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SDUSD’s “First Responders” sustained authentic learning during COVID

The eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards, sponsored by Trox, highlights inspiring examples of education during the COVID-19 pandemic
By Laura Ascione
September 10th, 2021

The eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards, sponsored by Trox, highlights inspiring examples of education during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and that means educators across the globe are still finding inventive and innovative ways to support and teach students in classrooms, during hybrid instruction, and in virtual settings.

The eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards program, sponsored by Trox, recognizes the determined and dedicated efforts of educators throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Never before have educators been challenged and tested as they were, beginning in March 2020 and up until today, and never before has their resilience been more apparent. Administrators, technology leaders, classroom teachers, and educators in all roles have persevered as they taught each and every one of their students during a global pandemic.

Here, eSchool News highlights the San Diego Unified School District–one of its K-12 Hero Awards winners. Keep reading to discover how this district keeps learning going in the middle of a global pandemic.

Nominee: San Diego Unified School District

Nominated by: Jenni Ottum, Trox

What makes this nominee a hero?

As the second-largest district in California, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has more than 121,000 students enrolled across its 181 schools. The district’s student population is extremely diverse. Nearly 6,000 teachers are in classrooms at the district’s various education facilities, which include 117 traditional elementary schools, nine, K-8 schools, 24 traditional middle schools, 22 high schools, 49 charter schools, 13 alternative schools and five additional program sites.

With so many students from a variety of backgrounds, equity is a critical issue for SDUSD. That’s why the district is transitioning from a 1:1 device cart model to a 1:1 device take-home model. Every student from pre-K through 12th grade has access to a device–a decision that served the district well when the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close its schools in March 2020. SDUSD’s Instructional Technology Department was nicknamed the “First Responders” due to its proactive approach to COVID-19.

From showing teachers how innovative technology could help improve learning outcomes to ramping up workshops geared toward preparing educators to teach online, this small but mighty team of six went above and beyond to make an impact during unprecedented times.

In late February 2020, SDUSD’s Instructional Technology team provided district leadership with a plan for curating enrichment activities for students to complete in the event students would be sent home. By March 6, the team had curated standards-aligned curriculum for students to access from home.

In March, the team developed a public-facing website and curated more than 200 lessons for students to engage in at home. Later that month, the team began an extensive professional development initiative. During this time, the team set a clear vision for distance learning. Teacher volunteers were recruited to lead courses and develop workshops. Timing was crucial: The team aimed–and succeeded in–training more than 5,000 educators prior to April 27, the first day in which the entire district moved to remote learning. From April 27 through May 28, the Instructional Technology team continued to offer workshops and online office hours to support educators with distance learning needs. For several weeks, the Instructional Technology team trained up to 1,000 teachers a day.

In addition, SDUSD has relied on Trox, a leading edtech provider, to help it roll out nearly 2,000 Boxlight boards, documentary cameras, and webcams in its classrooms throughout the past year, which helped educators who preferred to teach from their classroom. When the district moved to simulcasting learning in April 2021, that technology made a huge difference in helping teachers remain connected to their students, whether they are on or off campus, according to Julie Garcia, SDUSD’s Director of Instructional Technology. Going forward, professional development to help inspire teachers to use new hardware and software tools will continue to be a priority in any learning environment.

“Now more than ever, it’s important to help our students become good digital citizens,” Garcia added. “Technology should be front and center as we use what we learned during the pandemic to support students, track progress, facilitate collaboration and ensure students are engaged in authentic learning.”

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Editorial Director at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism.