Virtual school reopening: Obstacle or opportunity?

Posted by Dr. George Arlotto on 9/10/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it unanticipated changes, unprecedented challenges, and an untold number of new questions and concerns.

As fall arrives, however, there is one certainty: The opening of the 2020-2021 school year will be unlike any we have experienced.


Along Route 424 in Crofton sits a sparkling gem, our county’s 14th high school. It will have to wait a while longer to have the first student footprints laid upon its floor. The same holds true for another awesome project: the new Richard Henry Lee Elementary School in Glen Burnie.


Sunrise on September 8 – just about three weeks from now – will be different for us all. The routine parents employ when it comes to getting those first-day-of-school outfits just right will be one not used in years past, and teachers and other school staff won’t be waiting with anticipation in their classrooms and buildings to see bright-eyed students come bounding off buses or out of cars eager for a year of instructional adventure.


Instead, we’ll greet each other electronically, following a virtual learning schedule that will see real-time teaching four days a week and afford teachers a chance to meet with students individually or in small groups on the fifth day. Our school days for students will start at 8:30 or 9 a.m., depending on grade level, and wrap up by 2:45 or 3 p.m. There is time built in to the schedules (available at www.aacps.org/fall2020) for critically important lessons on social justice and for social-emotional learning and support. Students also will have the opportunity to take part in clubs and other activities.


The curriculum we offer to students will meet all state standards and has been adapted with an equity lens to help ensure that we reach all children effectively. The means through which we instruct our children at the outset of this year may be different than that to which we are accustomed. However, our commitment to them – to elevate all students and eliminate all gaps – has not and will not waver, not for a single second.


We can view our situation as one filled with either obstacles or opportunities. I prefer the latter.


To be sure, we must confront the challenges that exist. How do we best support students with special needs? What can we do to assist English Language Learners? How do we best address instruction at our Centers of Applied Technology, where hands-on application of theory is what propels students to excel.


Our amazing team is working day and night on these and other issues. However, we must not neglect the fact that virtual learning provides a plethora of platforms and avenues through which we can move education forward and still support student success.


Recorded lessons, for example, provide flexibility for families whose schedules or other needs mean children may miss the real-time instruction being offered every day. We have seen increased family participation through technology, so perhaps conducting events like parent-teacher conferences in such a venue is a possibility in the future. Virtual learning could eventually replace inclement weather days, taking another variable out of the annual school calendar. If we dare to stretch the bounds of our thought, the possibilities are truly endless.


We humans are creatures of habit. We are naturally resistant to change. To be clear, no one wants our students and our school-based teams back inside our buildings more than I do.


That does not mean, however, that there will not be benefits to the  environment in which we willopen the school year. We must be prepared to recognize those benefits and to leverage them to
bolster the in-person instruction we will one day resume.


Our families deserve our endless thanks for their support of our efforts and especially ourstudents during these challenging times.


The writer is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@aacps.org.