GRPS, KPS talk challenges of online learning transition

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — School districts around Michigan are patiently waiting for the governor’s education announcement, while continuing to implement learning changes that remain necessary, regardless of what’s next for the school year.

News 8 spoke to Kalamazoo Public Schools and Grand Rapids Public Schools ahead of the state’s planned press conference Thursday. Both said the state has not given definitive guidance for schools yet, but school leaders have been meeting regularly since schools were closed. 

Both districts have had to balance a transition to online learning with accessibility for students who lack resources at home.

For instance, GRPS estimates 25% of students, or roughly 4,000, don’t have the necessary technology to learn outside the classroom. The district is doing its best to make resources available online, while also developing a plan for those who need additional support.

“You’re looking at upwards of a $2 million price tag to roll out technology, wireless hotspots,” GRPS Executive Director of Communications John Helmholdt told News 8 Wednesday. “It’s not as simple as just saying, ‘Hey y’all, we’re going on online.’ We have federal and legal requirements in how we ensure that we’re equitably serving all students, and all means all.”

GRPS is looking at assigning out devices currently housed in the district and refurbish old phones that could become hot spots in homes without internet access. 

The accessibility gap is even higher for KPS. The district surveyed families on if they have access to the internet and/or usable devices at home.

“Approximately a third of the students do not have one or the other or both, so one of the initiatives we have going is we’re trying to pull out the older Chromebooks we have in our schools and trying to distribute those to students and we kind of have a priority list of who needs them first,” KPS Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Services Cindy Green told News 8. 

KPS is making curriculum packets available at its two dozen meal sites for families who might not have access to a printer. Learning materials for each grade are also available through KPS’ Learning Hub.

“Our teachers are helping us to develop those packets and we greatly appreciate the collaboration that’s being done,” Green added. 

Both districts acknowledged their devoted teachers are trying to make this process as painless as possible. 

“In our 150 years as a school district we never once tried to be able to do something this comprehensive and this much remote, distance learning all at once,” Helmholdt said. “So we’re going to ask for a little bit of patience and understanding.”

Information on resources the district are providing can be found on GRPS’ website and KPS’ Learning Hub.