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Community Organizations in D.C. Assist in DCPS's Switch to Online Classes


COVID-19 has affected the operations of the education system as we know it. Public schools, private schools, and institutions of higher education across the country have taken steps to limit the spread of the virus by switching their classes from in-person to a virtual format. District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), which is responsible for educating 52,000 students in the District, has moved their classes entirely online until, at the earliest, Nov. 6. This switch to online classes was announced by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in late July and communities around the District have been adjusting to the switch ever since. 

Several organizations in D.C. have been assisting students and families with the switch to virtual learning. One of these organizations, D.C. Reads is continuing their programming over Zoom. D.C. Reads' Program Graduate Assistant, Galen Gammino, offered insight into how D.C. Reads will be directly helping students this fall. "It's been a little bit of a learning curve, but, in general, tutors are doing a lot more one-on-one tutoring because it's actually easier in some ways to have individual support now that everything is virtual," Gammino said.

Through community partnerships, D.C. Reads has been able to give students a guide for using technology at home and for navigating virtual assignments. Besides adequate access to childcare for parents who are essential workers, "the technological gap is the biggest concern we've heard from community partners," Gammino said. 

Earlier in the summer, students in D.C. answered surveys to gauge if they had access to any form of technology for the upcoming school year. These surveys, however, only asked that students had technology at home, but did not ensure that this technology was available for educational purposes. "I worry that low-income families and the gaps that have already existed for so long in terms of achievement and lack of funding in schools will be compounded, especially now," Gammin said.

The Raising a Village Foundation, a non-profit organization, is also assisting students and teachers in the switch to virtual schooling. The founder and CEO of Raising a Village, Jaleesa Hall, has made several adjustments to her programming in order to accommodate students in the new virtual space. 

Hall has had to work with her team to figure out how to engage and connect with students virtually. "Part of the concern is the engagement; some students just need to be in a school space to do the work," Hall said. "We hope that adding additional capacity to the classroom and letting students know that they have people in the virtual space with them who have worked with peers and who will not leave until they get their work done will motivate them to be engaged because they know that they will receive the support to help them through."

As the school year begins in the District, these organizations will continue to work closely with students, teachers, and community partners in an attempt to keep students engaged and assisted this fall. As far as in-person classes resuming for DCPS, it is still dependent on the containment of the virus and the availability of treatment this fall. "We're all writing our future in pencil right now," Hall said. The main goal of the DC Public School system and the organizations they are working with, currently, is to ensure students have adequate technology, resources, and assistance in this entirely virtual school year. 

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