Making the Grade: A look at the challenges, future of distance learning in SC

Education

FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) — As school districts across South Carolina develop plans for the upcoming school year, it doesn’t look like virtual learning is going anywhere.

In fact, the South Carolina Department of Education requires both in person and virtual learning for a district’s plan to be approved.

That’s why News13 wanted to know how distance learning went in the spring, and what’s being done to ramp it up for those who choose it in the fall.

During a news conference Wednesday, Senator Greg Hembree called the spring a ‘virtual learning experiment.’ He praised teachers and administrators for their effort and work into adapting, but voiced concerns over the results.

“We know virtual education is not as good for most children,” Governor Henry McMaster said Wednesday.

Marion mom Jacqueline Negron said distance learning in the spring simply didn’t work well for her youngest daughter.

“She is a child that is going to be in the sixth grade, but educationally and mentally she is only in the second grade,” Negron said.

She said her daughter gets more support while in the classroom.

“They are forgotten when they do planning, when they do their own curriculum,” she said. “They’re not thinking of the children that are left behind because these are children with disabilities.”

Some districts say they faced issues with technology and infrastructure in the quick shift to distance learning.

“Some of the more rural areas, even Marion County, you know, having internet access is not always possible,” Director of Operations for Marion County School District Leon Sturkey said.

Marion County, like some other districts, relied on paper packets in the spring to allow students to work remotely.

But it’s now working to spend federal dollars on buying laptops.

“We’re now going to be one to one, having devices means that you don’t necessarily have to have packets, you know, for kids to pick up because you’re doing it all electronically through the devices,” Sturkey said.

The money comes from the district’s allocation of CARES Act funding.

News13 found a similar story at Florence County School District Five.

“It’s a big leap for us,” FCSD5 Superintendent Randy Smiley said. “Funding here is very tight. So this money really helped us to move forward with technology much faster than we would’ve been able to do without it.”

But as Representative Terry Alexander of Florence will tell you, computers only go so far without internet access.

“We found out a lot of kids did not have broadband,” the District 59 rep said. “They just don’t have access, not because, and some of them probably can’t afford it, but it just does not go to their homes.”

South Carolina lawmakers have directed $50 million in CARES Act funding go toward broadband and mobile hotpots. Alexander’s biggest concern, though, are the students who are off the grid- not the students.

AccelerateED recommends assigning staff to a fully distant learning schedule, live streaming classes and getting tech to students.

Sturkey in Marion feels the added tech assets will help students who complete work from home.

“It should make things easier for both your teachers and the parents because when children are home, it affects their entire family,” he said.

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