A countywide rollout of Google Meet video conferencing began this week at Frederick County Public Schools in an effort to enhance the school system’s continuity through distance learning.

The rollout comes after the technology was field-tested in Tuscarora feeder pattern schools for several weeks.

Through the technology, teachers can set up live online sessions with students to offer additional educational support. Google Meet is not being used for live, virtual lessons.

“There is no direct instruction of new material in a Google Meet session; it is intended for support only,” Kristen Canning, principal of Ballenger Creek Elementary School, said in an email. Ballenger Creek Elementary was one of the pilot schools.

Use of the platform is optional for both teachers and students. Teachers who do choose to use it are not required to hold sessions every day and students are not required to join in.

Guidelines and restrictions have also been put in place to ensure safety of students online, such as no recording of sessions, and students having the option to join with only audio and no video. Students must also have a permission slip signed by a parent or guardian before being allowed to participate.

“While we did not hear from parents who shared specific concerns, we want them to be able to opt out if they are not comfortable which is why it is 100 percent optional for all students,” Canning said.

Schools Superintendent Terry Alban said making sure the technology was safe before implementation was their top priority, which is why FCPS took longer than other districts in the state to begin using video conferencing.

“Our technology folks were like, ‘you will not use Zoom, it’s not secure, absolutely not’ and yet other districts were using it... We’ve gone a little bit more slow and steady there,” Alban said.

Kimberly Mazaleski, principal of Tuscarora Elementary School – another pilot school – said she appreciates that FCPS took its time.

“I think that not rushing it was a very wise idea...we were able to avoid some of the pitfalls that you see in other places around the country,” Mazaleski said. “We haven’t dragged our feet but we have been careful and done it strategically.”

Jessica Skaare’s son, Jackson, is a fifth-grader at Ballenger Creek Elementary. He has participated in Google Meet sessions with his teacher for almost a month now. Skaare said she understands that it took time to put in place but wishes it had been available sooner.

“When we went to distance learning back in March — that was my concern — was no live connection,” Skaare said. “Google Meet has been a game changer...it’s like he’s in class. He gets dressed, he’s ready to go, he’s not in his pajamas, he’s not in his bedroom, he’s in his learning spot.”

Not only has it provided Jackson with a sense of structure during an uncertain time, Skaare says it has also helped him feel social again.

“He is an only child so he was really missing just the simple connection to his teacher and to his classmates,” Skaare said.

That simple connection of just seeing one’s classroom community is critical, especially with elementary schoolers, said Denise Davis a fourth-grade teacher at Tuscarora Elementary.

“Teaching, especially at an elementary school level, it’s all about the connections you have with your kids,” she said. “All of us felt so isolated from our classes that once we heard we were going to be able to do the Google Meets, everyone was just so excited...and when we actually saw our kids, it was like oh my goodness, finally, sunshine.”

Mazaleski said use of video conferencing gives a social-emotional touch to distance learning, something that many students and teachers have been missing.

Additionally, Mazaleski said that since piloting Google Meet, they have seen an overall improvement in student performance.

“We saw a lot of our kids begin to turn in more work and participate and ask more questions when they had the ability to touch base with their teachers in this way,” Mazaleski said.

Both herself and Davis said live, virtual sessions, whether through Google Meet or something else, will be an important aspect to distance learning if it continues past the summer. It helps students get extra help, feel connected, and stay motivated.

“I think it’s showing [students]...their teacher and their school and their classmates, we’re just all there to support each other and continue the learning...it shows them perseverance,” Davis said.

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill

(9) comments

puhengattyatlaw

I am a mother of a FCPS student. I am an “essential” employee though my hours are currently less than before, and I do not have the burden of the long hours worked by those in healthcare or first responders at this time. Nor do I share in the challenge of parenting a child with special needs without Jesse art educational support. I can’t imagine the stress. I will say that this is not perfect for any parents, kids, or teachers. None of us chose this disruption. As a business owner and parent I am reacting and learning as I go, imperfectly. There is still a lot for our children to learn about resiliency, kindness and empathy even if their formal education is imperfect in these imperfect times. It will teach them more than blame. Let’s all keep doing our best. Our kids will learn a lot that way.

Izzy

vodalone, your comments are remarkable in that they lack thought, complete understanding, and a genuine disregard for what our country and community is battling. I have been an educator for 17 years. I love my job. The teachers at my school are working well beyond the contractual hours to provide students and their families the best supports and instruction within our capabilities. With less than 24 hours notice, teachers were informed that instruction as we knew it was over indefinitely. School districts have had to develop a new understanding of best practices while tirelessly attempting to stay in contact with all of our families. Many teachers are also helping their own children adjust to distance learning. When you pay taxes it is to support civic needs. The civic needs have changed and perhaps you need to ask yourself if you need to change.

JaneFlower241

Couldn’t agree more Izzy! Maybe some of these people who feel like they know better can become teachers! There is a massive shortage you know. Although is that any wonder when you read the degrading comments about public education posted by individuals who are absolutely clueless about how the system works. “Teachers living the good life” - give me a break! What total ignorance.

vodalone

Parents teaching their kids at home should be given an automatic tax deduction or subsidy. School facilities are not being utilized, teachers are working from home and living the good life these days. The parents who are trying to navigate these new systems and pretending to be teachers should be compensated.

Because

Let’s just end the year if there is not going to be any live instruction. We don’t need help finding educational articles and videos on the internet.

jwhamann

Just think....no more snow days!

procommunity

Someone needs to tell FCPS they are late to the party! The rest of the country has been doing this since the second week of March. Putting this in the paper for optics after all this time is laughable the virus is flattening, school year almost over. Most teachers in the system have been stressed about this for weeks not to mention the IEP kids. FCPS a school system that celebrates failure as a win.

JaneFlower241

You are incorrect. I don’t know what “the rest of the country” has done, but I do know that a number of nearby school systems failed in a MAJOR way by jumping the gun with online instruction. Some are facing lawsuits over security breaches, some have been hacked and experienced harassment of students and teachers. Almost all have further increased the gap that exists between privileged students who have access to technology and parental support and those who don’t by providing direct instruction in this manner. How is that equitable ? FCPS takes the time to research and figure out how do things right and do what is best for kids- not “be first. Trust me, connection is what matters for kid right now. So tired of the “experts” on public education out there. There sure are a lot of them!

Lancers2021

Exactly this. No teaching has happened since March. FCPS can't get anything right. Meanwhile they blame students and their parents.

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