For the time being, schoolchildren across the D.C. metropolitan area are relegated to their homes, where they have been tasked with virtually communicating with their instructors and completing homework packets for a significant portion of their academic year, and sometimes under the auspices of stressed parents and guardians.
Doing so during a global pandemic has posed quite a challenge in local households where siblings share one computer and a hodgepodge of adult responsibilities. In other situations, families haven’t been able to access the technology needed to maintain continuity in scholastic development.
Members of the Washington Teachers’ Union, in response to these conditions, have spent more than two weeks preparing 30-minute lessons — about various topics and for students of every grade level — that air on Fox 5 and Fox Five Plus every morning during the school week and will continue throughout the duration of this public health state of emergency.
Some participants in the “Learning Doesn’t Stop” televised lessons, like school librarian K.C. Boyd, said they’ve done so out of a sense of duty to all young people.
“It’s about knowing that a lot of children are affected,” said Boyd, a library media specialist of more than two decades who serves students at Jefferson Middle School Academy.
Last week, Boyd, who also conducts online lessons via her YouTube and Instagram Live accounts, read aloud “Sulwe,” a children’s book by Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o that tackles the issue of colorism, and encourages self-love, all while strengthening word recognition skills among second and third graders.
“Children from Wards 7 and 8 need to hear a read-aloud,” Boyd said. “Some of them don’t have access to Wi-Fi and traditional hardware, but they have cellphones and could watch it on the television. I was adamant about participating. Despite not having technology or hardware, we needed to figure out a way to teach them, either through Fox News or social media. The children can’t lie dormant while we’re out for this pandemic.”
Boyd counts among a lineup of well-regarded DCPS instructors, including Teacher of the Year Ashley Kearney and National History Teacher of the Year Alysha Butler, who had been scheduled to appear on “Learning Doesn’t Stop.”
The rollout of these televised lessons happened amid reports in Los Angeles that 55,000 students haven’t maintained an online presence or been in contact with their teachers since March 16, when the coronavirus pandemic forced closures across the Los Angeles Unified School District and the state of California.
Without the proper access to online academic platforms during the pandemic, the likely effects of idleness that some children might experience are similar to what some education experts call summer setback, defined as memory loss and decline in scholastic achievement from lack of academic enrichment during summer break.
Upon his students’ virtual return from spring break on March 24, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee announced that his office had been in collaboration with WTU for the production of educational content that would air on the television. On what had been marked as the first day of Distance Learning, officials also revealed that DCPS central office had a stock of computers to dole out, primarily to high school students taking advanced placement courses.
More than a week later, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the distribution of 16,000 laptops and 10,000 Wi-Fi hot spots as part of the newly launched DC Education Equity Fund, and the Empowered Learners Initiative.
For one DCPS library specialist, the effects of the global pandemic demonstrated the need for various educational platforms that can meet the needs of an economically diverse student population, specifically those lacking a solid Wi-Fi connection or a working computer.
As a participant in the “Learning Doesn’t Stop” broadcasts, the educator said she hopes, at some point in the future, to guide students in critically analyzing the news so they could decipher between credible information and that which has been designed to mislead viewers.
“Teachers will see that there’s a lot of opportunity available in this kind of instruction,” said the librarian, who requested anonymity. “Library specialists are trained to use these resources in our daily work. We have a lot of digital resources for learning. Hopefully, we’ll continue doing that work.
“We know that we’re competing for time, but the television gives us a way [to reach young people],” she said. “They’re watching television and being reminded about what they need to do as students.”