November 20, 2012
To help students whose homes and schools were damaged in Hurricane Sandy make up for the days of learning time they lost, the Department of Education is expanding its online course offerings to them.
Most schools have returned to working order since Sandy left dozens of them flooded or without power, and attendance is slowly rising. But department officials say they are concerned that students who missed many days of school, or continue to miss school because their home situations prevent them from getting to school, will fall behind.
The solution they’ve devised is to expand online courses that some schools are already offering to more students. The courses will be open to most students whose homes or schools were affected by the hurricane, and will count for credit towards graduation. The opportunity has the potential to reach students who otherwise might not be able to make up classwork they have missed during the school day. But it requires internet access, which many still lack.
“The goal is to help kids get as much instruction as possible,” said department spokeswoman Connie Pankratz. “We were able to build this up really quickly beause we had this platform already existing.”
She said the specific program offerings and the cost to the department will be determined by the demand of the students who end up enrolling, and thousands are eligible. But the cost is not likely to be high because the organizations that created the software are allowing the department to use them for free.
The courses will be available to students in grades six through 12, in core subject areas and electives, such as English, economics, calculus, world history and Spanish. To enroll, students must first fill out an online form detailing which courses they would like to continue taking online from among the courses they have been taking in school.
The courses have already been developed through the department’s iZone and iLearn programs, which have spearheaded the creation of online courses and other digital learning tools, and meet state requirements. They will be taught by about 60 iZone teachers who have regular course-loads during the school day and will be paid per session for their extra work. Those teachers will also hold weekly office hours for students via the phone or video conferencing platforms, officials said.
About 200 schools already belong to the iZone and use some of its tools, and the department hopes to further bolster its online learning offerings with Race to the Top funds, if it wins the district-level competition that it entered this month.
Officials suggested that displaced students who don’t have internet access at home should go to local libraries to sign on. Library officials said that library branches around the city will welcome students.