STUART, Fla. — School district leaders across our area said one of their biggest challenges is the high number of students sent home to quarantine for COVID-19 exposure.
With the Florida Department of Education taking away the full-time distance learning option this school year, students are struggling to keep up while at home. But some teachers are finding ways to stay connected.
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South Fork High School math teacher Kyle Gorton started the school year with an equation she wasn't sure how to solve.
"I ended up losing eight students out of one class," Gorton said. "And so I went home after hearing that news, and this is literally the second day of school. I said, OK, this is order of operations. The kids can come back from this, but what if we are in the middle of logarithms? The kids can’t miss seven days of direct instruction."
So Gorton thought back to last year, took out her old camera, and started Zooming for kids on quarantine.
"The direct window into the classroom for me was best for my students to not fall behind and to be able to maintain the same rigor that their classmates are undergoing," Gorton said.
The students who are at home quarantined are not required to join the Zoom lessons, but Gorton said at least 50% of them are taking advantage of the live instruction.
Physics teacher Dr. Joe Shewmaker also chose to turn his camera back on after multiple students were sent home because of COVID-19 exposure.
"The big struggle is, what are we going to do? What can I do to still provide a meaningful experience to my kids who are quarantined?" Shewmaker said.
Shewmaker added the uncertainty of the pandemic makes it difficult to plan lessons.
"I can have a hands-on activity, a great, fun, hands-on activity planned that's enriching and meaningful, and I know all the kids are going to be here to do it. But if I have half the class out, what am I going to do with the kids?" Shewmaker said.
While there is no agreement with the teachers' union to require using cameras once again, Superintendent Dr. John Millay of the Martin County School District recently sent a message to staff members, praising those teachers who are going the extra mile and hoping others will do the same.
"I've heard many testimonies where many of our teachers are sending Zoom links, screen-casting to their students," Millay said in his video. "I just want to shout out to all those who are trying their very best to get the work out for quarantines and those who have been able to send Zoom links. I want to continue encouraging that."
"The focus is in class, but that’s a window into the classroom where they can watch and they can see what’s going on," Gorton said. "There’s not such a pressure to make sure that they’re included. It’s almost like a video of the classroom where they can unmute and ask a question here or there."
Gorton understands the hesitancy among some educators to turn their cameras back on and knows it's not for everyone.
"In all honestly, Zoom is not really portable," Gorton said. "I used to be a teacher who would walk 10,000 steps in a class period, and now I'm just walking 10."
Gorton looks forward to when the COVID problem is completely solved.
Leaders in the School District of Palm Beach County are also encouraging -- but not requiring -- teachers to turn on their cameras for quarantined students.
You can find learning resources for quarantined students in all of our local school districts by clicking the following links: