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Virtual school begins

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Sixth grade students Zoey Powell, above, and Jaden Powell begin the new school year by doing their assignments on school-issued Chromebook laptops. (Contributed photos) / September 10, 2020
The second day of classes for Halifax County students learning at home went more smoothly than Day 1 on Tuesday, but the new school year — with its new normal of remote instruction — remains a work in progress.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg said teachers and administrators have quickly worked out some of the kinks in remote learning that surfaced on the first day of school. But because “it’s such a different time right now,” no one can say exactly how the school day is going for all students taking part online at home..

“It’s hard to say because I’m sure there are folks out there with concerns,” he said.

A first-day deluge of phone calls and messages pointed out connectivity issues and other problems, but that had subsided by Wednesday, said Lineburg. “As far as phones ringing and complaints, today was probably as quiet a day as I’ve had in my entire career."

“I don’t want to jinx that.”

With some students experiencing trouble logging onto virtual classes, Halifax County Public Schools has launched a help hotline at (434) 570-HELP (4357), available Monday-Thursday from 4-8 p.m. Parents and students can call their school with questions during regular school hours.

The after-hours hotline offers two types of help — tech support for those having issues with online access to classes, and homework help for students who are struggling to master instructional materials. While many technical glitches can be solved over the phone, homework questions generally must directed to teachers, who will call their students at home the following day.

The help hotline went down on the first day, but that has since been fixed, according to Lineburg: “I’m not sure if it was high call volume, but we went back this morning [Wednesday] and we think we have all that rectified now.”

Lineburg said some initial signs suggest that families and students are adapting well to remote learning. While school officials have acknowledged many families lack internet access in remote parts of the county, live participation in classes at South Boston Elementary has been strong.

Lineburg said he knew of one class at South Boston Elementary in which 12 out of 15 students took part in a live-streamed classroom sessions, while in another fourth grade class, 23 out of 24 students participated in the live-stream. He cautioned, however, that it’s too early to tell if the same trend is holding up elsewhere.

“I haven’t monitored every classroom like that. I want to get through the week before we see where we are.”

At Halifax County High School, math teachers Ann Franklin and Angie Abdi have collaborated on teaching an algebra class to their students, which is “just a fantastic instructional model,” said Lineburg. “I’m so proud of our teachers — everybody is teaching hard, but it’s tough to teach face-to-face into a computer.

“We still believe [in-person] face-to-face instruction is best, and we’ll always believe that,” he said.

It remains to be seen how many students will tune into their classes from home — and are already doing so. Attendance checks, online and via phone, are part of the remote learning school day, but the school division has not yet compiled full attendance data for the first two days.

Going into the first day of school on Tuesday, the Central Office projected attendance of 4,435 students. One school in particular to watch to gain a sense of how attendance is going, said Lineburg, is Halifax County High School.

“I imagine the high school is always going to be the greatest challenge,” said Lineburg. While parents of younger students will probably be inclined to check with their children to make sure they are taking part in classes, “just naturally at the high school [level], parents let the reins off a little bit.

“From the preliminary reports, we feel pretty good about [attendance],” he said.

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