Iowa schools are sharing resources for families to keep students engaged while classes are cancelled to prevent the spread of COVID-19, although district officials caution they are not meant to replace lost time with teachers.
Des Moines Public Schools is providing a list of websites students can sample to solve math puzzles, read Iowa history or practice their English. Cedar Rapids Community Schools created a daily schedule families can follow to copy the rhythm of a school day.
Des Moines Public Schools director for secondary teaching and learning, Sarah Dougherty, said the goal is to keep children engaged. But, she added, parents should not feel like they have to turn their homes into classrooms.
“Try to do things that keep kids active creatively, physically and mentally but don’t anticipate recreating a six-hour school day in your living room,” Dougherty said. “I have a five-year-old and an eight-year-old home and I know for sure that if I’m going to continue to be an effective professional, an effective educator and an effective parent that I’m not going to be able to do all of those things at once.”
The Iowa Department of Education has told public K-12 schools they cannot require students to participate in online learning, in part because many families lack internet access or the devices they would need to work online.
The options for Des Moines students were shaped by concerns over unequal access, Dougherty said. More than 75 percent of DMPS students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. District staff looked for materials that would be widely accessible without creating additional costs for families.
“Our path forward really looks like what can we offer that allows everyone to participate and not widen any opportunity gaps that already exist,” Dougherty said.
None of the resources shared by the district requires a subscription or registration, she said, and the sites can be viewed on a smartphone, which is the device most families have available.
Many schools are also looking for ways to help students with no internet access at home. Cedar Rapids will begin sharing printed materials with families through the mail and at food distribution sites. Families in the Iowa City school district can request a connection to be paid for by the district during the COVID-19 shutdown.