Tackling technological troubles

Harrison School District 2 will launch a guide to help students and teachers in 2021.

When Southern Colorado schools closed March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, life became a juggling act for many parents.

They ditched their morning routines to play the role of educator to their children, as schools and many jobs conducted business remotely. Some families faced a laundry list of issues within the realm of education and beyond.

“I’m not viewed as a ‘teacher’ by my children,” said Sue-Lynn Marie Dove, parent to Academy District 20 third and fourth graders. “I think the rapport they have with their teachers is part of the learning process. Parents are enforcers. 

“I have plenty of positive enforcement, as well as positive feedback, and discussed with them areas for improvement ... just as I would in home life. But it’s not the same, hearing those things from a parent, who, of course, favors their children.”

Dove, who was laid off a month prior to the pandemic, spent more than 12 years working with people who have disabilities, and she understands the difficulties of teaching kids. 

She created a routine for her children resembling their previous schedule, while also caring for her 5-week-old. This included reviewing their daily agendas during breakfast and organizing supplies and lessons. For lunch, Dove and her children ate together, and she allowed them a 30- to 45-minute “recess.” 

“The only catch was no video games,” she said. “Then, I’d continue to guide my older son through his tasks. Most of the time, working with him was spent trying to locate the right login information and trying to get apps and websites to work as they were supposed to.”

Unforeseen challenges

Technology issues highlighted one of many problems faced by those conducting de facto homeschooling during the pandemic. 

Julie Ramirez, Southeast Colorado Springs entrepreneur and parent to a 6-year-old, currently cares for her 83-year-old grandmother, while also conducting virtual learning with her son. 

On top of attempting to open her coffee lounge, Stompin’ Groundz, which was delayed due to COVID-19, Ramirez wades through the endeavors of virtual learning. 

“I was kind of looking forward to the opportunity to be able to homeschool and teach my own son,” she said. “I felt like the first couple of weeks went pretty well. I’m a person who likes to time block everything, so we had a good routine, and then there was a week we fell off the routine and we were never able to get back on to it. 

“I thought it would be easier to homeschool because he could get his work done and I’d be working in the background and everything would be great. It’s a lot harder to keep him focused and interested in what he was doing while trying to get my work done.”

Parents also bore the burden of fixing district-issued equipment if it malfunctioned. 

“The laptop wouldn’t recognize the hot spot, or the home internet,” Dove said. “It took ... a little more than a week to come up with a plan to rectify this. The solution was to trade it in for a different one. 

“We did what we could on the iPad and his brother’s tablet, but there was still so much he wasn’t able to access. ... It put him nearly a week behind and he had to play catch up. He doesn’t enjoy the educational part of school, so it was kind of a struggle to get him to focus and knock everything out.” 

Bridging the gap

Harrison School District 2 officials acknowledged that varying technology issues have existed. Administrators and staff developed plans to address the problems parents and students faced this spring during virtual learning, especially regarding equipment to maintain educational capabilities.

“We dedicated a help line for students to access if they have issues with equipment,” said John Rogerson, D2 co-superintendent. “We’re setting up hours, so they run ... to 5:30 p.m. We also have back-ups if there’s damage or if their equipment stops.”

The district received money from the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist with the upcoming year. Rogerson said D2 spent more than $3.5 million on the e-learning system and laptop initiative they plan to use this year. 

The district also plans to provide internet service through Xfinity, to each household that opts into e-learning,

but that lacks service and has appropriate bandwidth. 

“The word of the year is ‘flexibility,’ and that’s across the board,” Rogerson said. “If we go through another crisis, we have a lot of needs our community has to have met. We had a lot of people who stepped up, and we realize it’s a responsibility to serve our community. ... We’re fortunate to have a staff that realizes the unique needs of our community.”

Internet services won’t just serve students who require it for school; it’s open for parents as well. 

“They can find jobs, food resources or type a resume,” said Wendy Birhanzel, D2 co-superintendent. “It’s not just going to stop with the school; it’s going to help the family unit.” 

A question of contact

Administrators also noted the lack of social interaction, which continues to affect students across the nation. 

Aspen Vujcich, who’s enrolled at the University of Wyoming, and her sister Jayde Vujcich, who attends Clarkson University in New York, both returned home to Pueblo to continue their education when their respective campuses closed this spring. Participating in online learning as an out-of-state student, however, further complicates the learning process. 

“The biggest issue is not being able to visit with teachers because most of the classes are online with no web conference,” Aspen Vujcich said. “It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the communication and instruction are not the same.” 

Jayde Vujcich faced similar struggles while virtual learning. That presents additional complications for the

medical student. 

“Not having that hands-on experience is so difficult,” she said. “The quality of education and lecture classes are OK and sufficient, but not being able to do clinicals in person doesn’t allow me to feel confident in my skills.”

Additionally, kids in grade school miss conversations with their peers; so now parents must keep their kids socially active while juggling their own workloads. 

“The social interaction with kids their age is also an important part of the learning experience that they’re really missing with COVID,” Dove said. “How to make and keep friends, having someone to play with and discuss the things 8- and 9-year-olds discuss, learning what’s socially appropriate, and inappropriate, etc.” 

D2 listened to those who mentioned the social aspect of missing school. This year, for students who choose remote learning, schools plan to implement methods for kids to receive that interaction.

“That social peer-to-peer support is huge for our students, and we couldn’t forget that,” Birhanzel said. “There’s social and emotional time built into the e-learning. We can’t take that one piece away from our students because that’s big.”

Harrison School District 2 plans to reopen with hybrid learning — in person as well as live streaming — starting Aug. 17. It plans to provide N95 masks for staff throughout the district, medical masks for students who attend school in-person and need them, and other personal protective equipment. 

For additional information on the return to school plan, visit hsd2.org/domain/1824

Reporter

Marcus Hill is a reporter for the Southeast Express and Schriever Sentinel. He graduated from Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2012 with a degree in Mass Communication.