In the latest collaborative effort between City Hall and the Everett Public Schools (EPS), leaders are establishing dedicated locations for students to participate in remote learning when the school year begins in September. Called “eLearning Centers,” the safe and quiet spaces will allow a percentage of students to access the instruction, assignments, content, and assessments that comprise the robust virtual learning curriculum that will be delivered by EPS teachers during the 2020-2021 school year.
“The safety of our residents is our first priority, which is why I fully support the decision to start the school year with all-remote learning,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “But we also recognize that distance learning creates challenges for working parents. The eLearning Centers are a creative and effective way to alleviate some of the critical concerns families might have about remote learning.”
The eLearning Centers are for elementary and middle-school students. They will be supervised by adults who can provide technical assistance to students so they can access internet- and computer-based learning via a laptop computer or a Chromebook. Students who attend the centers will have the same level of access to their teachers as students who participate in eEducation at home.
“We are perfectly confident and excited about the remote platforms our teachers and administrators are working hard to implement for 2020-21,” said Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani. “Still, from the beginning of this process, we strongly felt that we needed to do something for families for whom learning at home is particularly difficult. The eLearning Centers will provide those students with that necessary support.”
Specifically, eLearning Centers allow the EPS to support its most vulnerable students, such as those that do not have access to Wi-Fi at home. School leaders are also exploring additional ways to support marginalized students, including offering additional services for students with disabilities, and providing all students with content tool kits that support remote learning at home.
While recent reports indicate that Everett is in the state’s “red zone” — indicating a high percentage of COVID-19 cases — officials are committed to operating the learning centers as part of its reopening in mid-September.
“Our census numbers from 2010 state that we have approximately 45,000 residents, but the City and the EPS are both under the impression that these numbers are extremely inaccurate,” said Mayor DeMaria. “We believe that our population is closer to 65,000. If our population was counted appropriately, Everett would not be in the ‘red zone.’”
The EPS is in the process of determining the locations of the eLearning Centers. There will be several of them throughout the city, but not at every school in the district. For staffing and operational purposes, larger spaces such as gymnasiums and cafeterias are likely to be utilized, as well as the former Pope John High School. Space and safety guidelines will limit the number of spots the district can offer in its eLearning Centers. An online registration process will be available to families beginning next week.
The Superintendent and the Mayor both stressed that the eLearning Centers will operate under strict safety guidelines. This means that students and staff will have to wear face coverings, and six feet of social distancing will be maintained at all times. To help best facilitate social distancing, the district is likely to use larger spaces, such as gymnasiums and cafeterias, to set up desks for students to use.
In addition, parents and caregivers are strongly encouraged to screen their student(s) for any COVID-19 symptoms before sending them to an eLearning Center. Students should stay at home if they exhibit or experience any of the following:
• Fever (100.4° Fahrenheit or higher), chills, or shaking chills
• Cough (not due to other known cause, such as chronic cough)
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• New loss of taste or smell
• Sore throat
• Headache when in combination with other symptoms
• Muscle aches or body aches
• Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
• Fatigue, when in combination with other symptoms
• Nasal congestion or runny nose (not due to other known causes, such as allergies) when in combination with other symptoms
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the city and the EPS have worked together to successfully serve Everett families. From promoting and facilitating food distribution to organizing Everett High School’s massive drive-through graduation celebration in June, the partnership has flourished. The city helped the district with its extensive Tech to Go initiative, specifically by facilitating the use of the parking lot across from the Encore Boston Harbor Resort for families to drive up and pick up Chromebooks. More recently, city officials were quick to identify and offer the use of Pope John High School for eLearning.
Additionally, several representatives of city government served on the EPS School Reopening Steering Committee and/or the four subcommittees whose work provided the foundation for the district’s official reopening plan, which has been approved by the School Committee and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Our city has come together in a profound way to cope with COVID-19,” Mayor DeMaria said. “Our success has been due in large part to the efficient and productive cooperation among city departments, community partners, and our residents.”
Superintendent Tahiliani agreed. “We have received nothing but encouragement, sound advice, and a helping hand from the city as we have navigated through these unprecedented times,” she said. “We’re united in our effort to put the safety and overall well-being of our students at the heart of every decision we make.”
Under the 2020-2021 Reopening Plan unanimously approved by the School Committee, the EPS is adopting a phased approach to returning to school. Under Phase 1, all students will begin the school year under the EPS eEducation model, which includes a mix of core content instruction delivered via Zoom, as well as online platforms and programs. eEducation is designed so students can participate with equal ease either at home or at an eLearning Center.
Phase 2 is slated to begin on November 16 to coincide with the start of the second quarter. The EPS will open its schools for in-person teaching and learning, with students divided into two groups. Each group will adhere to an alternating weekly schedule of in-person instruction and eEducation.
Finally, Phase 3 calls for students to have the opportunity to return for full-time, in-person teaching and learning for the beginning of the third quarter on February 1. Families will have the option to use the eEducation model throughout the school year if they so choose.