Education

Durham Public Schools plans to roll out new online academy

Posted June 23, 2020 6:07 p.m. EDT
Updated June 24, 2020 8:26 a.m. EDT

— In response to the coronavirus pandemic, The Durham Public School system is rolling out a new online academy for the upcoming school year.

The school system is still planning how to manage in-person classes--if any will be offered at all. Details for schooling are still being ironed out as the city awaits the Governor’s next steps for reopening.

The Durham Public School Foundation and other community organizations have been working to find unique ways to equip students with proper technology, allowing them equal access to online education and classes during the pandemic.

Regardless of how the details unfurl, the school system is preparing for a school year like no other.

Durham students finished up this past school year online – logging on for remote classes, tutoring and homework. Looking ahead to the fall, it’s possible that many of them won't sit inside a classroom again for a long time.

“We know that some families are going to be concerned about health and COVID in the fall. We also know that some families just prefer a flexible online option, and some learners thrive in that kind of environment," said Matthew Hickson, Durham Public Schools' first ever Director of Online Learning.

Schools will soon roll out the IGNITE Online Academy. With this digital academy, said Hickson, comes an effort to provide nearly 20,000 laptops and hotspot devices to helps students access this new digital curriculum.

“We want to be able to provide something that builds 21st century leaders and gives us that personalized environment with Durham teachers here in Durham Public School," he said.

The IGNITE platform is currently a work in progress, but Hickson said it will be a second option for concerned parents. It’ll include personalized courses constructed by Durham teachers, and it'll offer creative ways to still keep students engaged.

Muriel Smith, Program Director for Student U, said, “Technology is helpful, but it’s never the same as being in-person. I’m always curious – are students going to get super tired from being on Zoom?"

Organizations like Student U have helped many students get Chrome books and other tools over the past few weeks.

Smith said she hopes the current investment in online learning sticks with everyone involved. She believes schools and community organizations will have to learn to adapt with how the pandemic changes current approaches to education.

“Workplaces and employers, they want students that are ready to communicate, collaborate and create in a digital environment. I’m here to help us understand how we can do that at the highest level," said Hickson.

Durham Public Schools plan to release a full statement about the online program, how it will work and what parents can expect early next week.

There’s no lottery or enrollment process. Parents can sign their students up with an interest form that is scheduled to release on Monday.

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