When the pandemic forced schools to shut down in mid-March, Dobbs Ferry was prepared for online teaching.
“Ahead of the curve” is how Terance Huyter, the school district’s technology director put it. “Honestly, we were in a good position.”
Each student in grades 6 through 12 had a Chromebook, supplied by the district, which they were allowed to take home for their assignments. Each teacher also had a Chromebook. In all, the district has 1,200 Chromebooks out.
So, when the coronavirus hit, all systems, at least in grades 6 to 12, were in place.
“We needed to get everyone in the district the accessibility to a computer so they could be online for virtual learning,” said Huyter, 46, a staff member at Dobbs Ferry since 2004.
With the help of fellow technology department members Raymond Rivera and Kenny Gendron, repairs were made to Chromebooks that needed them and the devices were distributed to students in grades K to 5.
“The fourth- and fifth-graders were already using the devices in school; we just don’t allow them to take them home because they are a bit too young,” Huyter said. “K through three was tricky because we had to make sure that the email application was turned off. Email is allowed from sixth grade up.”
There was also the need to make sure that the kindergartners and first-graders and their parents were prepared. In second grade, Dobbs Ferry begins teaching technology, so those students had an idea of how to log in and work.
“Not every household elected to pick one up,” Huyter explained. “The parents may have felt more comfortable using the device they have in their home.”
He continued, “But that is not a problem. We ask them to make sure that they do not use their home Internet service and to log in through the school district’s service. We can control and utilize all the filters we have in place that way.”
Huyter added, “Safety is one of our biggest concerns. We don’t want any information getting out there about the kids.”
Meanwhile, the transition to the virtual classroom has been as smooth as could be expected.
“We had the infrastructure in place — the devices, the policies, etc. — so, even though we were heading into unfamiliar territory, we are in the customer service position. Our job was to make sure that the teachers were in a position to do theirs,” Huyter said. “We did, though, have a leg up.”
He continued, “The teachers jumped right in — they have been phenomenal. The first few weeks, in unchartered waters, they were a little afraid, but, to their credit, they have taken on the challenge head-on and it is working.”
Through Google Classroom, teachers put up assignments. Each day, teachers are available online, and they have the option of recording the lesson. Huyter and his staff are on call for teachers and parents, 24/7.
“This is about making sure the teachers can do their job and the kids have access to learn,” Huyter said.