By Kathy Chouteau
Amid a pandemic, lightning strikes, wildfire smoke and the threat of rolling power outages, the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) has managed a smooth launch to the 2020-2021 school year in the view of this mom and writer.
WCCUSD administrators, teachers and everyone else who keeps the district schools abuzz with energy have navigated both the expected and unexpected smoothly—illustrating, in sharp contrast to last year’s last-minute launch of online learning, that students will be reaping the rewards of the district’s better preparation time.
Last school year, amid overnight implementation of shelter-in-place orders, the WCCUSD had to pivot on a dime and deliver an online learning experience with minimal preparation time. They put their best foot forward, but students were left to work much of the time independently, which translated into parents and other caregivers having to step in as on-the-fly educators.
This time around, with more time to prepare and after garnering parental input, the WCCUSD has delivered an online curriculum that’s a new beginning—literally.
The biggest takeaway the third week into my son’s new elementary school year? There’s much more live, online Zoom instruction time with his teacher Monday through Thursday, with Friday primarily reserved for one-on-one teacher meetings with students and parents, as well as independent study time.
The day starts out on Zoom at 10 a.m. where the students in my son’s class receive direct instruction from their teacher and also can interact with their peers. The later start time has also been a revelation, allowing busy families juggling a lot of moving parts to ease into the school day rather than slam into it.
From there, they progress to various online learning platforms, but with intermittent check-ins from the teacher, who deftly keeps the momentum moving throughout the day.
Once a week, my son breaks into a smaller group of students that, in turn, meets with the teacher for any additional help that is needed. His teacher has guided the students’ progress toward a full classroom schedule by introducing it little by little instead of all at once. Now that they are all-in on their daily schedule, there is also time every afternoon allotted for extra help with the teacher if needed.
For our part, our son seems better supported, which has translated into him being far happier and engaged this school year. All of this additional online teacher time also equates to less pressure on mom and dad to fill in the gaps left by less instruction time—which used to frequently take us away from our own workloads. In a word: Hurrah!
Don’t get me wrong, we’re as happy as the next parents to be fully active and engaged partners in our son’s education. Let’s just say that, so far this year, that parent-teacher partnership has been more thoughtfully balanced.
One challenge that has come to my attention from other families is connectivity issues. While our family has not experienced this, others have, but fortunately the WCCUSD has that covered too. Tech support is available for those experiencing issues and free hot spots are also offered. For any issues or questions students’ have, the district is offering a “WCCUSD Digital Backpack” which they tout as a one-stop-shop for students’ virtual learning journeys.
Overall, I am encouraged by the well thought-out curriculum and daily schedule underway this school year and believe that my son is receiving a quality education even amid the most challenging circumstances. My gratitude goes out to everyone at the WCCUSD who has, with everything that’s been thrown at them, risen above an unprecedented global crisis and other major challenges to come through for our kids. If you share my sentiments, visit the WCCUSD here and search for your family’s school to let our educators and district administrators know.
Of course, this is my family’s experience. Want to share your family’s take on how this school year has gone so far? Tell us about it in the comments.
Kathy Chouteau is a Richmond resident and a staff writer for the Richmond Standard