Dorchester District 2 launches school year, programs to help students adjust

Dorchester District 2 launches school year, programs to help students adjust
With a high incident rate and percent-positive rate in Dorchester county right now, all students will be virtual for at least the first two weeks. Parents will be informed two weeks in advance if students will be transitioning to in-person learning. (Source: Live 5/File)

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCSC) - Even Dorchester County School District 2 families with their own computers must pick up district-issued electronics for the new school year.

The rule applies to students starting the year with the district’s eLearning program and those committing to a full year of virtual instruction.

The iPads, Chromebooks and other technology have instructional software required for classes installed.

Schools have been contacting families directly and delivering technology to students even over the last few days so that by Tuesday’s start of the new school year, students would have what they need.

District spokesperson Pat Raynor said the majority of devices have been picked up, but those who still need theirs should contact their schools directly.

Nearly 9,000 students out of 25,000 have registered for the district’s virtual learning academy, but only about a third of those students actually hope to learn from home for the entire school year. District leaders say each school looked at the number of students applying for the virtual academy, and based on the numbers there should be enough teachers for face to face learning if and when that happens.

The eLearning model is set up to have less daily interaction between students and teachers, but keeps the possibility of coming back face to face a couple times a week or every day, depending on COVID numbers.

With a high incident rate and percent-positive rate in Dorchester county right now, all students will be virtual for at least the first two weeks. Parents will be informed two weeks in advance if students will be transitioning to in-person learning.

“Our parents have to be engaged for our students to be successful,” DD2 Virtual Academy Director Greg Harrison said. “So that partnership between the families, and those open lines of communications are going to be critical for the success of our students, our teachers and our academy.”

Teacher gives advice about virtual learning

VIDEO: Lowcountry teacher gives advice for virtual learning

One DD2 teacher says that families can work together to make this school year’s virtual learning experience as smooth as possible.

Jennifer Plane has been a teacher for almost 30 years, and she says one of the most important things to remember this year is that even virtual students should still think of themselves as being in school. They need to set their alarms and eat breakfast before schools starts.

The only thing that’s different is that they are learning behind a computer instead of in a classroom, she says.

Plane wants to remind families to prepare for the bell at the beginning of the school day as you would every other year.

Attendance will be taken, and having breakfast before could help your students get into a routine again.

She also adds that setting up a good environment for learning in a certain part of the house will help emulate their normal day of school. She says parents should help on the first day to help students adjust, but then they should be hands-off. Students will have chats in most classes to see helpful advice from other students.

“We always have your students first. We always have your kids first,” she says. “We know the curriculum and we’re going to make it together. Be flexible. Ask questions. Try to set up a great learning environment.”

Plane also said they will be testing the pace of virtual classes, and each teacher can adjust the pace if they need to.

DD2 ramps up social, emotional eLearning program

DD2 officials are working to help families and students dealing with hardships because of the coronavirus pandemic.

District counselors are focusing on collaboration between students, their families and teachers through a new program called CASEL, which stands for Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.

In recent months, DD2 put together a social end emotional learning committee to prepare for the school year. Schools will also use a Suite 360 program to help school psychologists, counselors, and teachers work together virtually, and it will also allow students to have direct messaging access to a school counselor throughout the day.

Each school has a psychologist this year, and they are working to expand even more.

In total there are 85 school counselors, 25 mental councilors and 25 school psychologists.

“If your students social emotional states are not where they need to be with mental wellness then they cannot perform on the academic side of things,” Counseling Coordinator Gailia Mercer-Brown said. “So we just see the value in this and we are just so gracious to have leadership at the district level to support us.”

This will be the first year the district aims to encompass all the programs and activities online, but they plan to stick to this model in years to come.

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