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District Adapts Well To Distance Learning

It wasn’t without its challenges but, overall, the ‘first day’ of school for students in the Escalon Unified School District went off smoothly.

The 2020-21 school year started with distance learning in place and the first day of classes was Aug. 12.

“Wednesday, there were a lot of calls from parents in the district, with connectivity issues, a vast majority were handled,” explained Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa. “The phones got a lot quieter on Thursday and even more so on Friday.”

Costa said it helped that students, parents, staff and the administration had already been through a trial run for online learning in the spring, when schools shut down abruptly in mid-March. Now, though, the superintendent said, the district is much more prepared and organized to deliver a full learning experience for students.

Getting the highest mark on Wednesday’s opening day was the first grade level at Dent Elementary, said Costa, with Principal Anthony Varni sharing that they had 100 percent participation, as all enrolled first grade students connected with their teachers.

“Overall the district was in the mid-90s,” Costa said of the attendance percentage. “We’re getting a lot of students online.”

Chromebooks were distributed to all students that needed them and some students also received hot spots to allow them to connect with their teachers online if they didn’t have that capability within the home.

“Our teaching staff has just gone above and beyond,” Costa said. “All of our teachers are online, doing live sessions with their students, live interactions.”

Costa added that there was an ‘all call’ that went out from the district the night before school started, offering encouragement as distance learning began.

“If we work together, we can make it the best possible experience for our kids,” Costa said. “Our staff has stepped up, our parents have stepped up.”

The stepping up has come at all levels, the superintendent stressed, including the IT personnel who have helped to make sure distance learning can occur; the teacher aides who are assisting in the virtual classrooms; and the clerical staff at all sites, working to help things go smoothly.

It’s unknown how long the distance learning model will be in place; San Joaquin County and other counties in the state need to be off the monitoring list for a certain length of time and meet other coronavirus reduction levels in order to re-open school sites for in person learning. When that might happen is anyone’s guess, but Costa said with the solid framework in place, classes can be hosted online for as long as necessary.

The ultimate goal, he added, is to get back to on campus learning. In the interim, Costa said, there will likely be glitches and issues but he is confident in the abilities of all involved to make it work.

“It has been very positive from the district side,” Costa said in assessing the return to school and the first week. “I’d really like to give our parents kudos for their patience and ability to work well with the schools; the patience and professionalism that parents have displayed is phenomenal.”