Adair schools prepare to meet coronavirus challenge

By Drew Bergman

Contributor

Adair County Schools are currently awaiting the arrival of 1300 Chromebooks and iPads to help ensure that students have at least the capability of continuing their education online if and when it becomes necessary this fall.

“It’s been a real undertaking,” said ACS Superintendent Dr. Pamela Stephens. “Everyone’s been working hard including our principals and the administrators and the people working at Central Office.”

The devices are not the full extent of Adair’s commitment to providing for its students this year. Already, they have on hand 20,000 masks. Many are disposable. Many are going to be permanent mementos of this school year and right now all of them are taking up space waiting until August 24 to be handed out to all of the student and employees of Adair County Schools.

“One mask doesn’t weigh much, but 20,000 have some weight to them,” Dr. Stephens said. “We actually purchased a cloth mask for every student and every employee with the Adair ‘A’ on it. They come in black, blue, and red. We have the small child sizes and all.” Before the school year starts, ACS will also receive a shipment of clear masks to be worn by teachers of younger students and students who would otherwise benefit from being able to see their teachers’ mouths move when they talk.

Alongside the masks, ACS staff, especially including teachers and bus drivers will have access to 500 face shields that were provided by Russell County Vocational School. “We haven’t been putting a whole lot out on this because we’ve been busy trying to get it all accomplished,” Dr. Stephens said. 

“We’re providing sanitizers and thermometers. We’re using a bay in our bus garage to store the sanitizer. It’s coming in five-gallon buckets and we’re putting it in the bus garage.”

Even as plans have been coming together, the process has been fraught with uncertainty. “We didn’t think we were going to get the iPads until the first of September, but we just got word that they shipped today (Tuesday, July 28) so they ought to be here by the first of next week. Chromebooks are promised to be here before the start of school on August 24.” Even after the devices arrive, ACS tech support staff will have to work through each of them to ensure that they are ready for student use.

When the Chromebooks and iPads do become available, parents will have to pay a $15 insurance fee for their students to be able to take the device home, otherwise they will remain at the school where students will be using them as part of the everyday curriculum to help acclimate them to the devices.

“That way if we do have to go out and totally into NTI,” Dr. Stephens said, “then the kids will already be familiar [with the technology] and the learning will be able to go on at a steady pace.”

If and when students have to go to NTI this year it will be different than the workbook packets they utilized at the end of the school year. Assignments will continue to be available through Google Classroom and will need to be worked on online.   

Dr. Stephens recognizes that there are many students with limited access to the internet or no internet access at all. “That’s the biggest problem and we would love to be able to correct that, but we can’t. We know there are places in Adair County where internet doesn’t happen.”

Parents of students without internet are advised to take their student and their student’s device to an area with wireless internet, which could include campus where the Wi-Fi will remain on even if the schools do close. There the student would need to connect to the internet and download their assignments. For students with Chromebooks, the devices will often sync up automatically.

The timing of the announcement admittedly came as a result of other school systems announcing their supply lists as some lists were providing problematic information. “Some of the things I saw on the lists are not going to be permitted to be used in school. For instance, crayons, which is a big deal for the primary center, are porous and we’ve been told that we can’t have anything that is porous. Even paper isn’t popular.”

Though paper isn’t going away just yet, the devices will allow Adair to transition to a paper-lite model for assignments. As to the crayons, they will be replaced with colored pencils and markers, which can be sanitized.

“It’s trial and error and we’re trying to not make that many errors,” Dr. Stephens said.  “We’re excited about the possibility of getting to go face-to-face. We’re excited about the Chromebooks and the iPads.”

As of this week it looks as though two-thirds of ACS families will be sending their children to school for in-person lessons at the start of the year, with the highest portion of those returning being at the high school level.

“We don’t expect that we’ll have much notice if the schools don’t open up, so we have to be ready to teach face-to-face and we have to be ready to go virtual.” With the additional supplies, both high and low-tech, ACS is getting in position to meet either challenge.

More details will be available at a special meeting of the ACSB on August 6 at 6:00 p.m.

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