LocationAlhambra , CA
At the end of the first full week of school dismissals in the Alhambra Unified School District, the process of facilitating distance learning while still providing some meal service at schools was challenging but progress was being made.
“It is like trying to fly a plane while you build it,” said Denise R. Jaramillo, the superintendent of the district which has 16,600 students and 21 campuses on 17 school sites and draws pupils from the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Gabriel and Rosemead.
One of the first orders of business has been maintaining some level of lunch program for students. More than 70% of the AUSD student body qualifies for either free or partial payment lunch plans.
The district was offering more formal lunch service on Monday and Tuesday but by the end of the week, as social distancing mandates increased, it had established a “Grab and Go” lunch plan at three school sites to serve any student from the district. Those sites are Marguerita Elementary and Granada Elementary in Alhambra and Ynez Elementary in Monterey Park. The sites were selected for two reasons: to give culinary workers ample room to prepare food and, in the current climate, to allow them to social distance as much as possible while they do their work. Another factor was the layout of the schools which offered good opportunities for curbside pickup.
As of today, Friday, those wishing to receive lunches needed to arrive with the students being fed in their cars. However, it was believed that Gov. Gavin Newsom was working to alter those guidelines so that parents would only have to declare the number of lunches they needed and not have their children with them when they collect the food.
The program will continue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the three sites on Monday and throughout the week. A breakfast option will be added to the menu, so, parents could conceivably get two meals for each of their kids.
On Thursday, 1,300 meals were served in this grab and go system and while that may seem a soft number in a district of 16,600, it does take a few days to get the word out and ramp up the program.
Teachers in the AUSD were working this week to help officially introduce “distance learning” to their classes by reviewing the available options. Staff and administrators joined teachers to help clean AUSD Chrome laptops to be loaned to students without computer access. Efforts were being made to contact students and families to check on their well-being and provide information on distance learning and determine their capacity to engage in online platforms.
The “distance learning” model will be a supplementary instruction opportunity and not a continuation of the current AUSD course curriculum. Individual teachers will be deciding how they want to interact with their classes and this material. There may be quizzes on the material but no formal grades will be given. At least that’s the plan at this time but some of it may evolve or change.
Distance learning begins officially Monday in the AUSD system and will continue for the week, but will pause at the start of Spring Break which will, in effect, run until April 6.
In reality, distance learning may be the norm for some time to come.
On Friday, L.A. County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo recommended that all public schools be closed until Tuesday, May 5, 2020. Her decision, announced in a late afternoon press release, was made in consultation with school superintendents from across L.A. County and with State Schools Superintendent Tony Thurmond. Earlier in the week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he didn’t think the state’s schools would be back until the summer break.
As the challenging week came to a close, Jaramillo told Alhambra Source that she was “Inspired by our AUSD staff in every department who have dedicated heroic energy to making sure our students are supported during this unsettled time.”
As the city, county and state’s “Safer at Home” guidelines went into effect on Friday, AUSD employees continued to work at the district’s office on Mission Road in Alhambra. The building, a former brewery, has long aisles between offices and offers good space for distancing between employees. Those critical to the education process in the district were deemed exempt from Newsom’s order for non-essential workers to remain at home.
On Wednesday, Newsom signed an executive order that would suspend that would suspend statewide standardized testing for the state’s K-12 population. The order needs federal approval to take effect.
“We think it would be inappropriate for students to worry about coming back and being tested,” Newsom told reporters.
On Friday, President Trump seemed to signal that approval saying at a press conference that students wouldn’t have to take standardized tests this year.