing breaks, that's all wonderful and great. But we also need to be thinking about how to help students learn online. And then also thinking about what supports that they'll need so that they can and will be successful.

  • 12:20:21

    NNAMDIOkay. Here is Antul in Laurel, Maryland. Antul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:28

    ANTULThank you, Kojo. It's been a long time since I participate in your program. Great program today. I was going to start talking about learner centered instruction. But I will start by segueing what your previous guest, the person who came right before me because in my experience and I have more than 30 years of experience teaching, distance learning, online courses are not as effective as in person classes. I mean, they are better than no classes. But we can (unintelligible) to find out it's not. But that was not the purpose of my call.

  • 12:21:16

    NNAMDIWell, we only have about 30 seconds left. So tell us the purpose.

  • 12:21:19

    ANTULYeah. Let me -- I feel that if you take learner centered instruction and you see where students are going to come in especially in elementary school into classes where the teacher doesn't know them. They don't know the teacher. The material is going to be new. The first period it will be when they start to learn --

  • 12:21:43

    NNAMDII can see how difficult that can be in the online situation. Sorry to cut you off, Antul, but we'll respond to that when we come back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:22:06

    NNAMDIWelcome back, we're talking about remote learning in the upcoming school year and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. Carrie tweets to us, "I'm a Montgomery County parent. Remote learning is the only safe way right now. However, I'm very worried about how the planned schedule will work for my first grader. My sixth grader can handle multiple Zoom classes. But my first grader will struggle with it."

  • 12:22:30

    NNAMDII suspect a lot of people share that kind of concern. Do you? 800-433-8850. Do you have suggestions for making remote learning a positive experience? You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. Are you a student in the Washington region? Tell us about your experience with remote learning last spring. 800-433-8850. Joining us now is Scooter Ward, Senior Director of Technology for KIPP D.C. Scooter Ward, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:23:00

    SCOOTER WARDThank you for having me.

  • 12:23:01

    NNAMDIKIPP schools in D.C. opted to follow the D.C. Public Schools model and will also be remote this fall. First, can you tell our audience about KIPP D.C. and its students?

  • 12:23:13

    WARDAbsolutely. Thanks for that question. KIPP DC, we are a public school group in Washington, D.C. We serve students in Ward 6, 7 and 8 across seven campuses and 18 schools. We have about 7,000 students, with 71 percent being east of the river.

  • 12:23:32

    NNAMDIThere's a lot of concern that these closures will overwhelm vulnerable students such as many students east of the river. What are KIPP schools doing to help families who may not have access to the internet or a computer?

  • 12:23:46

    WARDAbsolutely. Thanks for that. What we did at KIPP is as soon as we knew that schools were closing, we immediately went into distribution mode. And a large part of that was making sure that, first, our students had connectivity. Because without connectivity, you can't actually get to what is now the classroom. And we did that through our family engagement team, who worked with families -- because we have deep ties with our families -- and asked them: do you have adequate internet at home?

  • 12:24:20

    WARDFrom that point, we didn't even ask if families had devices to connect to schools at home. We provided 100 percent of our students with a device to connect to their classroom and made sure that parents, from there, had the supports they needed either from a technical standpoint or a distribution standpoint. We distributed devices both at meal distributions and through the mail.

  • 12:24:48

    NNAMDIWhat are you doing to help those families who need it with digital literacy?

  • 12:24:55

    WARDWhat we've done is we've set up various different mechanisms. We set up a special email that families can email for support. We have a phone number they can call and get in touch with a support agent. We set up one pagers that went to them through the email. And we also work with them through a share point site that we've shared with them that gives them step-by-step frequently asked questions and solutions.

  • 12:25:22

    NNAMDII'd like to get back to you for a minute, Natalie Milman, because our last caller, Antul, was concerned about what students would be losing by not being able to participate in in-person schooling. His own, he said, more than 30 years experience as a teacher told him that the one cannot really replace the other. What would you say to him?

  • 12:25:43

    MILMANWell, I think we have to back up a little bit and, you know, comparisons of face-to-face and online, you know, I know it's not understandable that people want to make those comparisons, but really, you're comparing two entirely different things. And I'm just going to say, as I said before, just like in-person teaching can be great, so can online virtual teaching be great.

  • 12:26:11

    MILMANOne fact of the matter that we have to keep in mind is that we are living during a pandemic. Many families are working and living under the same roof. There are children who have parents who are working out of the home. There's huge stresses that we have to take into account. So, in that respect, you know, no matter how learning happens during this pandemic, it's not going to be ideal. It's not going to be normal.

  • 12:26:40

    MILMANCan online education be just as enriching as in-person? Absolutely, it can. Now, with certain populations like very young children, it can be challenging. But I do have to say, I've been on a number of groups online, and the amount of creativity and work and dedication and sharing that I've seen among teachers and communities of teachers all over the world, they are working hard to really connect with kids and students when classes start in the fall.

  • 12:27:14

    NNAMDIJoining us now is Nicole Tuchinda, the director of the Juvenile and Special Education Law Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia, which, when we were not remote, was just up the street -- really across the street from where we broadcast this program. Nicole, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:27:30

    NICOLE TUCHINDAThank you for having me.

  • 12:27:32

    NNAMDITell us what you and your team have been exploring this summer when it comes to digital devices.

  • 12:27:38

    TUCHINDASo, we have been trying to provide information to parents about how to get low-cost laptops and internet service. And so we are going to, in the near future, put out a brochure with that information. We've also created a petition that has been signed by more than 700 people asking D.C. to increase its investment to provide the technology that children need in order to access their education this fall.

  • 12:28:08

    TUCHINDABecause our experiences with our clients have been that several of our clients have not been able to get the technology they need to access education. And our clinic serves children with special needs. And those children in particular are very vulnerable to falling further behind during this pandemic. And, yeah, the need to get -- to ensure that all students have the technology to access their education is dire.

  • 12:28:42

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Irene. How are educators thinking about handling and supporting students that have experienced loss of loved ones due to COVID-19? Can you respond to that, Scooter Ward?

  • 12:28:57

    WARDAbsolutely. Here at KIPP DC, we employ mental health practitioners and others who constantly work with students and help them through trying times. We have continued that through the age of COVID, where we are remote. Our mental health practitioners meet with counselors and students as needed and help them get through things in exactly the same way they would in a classroom, albeit virtual.

  • 12:29:25

    NNAMDIYou know, Nicole Tuchinda, you handle, as you mentioned earlier, your clients are often special education students. What legal problems arise when schools shift to remote learning for the people you represent, Nicole?

  • 12:29:40

    TUCHINDAWell, the law in D.C. requires that guardians ensure that their children are attending school, and that if they're not doing that, the guardians themselves can be charged with a misdemeanor. And they can -- more importantly and probably more likely is that they can be sent to the Child and Family Services Agency, which is the Child Protective Services agency in D.C., and be held with educational neglect liability. So, that's one problem.

  • 12:30:14

    TUCHINDAThe children themselves can also be found to be truant and be put through court processes. Which, all of those penalties add to the stress that families are currently experiencing from the pandemic, in addition to unemployment, loss of family members, illness of family members, housing and food insecurities. There's just a -- the situation is very overwhelming for many families. And I agree with the GW professor, that we need to make education trauma-responsive, in light of all that.

  • 12:30:51

    NNAMDIWell, here's Wilson in -- or William in Washington, D.C. William, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:57

    WILLIAMHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. Yeah, I'm actually a grad student at GW, and I just kind of wanted to echo what Professor Milman was saying. I don't have her as a professor. I'm in security policy studies. But she has talked to the efficacy of digital learning in this environment. And we actually transitioned immediately after spring break. And I found it to be just as regular as it was prior to the break.

  • 12:31:19

    WILLIAMOur professors were learning along with us, which was pretty good. And I'm kind of fortunate that I did much of my undergrad in another Master's Degree online, having been in the military for a long time. So, I found that the transition was rather seamless and the professors were adept and very well-informed on the digital learning environment.

  • 12:31:41

    NNAMDIOh, that is interesting, because we got a Tweet from Maria, who says: I so appreciate the distinction Natalie makes about the difference between emergency remote teaching and distance/online teaching. I worry that we will still be at emergency remote teaching this fall, which, candidly, isn't good for anyone involved. But, Natalie, our caller William seemed to be pretty satisfied with what was happening last spring.

  • 12:32:09

    MILMANYes. You know, and I think one thing to keep in mind is that we're all experiencing what's going on in our lives in different ways. One person might have a family member who's died. Another person might not even know anyone who's gotten sick. Similarly, some students are having truly awesome learning experiences, really, in a very seamless way, and others are just not. So, I think that's another thing that we need to recognize, and I think that idea of, you know, how can we make this the most equitable for everybody is really one of the greatest challenges that we have right now across the board.

  • 12:32:52

    NNAMDIDebbie Truong, what are you hearing as you talk to teachers, kids and parents about the challenges ahead around all digital education?

  • 12:33:00

    TRUONGYeah, I mean, I think we have to keep in mind that not every student obviously learns the same. So, some students, you know, especially those who are English language learners and those who have special needs require a lot of specialized instruction that can be more challenging to transfer online. Also, you know, school isn't just about sitting in the classroom and listening to a teacher teach. It's also about socialization and being around your friends and developing those interpersonal skills. And I think that's what a lot of kids and families have really missed with this time away from school.

  • 12:33:37

    NNAMDIHere's Carolyn, in Virginia. Carolyn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:33:42

    CAROLYN MURPHYYes. My name is Carolyn Murphy. I've been in education for a while. I believe -- and my cousin happens to be President Kennedy. I believe there's -- I've been an advocate on an issue in Virginia. I'd like to just respond, because I believe that we have to look at the connection between curriculum testing and the data cloud centers.

  • 12:34:04

    CAROLYN MURPHYI found out, in Virginia, that there were two softwares being run to do with testing. And as a result of my involvement as of February, it is on the budget. It has saved the state 1.4 million. I think it's important to realize that, as far as that piece goes -- and it's on public record -- those two contracts were being connected to Pearson. Virginia has a $40 million contract with Pearson. And if we're not fully using these services, whether it's in Virginia or in other states, it should be prorated and addressed. I do know that...

  • 12:34:47

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, I think what you're discussing is more of an issue for The Politics Hour. It sounds like a good topic for The Politics Hour to talk about the kinds of people who are getting the contracts to do this kind of business. But, on this broadcast, we're speaking more specifically about the experience of online learning itself, not so much who provides it. But thank you for your call. Scooter Ward, one of the roadblocks for school districts is the expense. How is KIPP able to fund all of this?

  • 12:35:16

    WARDThat's a great question. At KIPP, we have worked, over the past three years, to become a one-to-one school district. So, what we have done is made sure that down to second grade, every student had a Chromebook, which is our equipment of choice, and that every staff member had a working computer and that we had a reserve of each of those.

  • 12:35:38

    WARDAs I stated, when COVID hit, we bought more Chromebooks to support students down to first grade, and provided our pre-K three up to fourth grade students with tablets, as well. And, in our normal buying process for the next year, we made sure that we bought -- through our per pupil funding -- we bought an adequate amount of Chromebooks to make sure every student had a Chromebook. So, entering this fall, every single student at KIPP DC will have a Chromebook that they will be using for distance learning, as well as when they return to school. And we did all that with our per pupil funding.

  • 12:36:19

    NNAMDIScooter, how much digital learning was happening at KIPP prior to this pandemic?

  • 12:36:24

    WARDThere were varying amounts, depending on the teachers and what the subjects were. But what we did do, when we transitioned to COVID, is we have an excellent educational technology team that took it upon themselves to have a number of professional development sessions, and worked with teachers to make sure that those who weren't necessarily used to using the tools that we use were ready and able to do that as soon as students logged on.

  • 12:36:54

    WARDAnd we found that our students had very little trouble getting used to being behind the device at home in their new classroom, which may be their living room or their bedroom, and working through whatever they needed to work through with the teachers and other students in the class.

  • 12:37:10

    NNAMDIWe got a call from Sarah from Silver Spring, who couldn't stay on the line. We, in the area, seem to forget that there are large areas of the country without internet and cell access. What will those students do when it's time to go to class? Are there any such areas in our direct region, as far as we know, Debbie Truong? And, if there are, how are the county officials dealing with that?

  • 12:37:36

    TRUONGYeah, so there are some what you would call, I guess, internet deserts in D.C. But I think, you know, even outside of that there are just families who can't afford to pay for, you know, a monthly internet bill. And so school systems have been distributing hotspots to families. They've also been encouraging families to sign up for free internet services that some of the providers are, you know, offering. But from what I've heard from families, it's still -- who lack access to internet, it can still be very challenging to get online. So, they've relied on things like their phone and tethering to their phone. But, you know, that can only go for so long before you run out of data.

  • 12:38:28

    NNAMDIScooter, sitting down in front of a computer or tablet for several hours a day is very different from walking into the physical space of a school. How are KIPP teachers recreating that school experience online?

  • 12:38:43

    WARDOur teachers are doing a number of different things. If anything, KIPP teachers are extremely creative and do awesome things in the classroom as well, as outside of the classroom to make sure that students are engaged. We've engaged social media in various different ways, allowing students to do various different contests on TikTok or Instagram stories and things like that. So, in place of that sort of social piece that Natalie spoke about earlier, they are able to connect in a way that's pretty approximate to them, anyway, because they know about social media.

  • 12:39:19

    WARDWe've also worked to make sure that when they're in a Zoom classroom or something akin to that, they have direct contact with one another through breakout rooms and other activities where they can still do a little group work. Albeit online sitting in front of a screen, they are still interacting with one another.

  • 12:39:39

    WARDAnd, additionally, for students who may have multiple people at home who are taking classes at the same time, we've provided headphones and headphones with mics. And next year all of our students will be receiving headphones with microphones so that they can work sort of unencumbered from at-home distractions when they're focusing on course work.

  • 12:40:02

    NNAMDINatalie Milman, you've spoken before about antiracist and trauma-informed instruction geared to this moment that we're living in. How would you recommend teachers prepare?

  • 12:40:13

    MILMANThere are many, many different resources available. And I think they, you know, should be context driven. You know, we all live in different communities, but we also live in the United States of America and the world. So, I would recommend that, you know, within the school system, that they work towards more context-driven ways to incorporate meaningful professional development and supports for teachers to learn how to decolonize their curriculum, as well as how they might support or connect students to necessary supports that are more trauma-informed.

  • 12:40:51

    MILMANBut one thing that they can do is just be more flexible. They can look at their curriculum to ensure there's multiple perspectives. And, again, I think it should be context-driven, locally.

  • 12:41:03

    NNAMDIHere now is Carolyn, in Virginia. Carolyn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:41:09

    MURPHYOh, I think I just called earlier, and I just wanted to end with one part is that I believe the issue, as far as internet, if you are spending tech money in one other place, you should be (unintelligible) then you're not prioritizing that. In Fairfax County, Blackboard went down. They didn't do the upgrade, and I 100 percent think this isn't a political issue or this is -- this is a practical issue. This is how people make decisions and responding in emergencies. And one of the first persons I told about this was Chef Jose at World Center Kitchen, because I want the best for students and making good tech decisions, and also making sure our students have all the online (word?).

  • 12:41:50

    NNAMDIOkay. Okay, Carolyn. Thank you very much for your call. Scooter, a major concern for parents now is screen time. Kids and adults are spending more time than ever in front of our devices. How do you make sure students are getting breaks from their screens when school is all virtual?

  • 12:42:09

    WARDSo, at KIPP DC what teachers have done is structured the classes where there are breaks in screen time. So, let's say a pre-K student may have two to two-and-a-half hours, collectively, of screen time during the day, synchronous screen time, where there's an instructor there. But there's also asynchronous time, where they're working on different activities. And that scales all the way up to our high school students.

  • 12:42:33

    WARDSo, they're not spending the whole, you know, seven-and-a-half or eight or nine hours they would in school in front of a screen. They're spending segments of their day on the screen, another segment actually working through activities that have been assigned to them. And then they can either come back to the screen or just wait until the next day, depending on what their class schedule is. So, there isn't really that mental image of a child sitting in front of a screen all day, taking it all in, and not really having interaction or personal time to actually work on what they've learned.

  • 12:43:08

    NNAMDIHere's Patricia in Washington, D.C. Patricia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:43:13

    PATRICIAHi, Kojo. Thanks for doing this show. It's super-informative and it's really top of mind for all parents, I think, in D.C. I just wanted to share my experience in the spring. My kids go to a private school that opened last year called The Whittle School and Studios here in Upper Northwest. And we were very lucky because, in a way, this school has a sister school that opened in China.

  • 12:43:39

    PATRICIAAnd so that group of students in China had already experienced COVID before, you know, we had ever even really brought it top of mind. And so they were able to work with our school to sort of bring in some of the best practices, learning that they could use some online learning with the entire class, then breaking up the students who are only four years old into smaller groups of two and three, which I thought was really helpful.

  • 12:44:08

    PATRICIABut then also to enforce accountability in that the kids were really doing the work. They came up with some good tools to use, video services where the kids could send videos to their teachers, send videos to their colleagues in the class about the things that they were learning. And my kids are also learning Chinese through the school. And I felt that because they were already familiar with the teachers in the classroom, they were able to continue to do the Chinese learning.

  • 12:44:40

    PATRICIABut then later in the summer, when I tried to bring in online learning for Spanish, it was very, very hard to get them to concentrate, because they didn't know the teacher. And they just didn't feel a connection that they had felt with the original class. So, I think for kids, I think to make a point for kids going into the fall with a new teacher, especially young kids like mine, I think it will be very hard for the teacher to get their attention if they don't already have -- already built a relationship with them.

  • 12:45:10


  • 12:45:11

    PATRICIASo, my kids at Whittle School, thankfully, because they (unintelligible) will be going back in smaller pods and will be doing in-person every day for five days a week.

  • 12:45:24

    NNAMDIWell, we'll have to see how that works out. Thank you for sharing your story with us. We don't have a great deal of time left, but a listener Tweets: Special education kids like mine who have autism will be left out. My son needs speech and occupational therapy, which would have been provided in calls, but not online. Can't be done. What would you say to that person, Nicole Tuchinda?

  • 12:45:45

    TUCHINDAI agree that, right now, children with disabilities are struggling. Sometimes IEP's related services on a child's individualized education plan are not being implemented. And parents really need to monitor and be vigilant about the provision of necessary services right now.

  • 12:46:05


  • 12:46:06

    TUCHINDAAnd online learning just doesn't work for many children with disabilities. So, again, I think there's a strong need to...

  • 12:46:13

    NNAMDI(overlapping) I'm afraid...

  • 12:46:14

    TUCHINDAOh, I'm sorry.

  • 12:46:15

    NNAMDI...I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Thank you all for joining us. This segment was part of our Education in a Pandemic series and was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow on The Politics Hour, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton talks about federal coronavirus aid for the District, statehood and the Black Lives Matter protests. And Maryland State Senator Cheryl Kagan looks ahead to November elections and talks about the governor's scuffle over reopening private schools in Montgomery County. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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