By Dermot Connolly
Local high schools switched to eLearning, or online classes, last week due to state-mandated “stay at home” orders until at least April 7 to contain the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease.
Several are on spring break this week, including Districts 230 and 218, and Oak Lawn Community High School (District 229), but by their own accounts, they have made the switch to at-home learning smoothly, and are making the best of a bad situation.
All the schools said they are following the directives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state and local authorities.
“ We have had amazing student attendance. Our attendance has surpassed well over 96 percent of students reporting their attendance in accordance with our eLearning plan,” said District 230 Superintendent Dr. James Gay.
His district includes Stagg High School in Palos Hills, Sandburg High School in Orland Park, and Andrew High School in Tinley Park. The eLearning program was only approved this year, and was intended to be used for snow days.
“ We are very excited about the enthusiasm for virtual learning by our students. As evidenced by our social media posts, phone calls, and emails from parents, students and staff, both students and families have embraced the challenges of unexpected circumstances as well as adjusted to new ways of learning through connecting with their teachers through our digital learning platforms and tools,” said Gay after the school board met on March 18.
“ While there have been anticipated challenges, overall our students have been engaged, encouraged, and inspired to continue with their learning despite extraordinary circumstances,” said the superintendent, adding that it was a learning experience for the adults as well.
He said the technology staff was able to resolve any technical issues, which included providing internet service to families without it through the Sprint ConnectEd Grant. Administrators, food service staff and transportation contractors also delivered food to 300 students in need last week.
“ Our eLearning plan has been approved by the state since December, and we had two practice days prior to (eLearning starting on March 16). Our district is committed to ensuring our students are safe, healthy, and well. While there have been some small challenges along the way, they pale in comparison to the outstanding compassion our staff has for our students’ educational and emotional well-being.”
District 218, which includes Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Shepard in Palos Heights and Eisenhower in Blue Island, is in a similar position.
Superintendent Ty Harting said district schools will remain closed until “at least” April 7, although he said that timetable may change as the situation develops.
“ (After spring break) we will continue to implement our e-learning plan on weekdays beginning on Monday, March 30.”
Harting said the state superintendent of education, Dr. Carmen Ayala, is updating district officials on the changing situation.
“ We will continue to seek answers to the many questions so many have right now. We simply must be patient as details are worked out in the coming days,” he said.
Likewise, Dr. Jeana Lietz, principal of Oak Lawn Community High School, said eLearning will resume next Tuesday, March 31, after teachers have an eInstitute Day on Monday. She urged students to keep up with assignments, and stay in touch through social media and monitor the school website for updates.
To maintain school spirit and traditions, Lietz challenged students to wear “Spartan gear” or any green clothes on Fridays at home, and post photos on social media with the hashtags #WearAllTheStuff, #olchspride, and #WeWearGreen.
“ The goofier the better,” she said.
Evergreen Park Community High School and private schools including St. Laurence, Brother Rice, Mother McAuley, Marist and Chicago Christian High School, all switched to eLearning last week too. Marist High School began the new format on Monday. Chicago Christian, in Palos Heights, has its spring break next week, while the others are the week after Easter, April 12.
“ Even though students are not physically in the building, class activities will occur in real time (with 40-minute online classes). In addition to better preparing students for college classes, changes to e-learning format meet all of the Illinois State Board of Education’s new requirements for online instruction,” said the St. Laurence administration on its website.
Officials at Brother Rice, which has a similar schedule, said counselors are still available for students to contact via email with any questions, including college applications.
Henry Doorn Jr., superintendent of Southwest Christian Schools, which has an elementary schools in Oak Lawn and Tinley Park in addition to Chicago Christian High School, said in a letter posted online that the eLearning, or remote learning, has “gone very well.” He said Chicago Christian has “heard from several high school students that they have a new appreciation for school and they miss their teachers and classmates.
“ Our administrators and faculty are working tirelessly to make this experience as enriching and rewarding as possible…We will finish out our Remote Learning time together strong and we need and appreciate your continued support to make that happen,” he said.