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Williams: ‘Whole village’ needed to make virtual learning work

As the number of new COVID-19 cases climb each day in the state of Alabama, many school districts across the state have opted to begin the school year virtually including Birmingham City, Montgomery County, Huntsville City, Madison City, Madison County, Mobile County and Selma City Schools.
“We pushed our start date back from August 10 to August 24 and we will start the year with 100 percent virtual learning for everyone,” said Selma City Schools Superintendent Dr. Avis Williams.
Selma City Schools will conduct its first nine-week period exclusively online. The district’s first quarter of learning will begin on Monday, August 24 and end on Tuesday October 6.
Williams said data collected from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and surveys distributed to the school district’s teachers, staff members and parents showed a high level of discomfort with sending students back to this classroom in August.
“The data collected from the surveys was very compelling,” said Williams. “We only had about 4 percent that were comfortable without concerns about returning to school in a face to face setting.”
Williams said it was this data that led to the ultimate decision to begin the year virtually, which simultaneously alleviated worries for some teachers and parents while raising a new set of questions for others.
“There was definitely a wave of relief from our teachers and staff and from a lot of our parents but there also some concerns from some of our parents too,” said Williams. “We certainly recognize that this creates some challenges for parents who work and we are working with our Parent University Program to help share some possible solutions.”
The Superintendent stated that while she did not want to promise that Selma City Schools will be able to handle every scenario created by beginning the year virtually, there will be a consistent channel of communication between teachers and parents to face the challenges that some parents will inevitably face with their children.
One of the ways Selma City Schools have been keeping parents informed is through their regular “Chat and Chew” sessions, a series of virtual meetings where parents are able to participate and voice their questions and concerns via Zoom.
There five of these virtual Chat and Chew sessions scheduled over the coming weeks covering a variety of topics including one discussing sports and extracurricular activities as the school year begins and one on preparing students for virtual learning.
Questions that are being repeatedly asked during these meetings are being compiled into “Q and A” documents that are being shared with parents via social media.
Williams opined the importance of communication between the school district and parents during these challenging times brought on by COVID-19.
“Communication is extremely vital, especially during a challenging time like this,” said the Superintendent. “This is stressful for everybody for varying reasons but what we believe is that by providing not only a listening ear but responses to concerns we are alleviating at least some of the stress that’s caused by the unknown. We hope our communication and our transparency will give our parents the confidence that we are doing everything that we can to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing, as well as a solid education, for their children.”
While Selma City Schools will begin the year virtually, as the first nine weeks end the district will be able to explore other learning paths at all different grade levels including independent virtual learning, supported virtual learning and traditional learning in a classroom setting.
Williams said the ultimate goal of Selma City Schools is to eventually have students back in classrooms but with the unpredictability of a pandemic, the next step is somewhat uncertain.
“Our goal is to bring our scholars back to school. We want our scholars in school. But we want to make sure that it is safe to do so,” said Williams. “Depending on what the data shows as we approach October, we may come up with some different learning options that meet our needs at that time. That’s where we’re asking everybody to just be flexible and to just know that we’re all in a position where we may need to pivot in a different direction from what we initially planned.”
With many uncertainties ahead, Williams said many families with children in the Selma City Schools system are going to need help as the school year begins and delivered a call to action from the community.
“The school district is not going to be able to provide all of the support that our families need when they have to work and provide childcare and all those different things,” she said. “I encourage community partners, churches, the YMCA, the public library, businesses and any other entities that might be able to provide some support to parents so that they’ll still be able to work and their children will still be cared for as we head into this virtual learning platform. We recognize this is going to create a challenge for our working families and that the only way it’s going to work is through community support. This is one of those times where we like to say that it takes a village to raise a child and right now, Team Selma needs a whole village to be successful and move forward.”