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Petaluma schools closed until at least May 1

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Most Petaluma schools limped into spring break on March 13, just as shutdown orders began taking hold around the country due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic.

Now, after a week-long extension of the vacation, schools across Petaluma are preparing to welcome back students, albeit remotely.

“We’ve been working for the past week to prepare for independent learning,” said Gary Callahan, superintendent of the Petaluma City Schools District, the largest school district in Petaluma. “Students will be provided a variety of experiences to be completed from home.”

Petaluma City Schools and other area districts are switching to distance learning starting March 30. Petaluma schools are also offering meals for students to pick up at various campuses.

Callahan said last week that it was unclear when schools would reopen, but state education officials have braced for the possibility of closures extending through summer.

“The message we heard was to plan as though we are not returning to traditional facilities prior to the end of the school year,” he said.

Each student in the district has a school-issued iPad, which will be used for remote learning, Callahan said. Teachers have spent the past two weeks adapting lesson plans for remote learning, which could mean daily web cam lectures from teachers or online assignments that students would need to do independently.

Callahan said teachers could access their classrooms and still maintain social distancing. He said 90% of district employees are working remotely.

Grab-and-go meals can be picked up at McDowell Elementary and Petaluma Junior High School on Mondays and Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m.

“We’ll step up to the challenge and make the best of a very bad situation,” Callahan said.

Old Adobe Union School District, with five east Petaluma elementary schools, is designing its online learning program to fit the needs of individual students, superintendent Craig Conte said.

“Parents and students are in very different situations,” he said. “We want to see what the kids needs are before putting too much out there.”

A distribution center using pop-up tents has been set up on the Miwok School campus at 1010 St. Francis Drive. Students will be able to pick up curriculum resources like books, pencils and writing materials. Meal service will also be provided at that location. There will also be a covered pickup area in the student drop-off zone of each school where parents can pick up materials provided by individual teachers.

Families who do not have Chromebooks needed for online classes can obtain them by contacting their individual schools.

Students at the two Waugh School District campuses — Corona Creek and Meadow elementary schools — began online learning Wednesday after teachers spent the first two days of the week planning curriculum and implementation procedures.

Superintendent/Principal Mike Gardner said the curriculum would be a combination of high tech and basic education classes. He said school staff is also sending out a list of materials and assignments for students.

“Our staff is doing a great job putting together a meaningful curriculum in a very short time,” he said. “I have been impressed with how they have all pulled together.”

Gardner said the district is aware of the social needs of the students. One of the things the district is already planning is an online talent show.

“It is most important that the students maintain a feeling of involvement and not feel isolated,” he said.

St. Vincent High School got the jump on most area schools, beginning its online education on March 18 after the campus closed a day earlier. The school posted a detailed schedule for day-to-day online classes on its web site at svhs-pet.org.

In a message posted on the web site, St. Vincent Principal Patrick Daly wrote: “We are confident that we can deliver a quality educational experience through the online use of Google Classroom. Most of our teachers use Google Classroom as part of their current instruction.”

One challenge schools face is some students’ lack of internet access at home.

Sonic is offering three months of free internet access and unlimited nationwide home telephone service to households with K-12, college students, or senior citizens 60 or older. The fiber-optic service includes speeds of up to 1Gbps with no data caps.

New Comcast customers will receive two free months of internet service, which is available to qualified low-income households for $9.95 per month. The company’s Xfinity WiFi hotspots across the country will be available to anyone who needs them for free, the company said.

FrontRow, a Petaluma software company that specializes in communication technology for educators, is offering its lesson capture software free for teachers, the company said. The program enables educators to capture their lessons for students to access later and records a teacher’s voice, multimedia, and material presented on a screen. Once a teacher finishes a lesson, it automatically converts the recording as a video file and uploads it to a desired online destination for students to access at home.

The company said its software can be useful as schools switch to online learning. Teachers can download the free 45-day trial of the $49 software at info.gofrontrow.com/free-lesson-capture-2020.

“We are deeply passionate about the education of our young students at FrontRow as they are the global citizens and leaders of the future,” FrontRow President Jens Holstebro said in a statement. “This is a time for us all to come together and do what we can to help. As an organization, we are happy to help fight the effects of these school closures by offering our lesson capture software.”

(John Jackson contributed to this report. Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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