Several Alabama colleges and universities welcomed students back to campus last week. Since the pandemic began, many schools have shifted toward more virtual instruction. For some students, that has introduced a lot of technical headaches.
Like thousands of students, Andrew Yarborough, a sophomore at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, finished out the spring and summer semesters with online classes. The transition wasn’t an easy one.
“I had a lot of trouble with my online classes just because, for starters, they weren’t formatted very well,” he said. “They were rushed online.”
“Also because, you really have to find what works for you and that’s a big shift to have to do immediately,” he said. Read more.
Students in the Birmingham area are starting to get back to their studies this week as schools slowly begin to reopen.
This week through Sept. 8, schools will be kicking off what is bound to be an unusual school year. While all schools will be offering virtual learning programs, some are allowing students to go to class in person and others are offering blended programs of virtual and in-person learning.
Fairfield City Schools was one of the earliest systems in the area to reconvene, on Monday. The system is having orientation this week, laying the groundwork for instruction to commence.
Parents and students are going to schools to receive schedules, syllabi and, in some cases, devices for online learning. Read more.
Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin announced last week that his system would begin the new school year with virtual online learning for the first nine weeks because of concerns over COVID-19, after parents in a survey voted 56% to 44% in favor of that method.
Since then, many in the 44% have been letting Gonsoulin know about their displeasure with the decision, and the superintendent responded to those complaints at the beginning of a called special board of education meeting Tuesday morning.
“My stance on that is that we serve everyone, those who agree and those who disagree,” Gonsoulin said. “The safety and well-being of our more than 35,000 students and more than 4,500 staff members is paramount.” Read more.
Alabama researchers recently have been acknowledged for their work showing that gains made while children are in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program continue into the students’ elementary years.
Their peer-reviewed article on the topic was published in the July edition of the International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy. It was written by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, ThinkData and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.
The paper counters some recent studies of long-term impacts that have shown that advantages from pre-K learning diminish of “fadeout” over time.
But the Alabama researchers found no statistical evidence of fadeout through the 7th grade. Read more.
BirminghamWatch took a deeper look at the pre-K program. You can read it here:
As the beginning of schools’ fall term creeps nearer, school officials are nailing down their plans for educating students during the coronavirus pandemic.
Those plans vary across the Birmingham area, and some school leaders emphasize that they still could change, depending on the severity of the outbreak. All schools will offer a virtual learning option. Some schools are only doing virtual learning for the first nine weeks, while other schools also have an option to attend school in person.
Start dates also vary widely, from Fairfield’s Aug. 10 opening to Jefferson County’s Sept. 1 opening. See the current plans for Birmingham-area schools to open in the fall term.
More stories on local school openings:
Birmingham Schools Announce Online-Only Learning for First 9 Weeks
For more than 96,000 students with special needs across Alabama, the loss of in-person services could mean a decline in learning, communication or functional skills. It also takes a toll on family members. Read more.
UPDATED — The Jefferson County Board of Education voted Tuesday to begin the 2020-2021 school year Sept. 1 with nine weeks of online education only and no option for traditional classroom learning, as educators and parents continue to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.
The recommendation came from Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin after weeks of town hall meetings with parents, faculty, staff and other stakeholders, as well as an online survey in which Gonsoulin said 80% of JefCoEd families responded. In that survey, 56% were in favor of online learning, and 44% wanted traditional face-to-face classroom learning.
The board approved the recommendation by a 4-1 vote in Tuesday’s online meeting.
Gonsoulin in a later press conference said that some student athletes have tested positive for COVID-19, as have some faculty and staff members, as the schools gear up to reopen. He said no employees will be furloughed because of the return to virtual learning. Read more.
Alabama university and health officials are hopeful that a statewide monitoring platform will lower the spread of COVID-19 on campuses this fall. The program, called GuideSafe, officially launched Monday and includes free testing, symptom monitoring and contact tracing via mobile applications. Read more.
The Jefferson County health officer is recommending that boards of education in the county “strongly consider” setting up virtual learning for middle and high school students this coming school year and cancelling or postponing contact sports.
“With the current level of viral spread and disease in the community, there is a considerable chance” that the virus will occur among students and school staff, Dr. Mark Wilson said in a letter to school officials. “If classes are not stringently isolated from one another, whole schools may end up having to close.” Read more.
Parents can choose between traditional in-person classes, remote learning with Jefferson County teachers, or virtual learning with outsourced teachers. Read more.