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Indiana Schools Outline Virtual Start to New School Year

Portage Township Schools, the first district in northwest Indiana to announce a full virtual start to its 2020-21 school year, outlined detailed plans for students' learning in a Monday night school board meeting.

by Carley Lanich, The Times / July 28, 2020
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(TNS) — Portage, Ind., Township Schools, the first district in Northwest Indiana to announce a full virtual start to its 2020-21 school year, outlined detailed plans for students' learning in a Monday night school board meeting.

The Portage virtual roll-out plan includes four areas of focus: technology, instruction, student learning and support structures.

In the Portage virtual learning plan, students will be provided a combination of synchronous and asynchronous education, allowing students the opportunity to both participate in live instruction led by Portage teachers and self-directed learning.

"We don't want to have our children overtaxed on screen time," Assistant Superintendent Michael Stephens said Monday night. "But, we also don't want to have time left without instruction, so there's a delicate balance in there that we're trying to find and trying to make sure that the amount of time that they would normally have in direct instruction in a regular classroom is also being addressed in a synchronous virtual classroom as well."

Portage Township Schools was among the first districts in the state to announce plans to reopen school this August in a full virtual learning plan. The district announced earlier this month it would suspend its summer return to prep sports indefinitely "out of an abundance of caution." The district is now set to resume its practices Monday.

The Gary Community School Corp. has since also shared plans to indefinitely offer virtual learning while monitoring community coronavirus data. Several other schools districts have implemented temporary suspensions of all or part of their summer sports programs.

Students in Portage Township Schools will begin classes virtually on their originally schedule in-person start date of Aug. 12. For now, the district is planning for full virtual instruction for the first quarter of the school year with a potential return to in-person instruction in October.

To prepare for full virtual instruction, the district has increased its bandwidth capacities, especially in the district's northern section, to allow for greater streaming of live face-to-face instruction.

Portage teachers are equipped with both an iPad and MacBook, Stephens said, so educators can use one device on a tripod to record their lessons and the other as a resource to access student course material.

Stephens acknowledged attendance may be a challenge among students not physically present for instruction. The assistant superintendent said students will likely be assigned an online "bell ringer" activity, open for a certain period of time, to indicate their participation in a class.

The district aims to prioritize equitable access to technology. Student device distribution will occur in a similar fashion as the district's socially distanced summer meal program.

A new survey was shared with Portage families Monday to assess their access to internet service. The district is currently considering options to purchase and distribute mobile hot spots among families in need and to equip school buses with Wi-Fi that can be driven to in-demand neighborhoods in the Portage district, school leaders said.

Superintendent Amanda Alaniz said she has been in touch with the YMCA and local faith-based organizations to offer partnerships in child care for working families who may have difficulty providing supervision for students' at-home learning.

More information about Portage Township Schools response to the novel coronavirus pandemic is available on the district's website at www.portage.k12.in.us.

©2020 The Times (Munster, Ind.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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