At Woodlawn Academy on San Antonio’s West Side, cars lined up for blocks to pick up laptops on Thursday.
As cars pulled up to the school, Assistant Principal Garland Whetzler took down student names and ID numbers and exchanged them for Google Chromebooks.
“It’s good that they’re all showing up, too, for the technology, so that way the kids can continue on with their education and they’re not sitting at home losing two and a half to three months of school,” Whetzler said. “That’s not OK.”
The San Antonio Independent School District hopes that laptop distributions like this one will help it get back in touch with more of its younger students.
According to initial numbers collected by the district a week after it launched formal virtual lessons, SAISD has lost contact with 25% of its elementary students since spring break.
District wide, SAISD hasn’t heard from more than 9,300 students since its schools closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on March 16.
Although the Texas Education Agency isn’t requiring districts to take attendance during coronavirus closures, SAISD created an app to track interactions with students and find out who was slipping through the cracks.
“We’re doing above and beyond what anyone else (in Bexar County) is doing (to keep track of our students),” Theresa Urrabazo, executive director for research and evaluation, said Monday during the district’s virtual board meeting.
Urrabazo told trustees that, district wide, 80% of students have had at least one interaction with their school since spring break. The district considers a phone call or a laptop pick up a form of interaction.
Superintendent Pedro Martinez said part of the problem is that some of their contact information is out of date.
“We’re making phone calls, we’re sending texts. We’re not getting any response,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately our parents move a lot, and they’re very mobile throughout the school year. We might have had several thousand children that moved just around spring break, and now we don’t have their updated contact info.”
Trustee Steve Lecholop said he’s glad to have the data, and encouraged that most students have been in contact. But he’s concerned about the students the district hasn’t been able to reach.
“I’m deeply troubled that there are 25% of our children out there that we haven’t touched. That we don’t know what’s going on in their households,” Lecholop said, noting that local officials have reported an increase in family violence since stay-at-home orders began.
“So much of touching base with our families and our kids is to make sure that our students are well in addition to them learning,” Lecholop said.
The superintendent said that teachers and parent liaisons will keep on trying to reach out. They also plan to ask students for their help getting in touch with classmates.
“(Our staff would) like to go do home visits, but we can’t allow that because of safety,” Martinez said.
The number of students with at least one interaction is higher for middle school and high school students — around 90%. Most of SAISD’s middle schools and high schools have already distributed tablets and laptops.
According to a recent national poll, 40% of teenagers in the United States say they haven't attended a single online or virtual class since their school closed.
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