Danielle Hendrix and Amy Quesinberry
Orange County Public Schools students hit the books for the first day of the 2020-21 school year Monday, Aug. 10.
Regardless of what instructional model families chose for their children, all OCPS students began the school year on OCPSLaunchED@Home. According to OCPS, the Canvas learning platform was launched 736,000 times Aug. 10.
Although there were technical difficulties the first part of the day — mainly due to volume and concurrent logins, according to OCPS — many OCPS families took it in stride.
Horizon West resident Melissa Cress has one child starting high school and another in elementary school this year. They decided to go with LaunchED after talking with several friends who are teachers.
“Overall, the first day was pretty good for both of the boys,” Cress said. “There were some minor hiccups that were resolved pretty quickly with our video and audio a few different times. After going through the first day with my elementary school-aged son, I can appreciate the need to use these first few weeks to get everyone acquainted with LaunchED and the teachers classroom on the site.”
Cress said LaunchED is more organized than the spring virtual-learning experience.
“It was very nice to have a bell schedule and to have the teacher there the entire day,” she said. “I feel confident that it will run smoothly, especially as time goes on.”
Although Monday was the first day for students, teachers have been working to learn and implement the new virtual education since OCPSLaunchED@Home was announced. The concept allows students to remain enrolled at their school but receive education from home.
Westbrooke Elementary first-grade teacher Jaime Cormier is teaching from her classroom.
“All of my students are virtual, so I will be teaching them from an empty classroom,” Cormier said. “I also have the option to teach from home. I feel like a new teacher again. I’ve completed online training for LaunchED and Canvas and have spent numerous hours creating my courses in Canvas. It’s a completely different approach to teaching, and I am still unsure of what it is going to look like. At this time, I feel more like a web designer than an educator.”
Cormier is used to being a hands-on educator and is known to give hugs and support.
“It scares me that I won’t be right there for my students,” she said.
Jessica Bennett, a kindergarten teacher at Maxey Elementary, said it has been mentally stressful trying to plan for virtual instruction.
“Kindergarten is a time for relationship building, hands-on learning and lots of socialization, and I will have to find new ways to teach those things,” Bennett said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of trial and error, and I think I will continuously discover new teaching styles throughout distance learning.”
For Frangus Elementary kindergarten teacher Kelli-Ann Doherty, working longer hours has become routine while learning new digital platforms.
Teaching kindergartners has its own set of challenges, but doing so virtually adds even more.
One of the biggest challenges, Doherty said, is making sure there’s someone with the student to navigate any troubleshooting matters involving technology, because kindergarten lessons require many hands-on activities. She will have to provide digital work rather than pencil-and-paper work, which makes it more difficult for students to write with their finger instead of a pencil. The small-group teacher-table activities will be more difficult, too, she said, and students won’t be able to practice fine-motor skills as often.
Starlyn Clark, an Ocoee resident who teaches first grade at Rock Springs Elementary, said the transition to an online classroom has been difficult.
“Within a regular face-to-face classroom, there is a mixture of digital activities along with hands-on activities,” Clark said. “I have taken all of the required classes from the county but still am struggling to translate those classes into action. The classes are very good for auditory and visual learners but are not good for those of us who learn by doing.
“This has made me very aware that I must make sure to provide my students with the opportunity to practice and do the activities at home,” Clark said.
However, local parents said they appreciate all the work teachers are doing to adapt to the current situation. Horizon West resident Jacqueline Turner has children in fourth grade and VPK at Water Spring Elementary. Her fourth-grader will be doing LaunchED. Her 4-year-old started VPK via LaunchED but soon will be going face-to-face for three hours per day.
“The schools and teachers are working so hard to make sure the process is as smooth as possible for the children,” she said. “There (are) a few internet problems with the amount of people logging in, but the school and teachers have helped us every step of the way to make sure that we all get on what we need to. I can’t thank them enough for all their hard work.”
Although Turner is worried about her youngest, she believes going face-to-face will be best for her at her age.
“She misses going to school and seeing her friends, but she understands that this is best thing to do for now to keep her safe,” Turner said of her older daughter. “She is 9 years old and understands what’s going on in the world. She is finding LaunchED fine to work. She used the same setup (at the) end of the last school year, so it’s not much of a shock to her.”
Turner and her husband hope to be able to send their fourth-grader back to the classroom in January but added they will take it a month at a time.