Educators and students face obstacles amid pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic first shuttered Ohio schools back in March, students were not the only ones who had to adapt to remote learning. Teachers had to change lesson plans overnight to accommodate for the lack of face-to-face instruction.

This change hit Toledo Public Schools particularly hard. The district is the fourth largest in the state of Ohio with a combined 50 elementary and high schools.

Mona Al-Hayani is a social studies teacher at Toledo Early College and Vice President of the Toledo Federation of Teachers.

She said when the district transitioned to remote learning many students did not have access to reliable internet or Chromebooks to do their work on.

Toledo’s median household income is $37,100, which is more than $17,000 under the Ohio average according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Al-Hayani said in response to the need, TPS provided a Google Chromebook to any student that needed one and Buckeye Broadband provided internet hotspots.

Toledo Early College located in the Driscoll Alumni Center at The University of Toledo. Photo: Nolan Cramer.
Toledo Early College located in the Driscoll Alumni Center at The University of Toledo. Photo: Nolan Cramer.

Another large hiccup of remote learning, came on the first day of class when the district suffered a cyber attack. The attack led to an outage of the district’s internet and email for two days, meaning no students or teachers were able to access their classes. The issues were eventually resolved.

However, the concern of teachers goes just beyond the struggles of teaching online. They are also concerned about the mental health and well-being of their students. Al-Hayani said she is concerned about some of her students’ situations at home.

“For me having a kid in class, being able to look at that kid, me being able to touch the kid on the shoulder and make sure they’re okay. Or keep them after class. I feel disconnected in that way,” she said.

Kristie Erne, a third grade teacher at Elmhurst Elementary, said one of her biggest concerns is students with multiple siblings that all have to attend school at the same time during the day.

The sign outside of Elmhurst Elementary School informs students and parents of TPS reopening plans. Photo: Nolan Cramer.
The sign outside of Elmhurst Elementary School informs students and parents of TPS reopening plans. Photo: Nolan Cramer.

She said that just in the past week she had students struggling to find a quiet place to complete their work.

“I have this little guy who I think he’s one of five. So he gets thrown off the Google Meets all the time, because their Wi-Fi, I can’t keep up with it,” Erne said.

Another problem she has come across is her younger students not thinking remote learning is school. Erne said she had students this past week showing up to class in pajamas or leaving in the middle of lessons.

Similarly to Al-Hayani, Erne said that her main concern is not her students’ academics, but more so their mental health. She said learning online, students lack the sense of community they usually have in a classroom.


PHOTO GALLERY


Both teachers expressed concerns about the district’s plan that has students returning to the classroom starting in October.

The current reopening schedule has students returning in-person two days a week, while remaining remote the other three days. K-2 will start this “hybrid model” on Oct. 12 and 3-12 on Oct. 26.


MAP: TOLEDO PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT


Erne said that TPS has not done an adequate job informing teachers of the procedures in place once students return. She said administration keeps going back and forth on certain policies and she can not keep up.

Another concern has been classrooms supporting social distancing between students. Al-Hayani said she has been weighing her options on how to safely teach.

“If I can go outside and teach, I will be taking the kids outside and I’ll be teaching outside,” she said.

At the same time that educators are struggling with remote teaching, local college students are trying to adjust to new COVID-19 procedures.

At the University of Toledo, officials have been trying to curb the number of positive cases among students.

The primary solution has been a transition to hybrid classes. Resulting in the majority of classes being taught remotely or at a reduced capacity in-person.

While a few students can be seen walking around campus, the overall scene is much calmer than it would usually be during midterm week.

All campus buildings notices can be seen reminding students to wear a mask, keep six-feet of social distance and their wash hands regularly.

John Yerg — a fourth-year student majoring in pharmaceutical medicine — took the time to speak remotely about his experience with new safety protocols.


VIDEO: UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO COVID-19


As of September 28, UT had reported 356 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among its students. The positivity rate among the students tested is 3%, which is is lower than the state of Ohio’s positivity rate of 3.7%.

Lucas County, where UT is located, currently sits at a Level 2 on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System as of the latest update on September 24. The designation signifies that there is increased exposure and spread in the community.

University officials do not have a date for when it expects full capacity in-person classes to resume. However, spring break was canceled to reduce travel to and from campus.

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