Boise starts the fall with virtual learning

Cole and Jonah Sutherland log into Les Bois Junior High School student and Timberline High School for their first day back at school Monday.

Adam Brengle didn’t stray too far from his son’s side on Monday, as the 5-year-old navigated his first half day of online kindergarten. Brengle, a stay-at-home dad, had the flexibility to participate in his son’s learning, help keep him on track, and bring him snacks.

Not all of the boy’s classmates were so lucky.

Some of the 15 or so students in Brengle’s class didn’t seem to have a supervisor. Others were at daycare, surrounded by kids making faces at the camera. And because many of the students didn’t have someone to help them out, Brengle’s teacher spent a good chunk of the first day back trying to walk 5-year-olds through their digital classrooms and managing conversations when tykes took themselves off of mute.

“It is difficult if a teacher can’t be over the child’s shoulder, pointing out things they need to do,” Brengle said. “My hat is off to that teacher.”

Parents across the district said short attention spans and lack of supervision made it hard for young students to learn online during Boise’s first day of virtual learning Monday. Parents also reported a number of technical issues and challenges logging into their school’s learning systems, district spokesman Dan Hollar said.

Despite hiccups here and tech issues there, many Boise parents told EdNews that the first day of virtual learning in the Boise School District went about as expected.

The Boise district had initially planned to start the 2020-21 school year in person, but changed course at the beginning of August after a summertime surge of coronavirus cases in the city. The school board voted to send students online through Sept 8, with the exception of a few thousand kids who had already opted for online learning for the full fall semester.

Nampa, Caldwell, West Ada and other sizable Treasure Valley districts all opted to push their start dates back as they finalized plans for COVID-19. Boise stuck to its initial Aug. 17 back-to-school date.

The Idaho Statesman reported Sunday that the district was short on student laptops by opening day, a claim the district refutes. The district said in June that all 25,000 students would get access to a laptop or a tablet this fall. As of Sunday, the Statesman reported that the district has 15,000 Chromebooks, but was still waiting on a shipment of 13,000 set to arrive this week.

In an email Monday, Hollar said the district was still able to provide a device to any student who requested one.

Hollar said the district’s primary challenge Monday was helping students log in to learning management systems and troubleshoot technology problems. After morning calls, the district added staff at its district service center to help students, parents and staff answer questions.

Jonah Sutherland, a Timberline High School senior, said his online classes had a few tech issues as well Monday, but on his teacher’s side. In one instance, the teacher’s volume was so loud it was blowing out the speakers and it wasn’t clear what the teacher was saying. In another, a presentation didn’t work because of an echo.

“The teachers didn’t know how to use the technology right away, but that will definitely come with experience,” Sutherland said.

Remy, Chryssa Rich’s kindergarten-aged son said he enjoyed seeing his teacher through the laptop Monday. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews




For parent Chryssa Rich, Monday’s start of school was better than she had feared.

Rich testified at the board’s Aug. 4 reopening meeting, saying she would be in a bind if the district went online-only for the start of fall. There are parts of her healthcare administration job that she can’t manage remotely, she said, so she wouldn’t be able to stay at home to help her kindergarten and third-grade students with their work.

After the district elected to go online, Rich was able to find child care for her two kids. She signed up for a limited-availability child-care option at Whittier Elementary School the moment registration opened on Aug. 10, and her kindergartner is spending a few extra weeks at his dual-immersion preschool, where his teacher offered to help kids navigate their online classes.

The kindergartener was a half hour late to start classes Monday, Rich said, and she’s still waiting on a paper packet from the district to arrive in the mail.

But all things considered, Monday went about as well as it could have.

“At least for their first partial day, it seems like everything went smoothly,” Rich said.

Idaho Education News will continue to track online teaching and learning in the Boise School District and around the state. Tell us about your family’s experience: send an email to reporter Sami Edge at [email protected].


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