Online classes a ‘tremendous learning curve,’ Hernando teachers union president says

He commended the school district’s planning for virtual classes required when the state closed public schools through the end of April.
Corisa Kenyon, 12, works on her new online classes this week. The D.S. Parrott Middle School student had no problems logging in to the Hernando County School District’s virtual-learning program, according to her father, Jody Kenyon.
Corisa Kenyon, 12, works on her new online classes this week. The D.S. Parrott Middle School student had no problems logging in to the Hernando County School District’s virtual-learning program, according to her father, Jody Kenyon. [ Jody Kenyon ]
Published April 1, 2020|Updated April 2, 2020

BROOKSVILLE — Though 12-year-old Corisa Kenyon would rather be with her teachers and classmates at D.S. Parrott Middle School, she had no problems logging in to the Hernando County School District’s virtual-learning program when school began this week.

“No issues so far,’’ said her father, Jody Kenyon. He said he wasn’t expecting it to go as smoothly as it has, and he’s impressed that the district could set everything up in such a short time.

“A few minor hiccups, but other than that, my daughter has been able to get right in there, get her classes done,’’ he said.

Vince Laborante, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, said it has been a “tremendous learning curve’’ for teachers, as it has in all districts, but people have been extremely patient with each other. Teachers are helping teachers, support people are helping, and district technology staff members are reaching out.

“It’s a shift in how business is done as usual, but we’ll get through this,’’ Laborante said. He commended schools superintendent John Stratton for keeping him informed from the beginning of the planning.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered that schools stay closed through April 30 in an effort to limit spread of the coronavirus.

Karen Jordan, the district’s public information officer, said most of the district’s 23,000 students already had access to a computer at home. On March 27, students who needed them signed out district-owned laptops, and “all requests for devices have been satisfied at this time,’’ Jordan said. The students borrowing laptops were directed to a 60-day free internet offering through Spectrum.

Computer hot spot devices will give online access to those who don’t have Spectrum, but the hot spots haven’t arrived yet, Jordan said. Until then, those students are working with printed lesson packets.

Hernando’s administrators and teachers last week were trained in how to use Canvas, the program used by Florida Virtual School and by Hernando eSchool.

“The district has a done a great job with providing videos, tutorials and what-not on how to set up Canvas, so even though those are new materials, those videos have helped a lot,’’ said Brandy Sladek-Carsillo, a seventh-grade civics teacher at Parrott and a part-time teacher at Hernando eSchool. She said she and her fellow teachers are helping each other out.

Adam Maternowski, co-chair of the social studies department at Weeki Wachee High School and part-time teacher at Hernando eSchool, said there is a learning curve for those who aren’t familiar with Canvas.

“Once they started doing it, and they realized that Canvas was so user-friendly ... people are doing pretty well with it,’’ he said.

Canvas allows teachers to create and post videos, show slides and interact face-to-face with students.

“I can see my students, any student that has logged in,’’ Sladek-Carisso said. “We set up modules in Canvas, and in each of the modules, students have assignments that they need to complete.’’

She creates a video that tells students what they can expect for the week, and students have to submit their work. For example, they may have to write about what they learned from a particular lesson.

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Maternowski, who helped the district set up the system, said he is a fan of online education, but not exclusively.

“I don’t think you could ever replace that in-the-classroom experience with the online,’’ he said.

A number of his students have asked him to arrange an online meeting using Zoom software so they can see each other on camera and talk back and forth.

“They miss that face-to-face,’’ he said.

Certainly Corisa Kenyon does.

“She misses school greatly. She loves school, loves being around her teachers,’’ said her father. “At least this is getting her in contact with some of her friends, as well as her teachers again.’’

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