Enrichment activities now available during school closure
Erie's Public Schools are facing multiple challenges and working out solutions
While COVID-19 cases continue to unfurl around the globe, local school districts are left in the middle of the storm, fighting illness as well as equity. To prevent the spread of disease, Erie's Public Schools closed indefinitely Friday, March 20, following Gov. Tom Wolf's order to further close businesses that are not "life-sustaining."
Brian Polito, Superintendent of Erie Public Schools, said there have been three main challenges: providing food to students who depend on it, distributing technology to all students, and supplying enrichment materials to allow for knowledge retention during this extended break.
Before the abrupt closing, Erie's Public Schools had been preparing to distribute technology throughout the week of March 23. The closure halted these plans and put the school district in a trying situation where the district could post enrichment activities online. Still, those students who don't have internet access would not be able to retrieve the materials, furthering the already present divide.
On the afternoon of March 23, Gov. Wolf announced that although the schools will remain closed for at least two more weeks, the district is now able to pass out paper packets of activities along with the meals the district has been distributing.
The school district has been distributing meals during the week to students in need of food; however, there will be adjustments to the distribution soon. Multiple meals will be given out two to three times throughout the week to lessen the number of people that gather for food frequently.
"I think at this point, what we're doing is providing opportunities to all those students. We have a pretty strong support system within the district and our teachers do know their students very well, so they'll be working to reach out to all their families, to make sure they are continuing to do work."
As for students with learning disabilities or language barriers, the district is currently designing packets to be distributed to those individuals separately.
For now, the employees are taking the same precautions with the packets being handed out as they are with the food—making sure proper procedures are in place, and those in contact with the materials are wearing gloves. The packets and activities online are not mandatory to be returned or completed for assessment, so it is purely an opportunity.
"We can't foresee the future, but I look forward to the day this crisis is over," commented John Harkins, president of Erie School Board.
He continued, saying the administration is vigilant in monitoring and responding to every challenge and acting accordingly. Polito specifically has employees tasked with different aspects of the situation. Sometimes the easier route to take doesn't uphold the responsibilities the school district holds for its students.
Enrichment packets are available on Erie's Public Schools website, each for the various grade levels kindergarten through grade 12. The packets cover English Language Arts and math.
Currently, the plan is to distribute these packets until the closure ends, but Polito will continue to advocate for technology distribution as soon as they can do so.
"It's a constantly evolving situation, and we've had to adapt our plans multiple times, so my advice is to watch our website and Facebook page for updates," Polito said.
The Facebook page acts as a news platform for the district in addition to being a catalyst for conversation and expressing concerns between administrators and families.
"Sometimes the crises bring out the best in people," Harkins commented, regarding the ways the community has come together creatively to create an environment that's inducive to learning.
Whether it's Erie's Public Schools posting tips about engaging with students, community centers stepping up and delivering meals around town, or even community programs like the Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier Park (LEAF), the community is coming together during this time to help students.
Hannah Rhodes, a local teacher and the program director at LEAF, created the Recycled Sculpture Contest for children to use recycled materials at home to create a nature-inspired sculpture to win passes to LEAF's education program.
Rhodes emphasized, "Every educator I know is doing their best to adapt to the circumstances and every family I know is doing the same, so if we continue to create a community of people who care about each other safely, then I think we're doing a good job."
Chloe Forbes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org