Bethlehem Area School District families face new challenges as kids start school online

Written by on April 3, 2020

Bethlehem Area School District families face new challenges as kids start school online 

By Jen Rehill

April 3, 2020

Now that Pennsylvania schools have been closed indefinitely by the governor, many schools in the Lehigh Valley started online learning this week. 

WLVR’s Jen Rehill spoke with Bethlehem parents- from a distance- about how it’s going so far.

Online learning isn’t an easy transition in a district where many students live below the poverty line, and may not have computers at home. Here’s Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Joseph Roy.

“We are really concerned about some of the inequities this has magnified in the community. Certainly, we’re worried about access to the internet,” says Roy.

BASD has been working to fix those deficits – they’re providing hot spots and have partnered with RCN  to give free internet to some families. And while middle and high school students already have Chromebooks, the district is now providing them to elementary students as well.

But once families get online, there’s a new set of challenges – navigating digital education with kids in tow. 

Lia is a parent who is picking up lunches at Calypso Elementary school. She has an 8-year-old son that goes there, and a 12-year-old at Nitschmann Middle School. She says it’s challenging being a parent and a teacher.

“I love my children. But I’m not built for this. We’re making do,” says Lia.

Lia gives the district high marks for the rollout of the first phase of online learning – despite some *minor glitches in accessing servers and programs.

“I’m not going to fault the school district for that. I’m not going to fault anybody for that. Because none of this is our fault. This is a big poop sandwich we’ve all been handed,” she said.

BASD is working to support families through the transition.

“Congratulations, you’ve gotten to the midweek point in helping your children navigate their assignments.” That’s a voicemail Calypso parents received on Wednesday from BASD to support families.

“Continue to be gentle with yourselves, your children and the teachers as we all navigate online learning. It will get easier.”

Some schools got a head start on the switch to digital. St. Anne, a private school in Bethlehem, rolled out distance learning about three weeks ago — according to parent Abby. She says the initial learning curve with her 9 and 11-year-olds was steep.

“It does get a little better once you get all the log-in information, and all that stuff. But it’s a lot of different sites to be on, a lot of different instructions to follow. Especially if you have more than one kid and only one computer. That’s a little hard.” said Abby.

Abby says balancing online school — and working from home — got easier over time.

“It does seem overwhelming at first. But it’s just like anything, it’s a new routine that you just have to get used to. And you will,” she says.

Parents in Bethlehem are not alone. State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says families across the commonwealth are facing unprecedented disruption in their daily lives. Speaking at a virtual news conference on Thursday, Levine echoed Abby’s advice for children. 

“Try to set a normal routine for them, even teenagers, so they can start to feel a sense of normalcy in their lives,” says Levine.

Calypso parent Lia says in the face of the coronavirus crisis, she thinks parents will do whatever it takes to make it work.

“We just need to muddle through and do what we need to do get through this. Because you know what? We’re flippin’ Americans and we are built on this. So why in 2020 can’t we deal with some darn hardship and just do it,” says Lia.

The district would like families to turn in the week’s schoolwork today, but they have until Monday if they need more time.


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