By Jill Fox
The Parkland Chamber of Commerce hosted a back-to-school panel discussion with local principals on Zoom.
The mayor, city commissioners, school board representatives, principals, administrators, and parents, among others, were in attendance on Wednesday morning to discuss guidelines, accountability, and engagement as the community prepares to begin e-learning.
Mayor Christine Hunschofsky began her welcome address by asking the 300-plus participants to “Take a deep breath,” because everyone’s primary focus is on the “health, safety and well-being of our children.”
School Board Member Lori Alhadeff explained the goal is to get teachers and students back to their brick and mortar schools, but they have to do it as safely as possible. She said they would continue to monitor the positive COVID-19 numbers until they fall below five percent, and the school board will reevaluate the situation at the beginning of October.
Student engagement was a common theme in the questions sent in by Parkland parents concerned about their children sitting in front of the computer for six hours a day.
In addressing parents about virtual learning issues from the spring, Alhadeff said, “We know we need to be more accountable and step it up.”
One by one, principals from each Parkland school answered questions ranging from aftercare plans to temperature checks.
Regarding student engagement, Heron Heights Principal Merideth Weiss-Schnur, who has an incoming kindergartener herself, said they are looking at different strategies, like using pictures for them to log in to each class, as well as other ways to make learning as productive and fun as possible.
She said they are also working on having brief individual meet-and-greets between teachers and families before August 19, in addition to a formal e-learning orientation on August 14 to learn about the new model.
Park Trails Principal Arlene Manville said all students will have a live session with their teachers each morning from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., and will not be expected to sit in front of the computer the whole day. Students will still be able to participate in clubs and extra-curricular activities remotely.
“We are working to keep students as engaged as we can,” she said.
Westglades Middle School Principal Matthew Bianchi plans on keeping to the regular bell schedule with four core classes and two electives. They have created an e-learning orientation video and have a virtual open house scheduled for Monday, August 17, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Principal Michelle Kefford explained that Marjory Stoneman Douglas is planning to mirror a regular school day, with their typical 90-minute blocks and schedule, except all students will eat lunch at the same time.
She ensured changes from last spring and a very different model to keep as much continuity as possible for when students return to the classroom and said there would be engagement between teachers and students every day in every period.
For some, this was the first opportunity to hear from the new charter school principal, Geyler Herrera Castro. She explained Somerset Parkland Academy would have daily live instruction from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., followed by lunch and independent learning. Their parent orientation is on Thursday, August 6, at 5:00 p.m.
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- Jill Fox is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. She has worked in public relations and television for over 20 years. Fox lives in Parkland with her husband and their two children.