Are You Prepared For Phase 3?
March 2020 seems like a decade ago. We’ve certainly accumulated about a decade worth of experience when it comes to virtual learning in just the past few months. While learning plans were mostly built for a Michigan living in Phase 4, a surge in COVID cases has surpassed previous highs, so it’s not a wild assumption to think that we’ll end up back in Phase 3. That has a significant impact on schools because in Phase 4, schools had the option to offer in-person learning or hybrid-model learning. In Phase 3, that will be off limits.
Here’s what you need to know if we go back to Phase 3, and what you need to be prepared for 100% virtual learning again.
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What’s Phase 3?
In the spring, the State of Michigan published a 6-phase plan for Michigan’s recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic. Phase 1 is a state of uncontrolled growth, like what we saw in early March. We had no idea where it was, few mitigation tools in place, and rapidly growing cases. Phase 6 is where we’ll be once a vaccine is available and distributed widely enough to consider the population generally immune.
Today, we are in Phase 4, a state of Improvement, that still places restrictions on many businesses and limits gatherings to very small groups. Phase 4 allows for some in-person learning if schools take stringent safety precautions.
Phase 3 moves us back to a state where no gatherings are allowed, and most businesses are closed.
We moved from Phase 3 to Phase 4 in June but, as we mentioned before, cases are rising. Michigan’s 7-day moving average of Daily New Cases hovered in the 700’s for most of the summer. From mid-September to late October, it has more than tripled. The number of people tested has increased which accounts for some of the growth, but the percent of people who tested positive has also increased from an average of about 3% over the summer to over 14% in early November. That means it is spreading faster than it was before which may prompt the state to move us back to Phase 3 – creating significant consequences for schools.
What Should We Know For Phase 3?
The lessons we learned in the spring were difficult but fruitful. From the importance of home internet connections and parent communication to the limitations of the hardware industry and strategies for virtual classroom management, it’s been a lot to take in. We spent some time gathering some of those learnings into this post so that you can read through them quickly and check your level of preparedness for a reversion to Phase 3.
Home & School Internet Connections
One of the most obvious lessons learned is about the importance of high-speed internet access both at school and at home. When students are learning remotely, they need access to a fast, reliable internet connection. It’s unfortunate that so many children, especially minority children in urban areas, lack access but there is much being done to help close the gap as we’ve detailed in a previous post. If your students are having trouble getting online, please reach out to our team and we can send you some helpful resources.
When it comes to internet connections in your school building, we also want to point out the value of the upcoming E-Rate funding cycle. One of the two approved expense categories includes service from an Internet Service Provider. If your school or district is struggling to get the internet necessary for teachers to conduct lessons from their classroom, get in touch so we can provide an informed evaluation of your current network to help you craft a successful E-Rate funding request. The investments you make to wireless internet on-site can also be used to create a “drive thru” WiFi hotspot, for students who lack access at home. In the spring, we worked with schools to install powerful WiFi routers that extended their wireless network out into the parking lot. Parents who didn’t have internet access at home could drive their kids to the school where they could do their lessons or homework from inside their car.
In your preparation for a possible move back to Phase 3, review your internal network’s capacity for 100% virtual learning both on and offsite and get an idea of how readily your students can get online.
Digital connections aside, we’ve also learned a great deal about the importance of personal connection. Sitting alone at home is hard for students and teachers alike. It may work for a week or two, but after a while we all crave personal connection. Think about how teachers are personally connecting with their students and how teachers are connecting with each other. We recommend investigating tools like Slack, Google Classroom, Schoology and Microsoft Teams while exploring the ways they can help students and teachers communicate and connect with each other socially.
Parent Communication and Distribution
This one is extremely important. When schools started sending students home in the spring, many schools and districts did a woeful job of communicating with parents. Setting expectations is critical. Asking a working parent to suddenly supervise a child all day without any guidance on how long it will last, what the class schedule will be, and the coursework their child will be expected to manage is a heavy burden. Some of the biggest complaints we’ve heard have been about poor communication from administrators to parents. On the flip side, some of the biggest compliments we’ve heard have been about how well schools communicated with parents. No one likes being in the dark, especially about their children’s education.
In the event of an unplanned shutdown, part of that communication plan will likely include device distribution. Phase 3 will mean more devices at home – which means schools need a distribution plan to get technology safely and efficiently into the hands of students. Do you have an up to date inventory? An idea of what tech is with which students? A sanitary operations plan to distribute?
By this point in the school year, it’s probably safe to say that most parents understand the world of Phase 4 learning, whether their child is in-person, hybrid, or virtual. If we move back to Phase 3, that will be a big change for many, so you should have a clear communication plan ready before it’s needed. Write it out, test it with your teachers who have school-age children, and keep it handy for whenever the next big change comes from Lansing.
It’s easy to assume that big technology companies have huge stockpiles of devices ready to sell. The truth is that modern manufacturing strives to achieve a perfect balance between supply and demand. And when demand skyrockets unexpectedly, it can take a long time to catch up. That is what has happened with learning devices. According to Lenovo, HP, and Dell, there’s a shortage of over 5 million laptops.
As you prepare for a potential move to Phase 3, we recommend that you get a head start on ordering whatever devices you might need as soon as possible. It may take months to receive them. Another option is to source refurbished laptops from reputable vendors like Tech Defenders or to pursue temporary leases through companies like CIT on devices until you can buy what you need.
Start Your Technology Plan Today
The next several months could play out in many ways. A vaccine could be approved within weeks, leading to a quick end of the pandemic. Cases could continue their upward trajectory, pushing us back into Phase 3 or even Phase 2. Whatever happens, the way school operates will change and schools need to be prepared for all scenarios. If you’d like help with your planning process, we invite you to reach out to our team. We have experts in everything from sourcing hardware and selecting learning software to local network management and federal funding grant requests. We’ve helped dozens of schools across Southeast Michigan for years and we can’t wait to help you too.