This year, the first day of school looks completely different. In Durham, North Carolina, one of the largest cities in the state, public schools will begin the school year remotely. But as businesses re-open and parents are obligated to return to their workplaces, not every family has the luxury of being able to stay home with their children. And not every child lives in an environment that can support online learning. Durham Public Schools (DPS) is taking steps to support the community and still provide both parents and their children a safe place to learn and study.
Durham Public Schools plans to operate six 'learning centers' onsite at elementary and middle schools around the city. The DPS Learning Centers will provide a safe space to complete online learning, meals and snacks, and social-emotional activities. Parents will have peace of mind knowing they can return to work and their children will be in a safe place with access to the internet. The learning centers will have a staff to supervise and help the students.
Students will be assigned to small pods with daily wellness screenings, distribution and required use of face masks, and planned circulation and seating following social distancing guidelines. There will also be many breaks throughout the day to sanitize spaces and any group activities students participate in will be 'contact-less' (no more playground games of tag!).
DPS is offering transportation for participants. Additionally, there is a small fee for the program, but many students can apply for a free or discounted rate. According to the DPS website, "Applications will be prioritized for students and families in transition, receiving McKinney-Vento services, or experiencing related hardships".
DPS's learning centers will be a helpful resource for many families in the city who are still facing uncertainty and financial hardship. DPS has already made other steps to support the city's children earlier this year, including a one-to-one laptop program. Authorized in late May, DPS has purchased over 20,000 Google Chromebooks to fight the digital divide and help every student in the community have the same access to education.
"Opening our school year remotely is the right decision to protect our students and staff from COVID-19," said DPS Superintendent Pascal Mubenga. "However, there are many families in Durham who need additional support during the school day. It will take a community effort to support each of these children, but DPS is doing its part."