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story.lead_photo.caption A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.

Arkansas school district administrators, teachers and parents said Tuesday that they are settling into a routine of working with students who have school work to do even while their school campuses are closed to them.

Tuesday was the first day all public schools and most private schools in the state were closed to students -- although schools in Pulaski, Saline, Jefferson and Grant counties were first closed last Friday. It's all in an effort to stop or drastically slow the spread of the coronavirus or covid-19 pandemic. The schools will be closed through the March 23-27 spring break.

As of noon Tuesday, Arkansas is among 38 states that have closed schools, according to Education Week, a national publication on elementary and secondary education. Closures in those states, combined with district closures in other states, means that at least 74,000 schools and 38.8 million students are affected, the newspaper reported.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Students in just about all of the Arkansas schools are supposed to be completing assignments at home in consultation with their teachers, who are to be available to them online or by phone during regular school hours. Those assignments, in packets sent home or online, are the result of each district's state-approved alternative instruction plan. The alternative lessons can be used for up to 10 days in a school year when campuses are closed for inclement weather, utility outages or contagious disease.

On Tuesday, Little Rock School District's top-level administrators produced a short video to urge parents to establish a routine for their at-home students that includes time for working on the packets of lessons and activities or the online work prepared for older students.

Hope Worsham, the district's executive director of curriculum, said the schedule should also include time for students to read and to engage in physical activity, which can range from marching around a kitchen table to using online GoNoodle activities or dance videos. Worsham also encouraged parents to ask their older students to show them the itslearning and Google Classroom learning platforms where they are locating and doing their class assignments.

Darian Smith, the district's director of elementary education, said students need structure to their day and parental support to ensure that students persevere to complete their school work.

"These are not free days," Randy Rutherford, director of secondary education in the state's second-largest school district, said in reminding parents about the importance of the school work and the availability of school faculty to help their students.

Stella Cameron, library media specialist at Little Rock's Central High and the district's current high school teacher of the year, said Tuesday that maintaining a work schedule is important to her even in this unprecedented period of working from home.

"I always thought it would be fun to work from home, but never realized how difficult and exhausting it could be," Cameron said in an email description of her day.

She routinely is doing three or four things at a time, and that hasn't changed this week.

"While drinking my coffee, I log into itslearning, our online learning platform that our district adopted for [alternative instruction] days, check emails and reply to questions," Cameron said. "I am also working on book orders and trying to finalize expenditures for this year."

Her other tasks include promoting the Tech Cards that give students access to online books and other materials in the Central Arkansas Library System, keeping current on district-generated information, collaborating with teachers on lesson plans -- such as looking for videos to purchase for another teacher on World War I and the Great Depression -- and helping other teachers and students with a marketing plan for the renovation of the old drugstore across the street from Central.

Cameron said she spent her lunch break conferring with district leaders about some of the technology challenges that are hindering access for some teachers and students.

"I realize that I never want to have a job where I had to work a 40-hour week from home," Cameron said.

PARENTS

Kristin Higgins' daughter, a pupil in the Bryant School District, finds her lessons in the core academic subjects on her elementary school's Facebook page.

When she completes that work, without help from her parents, she's moved on to projects provided by her gifted and talented education teacher, Higgins said. That has included writing quiz bowl questions on a topic she and her classmates have studied, and selecting a project to enhance her school.

Still, Higgins' daughter and preschool-aged son are looking for ways to fill time.

"We had to create a schedule for them today because they going nuts and wanting to watch TV or play on the iPad all the time," Higgins said.

Tracy Courage said her fourth-grade son in the North Little Rock School District brought home a packet of lessons before Christmas and has been "doing small chunks of it during the day." Courage checks it in the evening. Courage's ninth-grade daughter at Central Arkansas Christian School uses online Google Classroom for her at-home school work.

"She is expected to be online for the first half of the day," Courage said. "The classes are abbreviated with no band, choir, or drama. She has assignments that she has to [do] daily online. She is expected to spend the afternoon reading and doing homework that is due the following day.

"The Virtual Classroom is a rather new experience" and has taken some getting used to, Courage added.

ADVANCED PLACEMENT

Lynn Harrison-Bullard, president of Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science Inc., said Tuesday that resources developed and provided to her organization's member schools to help students prepare for the rigorous Advanced Placement exams in math, science and English are now open to all students.

While most lessons are for high school students, there are some materials for grades six through eight, Harrison-Bullard said.

"Our usually secure, powerful resources are now open links to assist students and teachers across the state to ensure that their time out of the classroom can offer meaningful instruction" through alternate means of instruction, Harrison-Bullard said about worksheets and video lessons. "Once the crisis is over, they will 'go back to the vault.'"

The link is https://bit.ly/2TWLBb1.

Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science, an affiliate of the National Math and Science Initiative, began providing tutoring to Advanced Placement students and training to Advanced Placement teachers in 10 schools in 2008.

Each spring, the nonprofit initiative based at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock invites additional schools to apply for participation in the program.

The goals of the program are to increase the number of students taking and earning qualifying scores on Advanced Placement exams in math, science and English, and better preparing students in general for higher education and careers.

The thousands of Arkansas students who take Advanced Placement courses every year can earn college credit for their high school work if they score a 3, 4 or 5 on Advanced Placement exams that are given each May.

The College Board is currently developing resources to help schools support student learning during extended school closures this year due to the coronavirus, as well as a solution that would allow students to test at home.

Additional information will be posted by March 20, according to the College Board's AP Central website.

Metro on 03/18/2020

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