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Salt Lake City School District gears up for the year to start online

(Parents attending an orientation at Glendale Middle School to learn more about the online learning system. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Salt Lake City School District is trying to get students and teachers ready for online learning as classes are scheduled to start next week.  Many of their schools are holding orientations this week, and parents and teachers are hoping to avoid some of the problems they had last semester. 

While other districts have already begun in-person classes, Salt Lake City decided to stick with strictly online classes for the first quarter.  This decision went against the wishes of many parents across the city, but district board members felt this was the best way to limit the spread of COVID-19 among their students. 

Orientations in schools like Glendale Middle School aren’t just for the children, but for their parents, as well.  Kids were able to get their laptops, iPads, and Wi-Fi hotspots for the year, plus everyone was given more training on how to use the district’s online teaching platform, Canvas.  Families were also instructed on using apps like Zoom and the scheduling app Remind.

Parents like Andrew Pietramali say they hated online teaching when it first started in the spring.

He says, “[It was] terrible.  I’ve got to work six days a week, so I wasn’t able to supervise my children in order to make sure they were doing what they needed to do.”

His daughter, sixth-grader Naveah Sanchez, says there were a lot of issues with distance learning, but the feeling of isolation was a big problem for her.

“I want to see my friends, but, we can’t because of the stuff that’s going on,” she says.

Seventh-grader Joshua Garcia says, “I missed my online classes, so I had to learn by myself.”

The school got a lot of feedback from parents over the summer and learned isolation and depression were very common among their students.  To combat this, Assistant Principal Keslie Green says they’ve changed how lessons happen, online.  Last spring, they uploaded streaming videos to their website which don’t allow for any social interaction.  This semester, they’re using apps like Zoom which let kids see and communicate with their friends.  Plus, Green says they’ve made it easier for students and parents to reach out for help.

She says, “They have direct communication lines through email and [the app] Remind where they can contact counselors and get some supports, there.”

Green says the response to the orientations has been very positive.

“We’ve had over 60 sessions of small groups coming in for this orientation.  It’ has been a huge success,” she says.