With the best front page since long time editor Phil Heron retired from the Daily Times this summer, we learned the Chester-Upland School District decided to keep the schools closed for the rest of 2020 thanks to the coronavirus.

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Superintendent Dr. Birks says the decision to move to the on-line model was for a number of reasons including ‘the growing number of infection rates across the region and state.’ The explosive rates a COVID-19 in the city of Chester is proof enough, but if what’s happening in the region and state is the more important factor, who am I to argue.

The Washington Post published a story on August 5 with a headline that speaks volumes – America is about to start online learning, Round 2. For millions of students, it won’t be any better.

They site how many school districts went through a difficult process to consider the options of reopening, not opening, or a mix of the two. Some districts were counting on coronavirus to be less of an issue after July 4th than it was on April 4th. And because many districts are just coming to their final decisions, there hasn’t been a lot of time to prepare for the option they selected.

The big question around here is, how prepared is the school district, students, parents, and households to educate remotely until 2021? Part of that answer is found in how well the district did when students were sent home in the spring to remote learn. With Chester High School students required to take online classes and all other grades recommended to take online classes, how many students actually showed up to their online classes? How much learning really went on in the 4th quarter last school year?

We can pass out all the free Chromebooks Google can send us. However, with school closed, we won’t be passing out any free breakfast or lunch which is more important to hundreds of family’s survival. Maybe we can improve WiFi access or set up community hotspots, but when the electric bill can’t be paid, online learning has to take a seat.

Even if every student had a Chromebook, do they know what to do with it?

It used to be the dream to have a PC or laptop in the house. Just as the penetration of these devices started to improve, here comes the SmartPhone. SmartPhones are great for connecting to the Internet, using apps, and viewing websites. But, it’s not the device for writing term papers, downloading large files like text books, or taking online classes. The online curriculum schools employ require a desktop or laptop computer connected to the Internet via ethernet or Wifi and not a SmartPhone’s 4G network (and certainly not by dial-up just in case you recently arrived back into society).

Young students learn and adapt fast. It’s hard to believe we’re now requiring them to adapt to using a laptop because many have had no time on a real computer. They will always gravitate to their phones because that’s all many of them know. Getting them used to using a Chromebook is not as easy as it may seem.

Here’s some SmartPhone stats to chew on from a Common Sense Media survey…

  • Just over half of children in the United States — 53 percent — now own a smartphone by the age of 11 and about 1 in 5 children has a phone by age 8.
  • 84 percent of teenagers now have their own phones.
  • Teens spend more than 7 hours a day, and nearly 5 hours a day for “tweens” ages 8-12 on their phones.
  • African-American and Hispanic teens reports spending more than two hours a day on social media, whereas for white teens it’s about an hour and a half.
  • People of color are more likely to value social media as a means of getting involved in politics, that youth of color follow more celebrities and public figures than white teens do.
  • Young people from families making $35,000 or less a year spend much more time with screen media — nearly two hours per day more when compared with families making more than $100,000.
  • Entertainment media on phones is an affordable alternative to after-school programs or private piano lessons.
  • Although lower-income teens spend more time consuming entertainment media, they are less likely to have access to laptops, and they spend more time doing homework on mobile phones instead.
  • Teens report spending only 3 percent of their screen time on creative pursuits like writing, or making art, or music — outside of homework or school projects.
  • Teens use their consumption to inform and inspire their creative expression

Makes me wonder is schools should incorporate SmartPhones as the new art class.

I’ve said before that it’s difficult to turn a brick & mortar school into a cyber school overnight just as it’s difficult to turn a parent without the time or skills to check homework or attend PTA meetings into a homeschool teacher overnight, if at all.

Whether schools open in person, online, or a combination of the two in the fall, the decision for district leaders is a difficult one and there is no sure bet they’ll make the right or best decision.

We trust the schools will get better at what they do, the students will adjust and adapt to constant change, and the parents will be patient through the process.