When the state announced the closure of all schools on Monday, March 16, due to the coronavirus pandemic, educators had to address the challenges of transitioning to remote education, while tending to the academic, physical, and emotional needs of their students. The closing down of school buildings did not suppose the deterioration of the learning experience of students, as schools in New Orleans made a tremendous effort to adjust to the ever-changing situation brought about by the virus.
According to The New Orleans Digest, One of the main challenges that schools faced when transitioning to remote learning was food insecurity. As a large number of students depend on the school system for breakfast and lunch, a significant portion of the school's population was put at risk of facing food insecurity. Approximately 83 percent of students in New Orleans public schools come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, which meant that the schools had to come up with a plan in order to meet the basic needs of these students, regardless of the cancellation of in-person classes. In order to respond to this challenge, many outdoor lunchrooms remained open, providing students under the age of 18 with bagged meals handed at a safe social distance. Similarly, charter networks and schools combined efforts with NOLA public schools in order to distribute meals around different sites of the city. The city-wide distribution will continue to give out 125,000 weekly meals through the months of June and July.
The mental health of students was also considered a priority when transitioning to new learning methods as schools began to close down in March. A mental health hotline was launched, and several webinars were hosted online for families helping children to cope with the changes that the pandemic has brought about. Some educators have turned to alternative methods, such as holding recess and important celebrations online in order to keep students connected and motivated.
In terms of academics, schools across the city have engaged with a combination of online and physical coursework meant to keep students on top of their subjects. Physical coursework was delivered to some students through bus routes, meal sites, or mail. Technology access was one of the biggest hardships when it came to remote learning. Not all children and families have access to electronic devices or an internet connection. As much as 55 percent of families who make under $20,000 annually do not have internet access. As a response to this issue, the Orleans Parish School Board approved the allocation of funds for the purchase of Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots for students in need.
A Louisiana Department of Education survey conducted in April showed that teachers at 100 percent of New Orleans schools were reaching out weekly to their students across all grade levels. This demonstrates how educators have adapted to giving the students the best learning experience possible, regardless of the circumstances. The majority of New Orleans schools provided resources that were specific to the grades and courses of the students. The learning materials provided covered at least the four core subjects of English language arts, math, science, and social studies across all grade levels.
As the decision to return to in-person classes is yet to be decided in the upcoming months, schools and educators continue to innovate their teaching methods in order to provide a safe and enriching educational experience, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Their main priority is keeping children safe and healthy while they are learning. The efforts of educators and schools across the city demand to be praised after the successful completion of the school year in the face of the virus.