Many parents across New Mexico will start this week with questions and concerns about their children’s education after the state’s Public Education Department last week announced schools will be closed through May. But to keep students engaged and to justify not making up missed weeks of school, PED has asked all school districts to submit an educational plan.
A looming special legislative session to balance the state’s books, a large number of rural school districts in the state and cash-strapped schools adds to the uncertainty of student access and expectations. But the agency said parents should not panic about access to computers or not being able to take on the role of a teacher.
PED spokeswoman Nancy Martira told NM Political Report that the agency is fully aware of the many challenges families are faced with.
“We are asking educators to keep in mind that many families have limited data, minimal access to the Internet, and one device which must be shared between multiple people,” Martira said.
She said PED does not expect parents to sit with their children for eight hours a day. The recommended amount of “direct instruction each day” for students are as follows.
Pre-K : 30 minutes
Grades K-1: 45 minutes
Grades 2-3: 60 minutes
Grades 4-5: 90 minutes
Grades 6-12: 30 minutes per teacher (3 hours max in a day)
But for the next week, school districts will be developing and submitting plans for distance learning, which Martira said does not necessarily mean online learning.
“Plans should be developed to meet the needs of their communities,” Martira said. “Grab & Go lesson packets that can be picked up with meals is a viable option. We are also working with local New Mexico public broadcasting stations to deliver instructional families who may not have internet access, but do have a television or radio at home.”
But, Martira said, there may not be definitive answers for everyone right away. First districts will need to submit their educational plan for the coming weeks to PED for approval. She added that parents should not expect lessons to look the same as usual in the next several weeks.
“The focus for this time will be on meeting critical standards for grade advancement and key concept mastery,” Martira said. “This will not be ‘business as usual’ and benchmarks will reflect that.”
Things will look different
Albuquerque Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, is preparing its education plan, according to spokeswoman Monica Armenta. She echoed the sentiment from PED that school will look different going forward.
“The main goal is to make sure that students pre-k through 12 remain engaged and that they have the academic challenges and accessibility that they need to be engaged and interested. But it’s going to look different,” Armenta said. “Clearly we’ve never been in a situation like this. I don’t think there’s an industry in the world that doesn’t look different at the moment.”
Armenta said APS will partner with New Mexico PBS to help disseminate lesson plans and educational programming to supplement education for families that may not have a computer or internet access. She also said the district has about 8,000 laptop computers for students to use, but priority will likely be given to older students who need school credits to advance to the next grade or graduate.
“We’re a huge district, we have students that live as far east as Sandia Park, as far west as Tohajiilee,” Armenta said. “Not everybody in the state has connectivity, for those who do, we’re trying to make sure that sometime in the next couple weeks that we’re able to distribute 8,000 new Chromebooks. First to high schoolers because the greatest need at the moment is to make sure seniors are able to graduate.”
She said the district will also depend on teachers to contact students any way they can to make sure everyone is getting the attention they need.
“Teaching has always been our priority and that hasn’t changed,” Armenta said.
Districts across the state are required to submit their respective distance learning plans to the PED by next week.