Maryland Virtual Learning Platform: Continuous Efforts and Challenges

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With Maryland schools shuttered as coronavirus outbreaks turned into a global pandemic, state educators continue their efforts and creativity to support students and to improve classroom instruction online. Baltimore County Public School spokesperson, Brandon Oland confirmed that while in Baltimore County, the third and fourth marking periods have been combined and students will receive a pass/fail grade instead of a traditional letter grade, virtual teaching and virtual counseling services are available for students who need assistance.

“We are so proud of our teachers, they swiftly transitioned to virtual learning and are doing all they can to support students. Many of our teachers are also parents. They are truly heroes for what they have been able to do so far for students and what they continue to do,” said Oland.

In the last few weeks, millions of students, teachers and parents have had to adjust to learning from home, which means new challenges and responsibilities for both teachers and families. While teachers struggle with keeping children focuses on schoolwork, parents have to juggle daytime responsibilities with children’s schoolwork.

Tazeen Khalid, a teacher of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) at Guilford Elementary School in Maryland, stated that at first she was completely fazed by the new learning platform and was apprehensive about its success.

“After teaching via distance learning for the past three weeks, I have gotten used to it and feel comfortable with it,” said Khalid.

Shaheer Sham, 18, a student at Lansdowne High School in Maryland said that he prefers online- learning, as he doesn’t have to go to school. He enjoyed his online classes but found it challenging sometimes especially when doing assignments with no teacher around.

“Virtual learning is pretty much self-learning, I have to learn a lot on my own. However, the resources provided are useful and adequate. We are more than welcomed to contact our teachers if there’s anything we need help with, Also, Google Meets is a really useful tool. It provides an online version of school office hours,” said Sham.

Like many teachers in Maryland, Khalid has no way but to use her creativity to help both her students and their families to maneuver through online learning. She provides a live small group instruction each day to student of different grade levels. Khalid was faced with a real obstacle, which are the language barriers.

“My students’ families were faced by a huge road block initially due to language barriers, but with the assistance of several county interpreters, I have successfully managed to integrate my families into distance learning,” said Khalid. “I act as a liaison for the rest of my staff and set up interpreting requests with our International Services Resource Center, I also made numerous phone calls to my Urdu speaking families to determine their technological needs and ensure that these needs were fulfilled.”

Khalid continues to contact families with chronic absenteeism and incomplete assignments. She advocates for many families who simply are not aware of the new attendance policies and express them of how the county documents student attendance.

In Maryland, many families are struggling to cope with the new norm of distance learning. Lack of devices and the lack of Internet service were major challenges.

“In BCPS, all middle and high school students are provided with devices for learning. We distributed more than 15,000 devices, via mail, to students in Grades 3-5 who need them. We have also provided packets for elementary school students with the same resources that are posted online,” said Oland.

“Howard County worked hard to gauge the technological deficits and tried to fix the access gaps. We distributed over 20,000 Chrome books at the ratio of 1 device per two students at high, middle and elementary school levels,” said Khalid.

Parents have to cope with balancing family commitments and school obligations. Several kids miss their weekly check-ins as their parents are essential workers and no one is available to log them in especially in the younger grades.

“We offer virtual check-ins twice a week so families have flexibility to work with their schedules. Families also faced the new challenge of navigating the Canvas platform. This was especially daunting to the families of English Language learners. Our International Office worked diligently to provide interpretation services to familiarize the parents with online expectations,” said Khalid.

As virtual learning continues in Maryland, some parents have complained of feeling over whelmed with the new learning platform. Counselors at various schools have reached out to provide both student and parents with adequate support. Schools throughout the state of Maryland are providing adequate resources to ensure a good performance of both teachers and students.

“Howard County is using Lexia Core for Reading and Dreambox, which are an adaptive and engaging computer based learning program. Our teachers are posting activities and weekly assignments with awarding points for completion. We are making every effort to ensure that IEP and EL accommodations are being provided along with differentiated small group lessons,” said Khalid.