INDIANAPOLIS– The first day “back to school” for Indianapolis Public School (IPS) students and staff was anything but routine as the district started the 2020-2021 school year in an all-virtual format.
“This is my 19th year of teaching and it feels like my first year teaching again,” said Montessori middle school teacher Juli Cooper. “There are some frustrations but that is normal, I feel, for a different environment.”
Cooper’s comments came right after she finished a math lesson in an otherwise empty classroom at George W. Carver School 87. Several young faces could be seen on her computer screen as she delivered their lesson to over Microsoft Teams.
All in all, Cooper said the day seemed successful. Of her 28 students, 27 were present and logged on for their first day of virtual learning.
“They’ve been following me and going to special areas throughout the day with different meeting links,” Cooper said. “So they’ve done a really nice job of navigating through the system.”
Still, there was something missing.
“Being personable with the kids,” Cooper said. “That one-on-one, that body language, knowing how they feel right now.”
Since IPS officials voted last month to start the school year in an all-virtual format, school officials have been doing their best to get ready for an unprecedented start to a school year.
The state’s largest public school district ordered enough iPads and Chromebooks for their roughly 30,000 students. The district is requiring students to use the school-provided devices in order to give access to IPS software and platforms.
As of early Friday, about 4,500 of those devices had not been picked up. IPS officials say those could include families who have moved out of the district since last year, and device pickups had continued through Friday and Monday. School officials were still following up with parents and updating their numbers as of Monday afternoon.
By midday Monday, Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said schools had received calls for technical problems as students logged onto their devices. However, she said those calls were anticipated.
“I’m still cautiously optimistic, things seem to be going well,” Johnson said. “Obviously there are some snags here and there that our schools are hearing about, but we’re able to respond quickly to those things, and so that’s really the key.”
Janice Wingo’s adopted daughter is just starting Kindergarten this year. She says the day got off to a rough start, but was resolved by late morning.
“We couldn’t get logged in, so we had to come up to the school and the principal,” Wingo said. “She showed us how to log in. Once we got logged in, it was alright.”
IPS has also set up meal pickup stations at 55 locations around the district. Families can use two pickup days each week to bring home a total of ten meals for each student in the family.
For now, the plan is to continue virtual learning until the first week of October while watching the number and trend of COVID-19 cases. Those numbers will direct IPS leaders to decide next steps beyond October 2. However, the district has not set a date for when that decision will be made.
“I never thought today would be happening,” Johnson said. “This is not something you can prepare for or be ready for. Sort of one of those once in a lifetime things.”
“I’m really proud of our team and the way that our team has responded, the way that our community has come alongside us,” Johnson continued. “It makes me really really proud to lead IPS.”