On March 21, the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) announced the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, teachers are embracing the district motto, “Education Reimagined.” The “reimagining” is taking a form most educators, parents and students never contemplated. A new phase of “Home Learning” officially began on March 24 and is currently expected to continue at least through May 5.
Under the new Home Learning program, students are doing exactly that. Learning at home by keeping up with schoolwork and interacting with their teachers in a collaborative online setting. Students are using BHUSD email, Google Hangouts/Meet, Google Classroom, Zoom, and various specialized online programs to stay in touch with teachers and keep up on lessons.
Home Learning is very much a joint effort in which teachers and parents are working together to keep students on track. Attendance is taken each day and homework is submitted electronically.
It’s unlike anything the district has ever dealt with before. Thus far, it is progressing as well as can be expected.
“Every family is dealing with individual yet similar challenges, it’s an unprecedented time having everyone at home right now,” Rebecca Starkins, Director of Public Relations, told the Courier. “Our teachers are balancing their own families with teaching. Our families are balancing working and supporting their children. We are so grateful to have a very close community here at BHUSD and everyone is rallying around one another to offer support, which is incredible to see.”
The Courier spoke with the parent of a kindergarten student at Hawthorne School, who has adjusted the schedule handed out by her child’s teacher. “Today, we did math at 5 p.m. but usually my child is out of school at 2 p.m. There were so many other things for me to do that that’s the time we did it,” she told the Courier. As long as her daughter completes her work and spends the designated amount of time on third-party apps such as Seesaw, a digital portfolio that empowers home learning, the parent is more comfortable home schooling at her own pace.
Older students used to working with online programs have no problems navigating them at home. But for parents, it can be unchartered territory. Apps such as Zoom are popular tools used by teachers. The principal at Hawthorne, for example, is hosting Thursday night “pajamarama” night via Zoom.
Parents unfamiliar with the apps are quickly playing catch-up. Some are finding themselves overwhelmed having to incorporate teaching duties, often for more than one child, in an already stressful environment. In an effort to help things progress as smoothly as possible, BHUSD personnel are communicating with parents on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. Administrators are working together, making adjustments based on feedback by parents and students. A new online tech support chat box on each school website is available from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. for anyone in need of immediate help.
Despite the school closures, BHHS students are still able to access mental health services, such as virtual counseling provided by the Norman Aid Student Support Center. Additionally, the roughly 600 students who are signed up to receive district lunches can still receive them. Wearing masks and gloves, the BHUSD Food Services team is giving out between 60-80 free to-go lunches daily to students. Between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and noon, cars line up outside Horace Mann Elementary School to receive a brown paper bag lunch on a drive-thru basis.
Another parent at Hawthorne told the Courier that her five-year-old daughter has a good understanding of the health and safety measures put in place due to COVID-19. However, she has difficulty grasping social distancing precautions, asking her parents why she can’t see grandma or why her play- dates are over FaceTime. “I asked my child, ‘What is the first thing you want to do when the Coronavirus is gone?’ She said, ‘I want to go back to school.'”
Editor’s Note: As the Courier was going to press, the BHUSD issued the following statement:
“Governor Newsom announced that families and educators should operate ‘with the expectation now that schools will not reopen, but classes are in’ for the rest of the school year.” On March 31, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond released a similar sentiment. We have been advised by the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools that school district closures require local board action. We take these recommendations seriously and will update you shortly.”