At a May 6 meeting, staff from Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools detailed measures the school district has taken to account for the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nanaimo News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo school district COVID-19 response includes loaning 2,000 Chromebooks

SD68 figuring out learning-at-home and technology needs through June and potentially into fall

With schools closed for more than two months due to coronavirus, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ students have relied on technology for learning continuity, say school district staff.

The school district department of learning services reported to the education committee at its May 6 meeting on how it is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting was held remotely, with the assistance of technology, something students are relying on to learn, according to staff.

Don Balcombe, assistant superintendent of secondary programs, said the school district is entering a new arena where its approximately 14,000 students have to move from the structured and organized learning environment of a classroom and continue learning at home. It has brought a lot of considerations for the district in its work in trying to support the system, including considerations for the learning space students have in their homes to be able to continue learning and access to technology, he said.

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“Our learning coordinators have got to work on providing a bunch of documents,” said Balcombe. “So teachers have said, ‘What does this look like?’ ‘How do I move my learning online or give access to my students?’ So everything from guidelines for technology to supporting documents for families on what it would look like for working from home, to teaching support guidelines for K-7 teachers … 8-12 teachers to what platforms we use. So we’re a Google classroom, we have FreshGrade, we have Microsoft Teams that we’re meeting on here tonight.

“Pre-spring break, we would have typically about 25 users on Teams. Today, I would say, when I checked in with [information technology department], we’re well over 1,500 users on a daily basis, so things have changed quite quickly.”

The biggest point that has been “amplified” during this time is equity of access for students, according to Balcombe. He said students are on a level playing field and opportunities are available when in the classroom, but that doesn’t always translate at home.

“So our IT department has had an overwhelmingly massive response in a very short period of time,” said Balcombe. “They have loaned out approximately 2,000 Chromebooks out to students who did not have technology at home. They’ve arranged for over 150 families to be provided affordable internet access, so families that did not have access before … we’re trying to figure out what the learning-at-home and technology needs will be for today, tomorrow and through the rest of June and potentially into the fall as we respond to COVID-19.”

Other measures the district has instituted during the coronavirus crisis include the establishment of learning centres for children of essential service workers and continuation of meal programs for vulnerable students, via delivery of food hampers from the non-profit Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation.

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