Remote instruction begins for Philly public schools, meal distribution changes

John Barry Elementary third-grader Emma Pressley, left, holds a Chromebook with her mother Shayvon Pressley outside the Education Center on Broad Street on Thursday. — Tribune Photo/Abdul R. Sulayman (Tribune Photo/Abdul R. Sulayman)

By Chanel Hill

The School District of Philadelphia implemented its formal digital learning plan this week, which begins with two weeks of enrichment and review before going to graded instruction in early May.

“We’re not sure what the grades will look like, but it won’t be based on just students who can log on,” School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said Thursday. “The students can also email, text message, and use phone calls, but [grading] could be just on participation. We’ll also be looking at the completion of assignments.”

The school district has distributed approximately 75,000 Chromebooks to help students participate in digital learning activities. Students and families can drop off Chromebooks in need of repair or service at one of two parent and family technology support centers.

Centers will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays, and are located at the Education Center, 440 N. Broad St. (First Floor Lobby) and FitzPatrick Annex Building, 4101 Chalfont Dr. (rear of FitzPatrick Elementary School).

Families can also pick up a loaner Chromebook at these locations if they did not previously receive one through their student’s school.

“The individuals who are distributing the meals are volunteers, so it’s important that individuals who come and want to pick up a Chromebook need to bring identification,” Hite said. “High school students can bring their district ID badges.

“We encourage social distancing while waiting in line, so for this reason the line for distribution may go outside the doors,” he added. “We encourage people to pay attention to the weather before going to locations and that they arrive as early as possible.”

District officials have also been working with the City of Philadelphia to provide a comprehensive list of low-cost Internet options or details on accessing free WiFi mobile hotspots to ensure that students can use the Chromebooks provided for digital learning.

“We will continue to do our part in providing mobile hotspots and information about low cost internet services to our families,” Hite said. “We’re working to provide hotspots to students of families who are most in need. We will be issuing those on a case by case basis and we’re trying to make that available as quickly as possible.”

The school district recently launched a digital learning webpage that provides learning materials and lessons in all subject areas for all grades.

“Families can also find activities for career and technical education, physical education, visual and performing arts, and world languages,” Hite said. “There will be resources for social and emotional development. New materials will also be added each week to support that next week of instruction.”

Changes to the academic calendar

Because state officials have moved the primary election from April 28 to June 2, the district has amended its calendar to reflect that change. Students will now be expected to participate in digital learning activities on April 28 and schools will be closed on June 2 for the Primary Election.

Changes to meal distribution

School district officials also announced a change to its grab-and-go meal distribution program: District volunteers will hand out meals only one day per week.

From 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. each Thursday, the school district will provide students with five breakfasts and five lunches as well as a half-gallon of milk. The meals will be available at 49 school sites across the city.

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.