CARE classrooms: What does distance learning look like inside DC schools?

Though some students are at their desks in D.C. Public Schools, their teachers have been elsewhere as CARE classrooms got under way this week.

The goal of CARE — Canvas Academics and Real Engagement — is to provide a supervised educational environment for students whose parents need to be at their jobs. About 400 students have accepted seats in 25 elementary schools across the District.

Excel Elementary School Principal Tenia Pritchard demonstrated what students experience during the day during a tour with DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee. The elementary school is on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast D.C.

Staff members in protective gear, including plastic face shields and masks, greet students at the door to take their temperatures and provide hand sanitizer. Students then pick up a bagged breakfast at the door and head to one of two classrooms being used in the program.

In the classroom, students wear masks, and each has their own desk and assigned laptop.

Adult supervisors, who before the COVID-19 pandemic staffed the after-school programs at Excel, circulate through the classroom, assisting and supervising students.

“As far as social distancing, we try to keep them 6 feet apart,” Pritchard said, pointing to Xs on the floor made from blue tape. “Of course, they’re children, so sometimes, things shift — we try to put the Xs on the floor, so they know if they have to move their desks.”

Students in each CARE classroom are wearing headphones because they’re learning from different teachers. “Some of it is synchronous with live teachers, and some is asynchronous, where they’re working on independent activities,” Pritchard said.

Students then eat lunch, which is provided at the school, in their classrooms. Recess is built into their school day, Pritchard said.

Two classrooms have been set up to isolate any student who may develop any coronavirus symptoms. With Plexiglas shields, and a machine treating air in the classroom, a patient care technician or the school nurse would monitor the child until a parent can pick them up.

In its first week of operation, attendance was low at the schools throughout the D.C. school system. Ferebee said some students had to complete vaccinations before attending CARE classrooms.

Plans to return students to classrooms have gotten pushback from the Washington Teachers’ Union, which refused to sign a tentative agreement with DCPS to reopen for in-person instruction earlier this week. The union accused school officials of lack of transparency with reopening plans.

In an emailed statement Thursday, Ferebee said the school system “has engaged in well over 100 hours of good-faith discussions with the WTU around comprehensive reopening plans.”

The union has argued that teachers need better protections, and is calling on the D.C. Council to pass legislation that would required DCPS to submit clear and detailed reopening plans.

WTOP’s Zeke Hartner contributed to this report.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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