As Boston Public Schools students finish out their first week of what will likely be at least a six-week closure, district officials have been busy ramping up efforts to keep them connected to their classes.
The first wave of that project came in paper form. Starting on day one of the closure, students were given homework packets with written lessons and activities that attempted to pick up where classes had left off the week before.
School leaders like assistant superintendent Christine Landry, were quick to point out that these take home packets are not meant to replace the learning that happens inside the classroom.
"It’s supplementary," she said. "We’re not trying to replicate school at this point but just provide students with some normalcy, an opportunity to continue their learning, to be engaged and to set up some routines at home."
As this week comes to a close, the district will have given out 43,000 packets, which amounts to about 3 million individual sheets of paper, most of which are being compiled and coordinated at the district's headquarters in Roxbury. The district didn't have the printing capacity to produce all of the packets in such a short time so they enlisted the help of print shops, universities, and law offices across the city to get the job done.
The paper based system is temporary, though. Over the next few weeks the district will be moving all of its supplementary learning activities online. To make that shift easier, the school system is distributing about 20,000 Chromebook laptops to any student that needs one.
So far the means of getting those out to students has been piecemeal. A few principals have coordinated school based pick up systems, but the district is hoping to launch a large scale delivery system over the next few days.
The technology department tested out a dry run of that system on Thursday. BPS Chief Information Officer Mark Racine headed up that effort with about half a dozen other staff.
"Please make sure you’re wearing your gloves when you’re working with the chrome books. We’ve got enough pens here so each parent can have their own pen," he said to the group before they headed out on their driving routes for the day. "Again it's about minimizing the contact to our families."
Racine explained that the the district already had a plan to distribute Chromebook laptops to students over the summer, but as coronavirus concerns closed schools across the state Racine and his team pushed up and dramatically condensed those plans.
"The pace we had to go this week has been difficult," he said. "But also these added restrictions around contact with families has been very challenging...We never thought we’d have to worry about CDC [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines and health restrictions while we’re rolling out Chromebooks."
The delivery process was slow going at first. There was no one home at the first few houses on Racine's list. He did eventually reach one student and his grandmother that afternoon. The family didn't feel comfortable speaking to media, but according to Racine, she told him the devices were "a blessing."
According to Racine, the about 20,000 district students were online simultaneously by the end of the day on Thursday. In order to reach the rest of the students who need a laptop in the school system, Racine will be relying on a team of volunteers, most of which will be members of the Boston Teachers Union and other staff.
This segment aired on March 21, 2020.