Hamilton’s public school board working to ensure all students can learn from home

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The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says it’s putting together a plan to help all students learn from home as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Ontario’s schools to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Manny Figueiredo, director of education for the HWDSB, says they’re currently in ‘phase one’ of the transition to online learning as they await further instructions from the Ministry of Education.

“It’s been an intense couple of weeks for all boards,” Figueiredo told Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Scott Thompson Show.

“We’re hearing anxiety of some families … around the uncertainty.”

By April 3, the board says all students will have been contacted by a school staff member to determine whether or not they need help accessing online learning.

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“By next Friday, all schools will have data of which students maybe do not have access. And if they don’t have access to a personal device, we’re going to [provide] them with them,” Figueiredo said.

“We have them in schools, we’re just working out a process, how to make sure to get it to them.”

Ensuring those students have reliable internet access, Figueiredo said, is another challenge. Some families may have a computer or tablet, but don’t have internet at home.

“So we’re working with our partners, our internet providers, we’re working with our vendors like Microsoft and Apple, and we’ve been working with some community agencies who have reached out to us — like the Hamilton Community Foundation, the Bulldogs, Food For Kids. They’re people who are saying, ‘If you identify any gaps with the next phase, in terms of inequities with families, how can we help?'”

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The board will also be focusing special attention on high school students who need certain courses or credits to graduate. Ontario’s education minister has said that “no graduating student will have their ability to graduate impacted by the two-week closure and the COVID-19 developments,” and the HWDSB said it shares that commitment.

In preparation for that ‘phase two’ of online learning, which is expected to begin as of April 6, Figueiredo said staff members are going through training on how to use digital platforms. Those who are already well-versed in e-learning are encouraged to help others who have not begun making the transition.

“We are using this as an opportunity to see how we can leverage this digital world,” said Figueiredo.

“We’re going to ask families to be patient as we unfold, and communication is going to be key through the next phase.”

The province is expected to announce an extension of the current school closure sometime next week.

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