Less than a day after Manassas City Public Schools announced Tuesday they would begin the school year in a completely virtual setting, Meg Carroll and the Georgetown South Community Center, realizing the challenges the system would create for students and caretakers alike, sprang into action.
Carroll, who heads the homeowners association and is well-connected with the neighborhood’s English and Spanish-speakers, quickly put out a message on her Facebook in both languages.
“I am asking Georgetown South parents to let me know what type of help you think that you will need to assist your child to learn virtually,” the post read in part.
Replies quickly rolled in, some from people offering help, others seeking it. Two parents wrote back in Spanish saying their homes lacked internet. Carroll and a member of the school board quickly answered that the school district would be supplying WiFi hotspots for those in need.
That particular barrier to virtual learning is one the schools can knock down for families. But Carroll and others know there are going to be a host of needs which go along with online-only schooling that the district itself can’t address. So the council is drafting a letter — again in both English and Spanish — that will go out to all 860 houses in the neighborhood asking the same question that Carroll posed on Facebook: How can the rest of the community help?
“I don’t want to put this all on the schools,” Carroll said. “I want the community to be a part of its own solution.”
With the help of a number of local churches, the council already knows a few things parents and students will need. They’re in the beginning stages of enlisting tutors from the neighborhood and elsewhere in the city to help students in need. They’re also looking to organize a day care exchange of sorts. One of the biggest concerns about distance learning for school boards everywhere is how it will affect parents who can’t work from home.
Carroll’s hope is to facilitate a patchwork system of neighborhood families to make sure kids aren’t unattended even if their normal caretakers are off at work.
“It’s like, ‘You do for me and I’ll do for you. These are the houses I need and these are the hours I can do,’” Carroll said. “We’re going to put that matrix together and see how we can help because these people don’t have money to pay for day care, so it’s going to have to be on a barter system.”
Some of the neighborhood’s kids will actually be in school buildings on certain days. The schedule has yet to be determined by schools, but some special education students and English-language learners will be getting a limited amount of in-person instruction every week. But while that will alleviate some of those supervision issues, Carroll and others suspect that when they’re not in the classroom, those are the students who will need the most help from tutors and others to keep up with an online curriculum. The collective of community of community organizations is talking about putting on informational sessions for Spanish-speaking families to smooth over and potential problems of communication between schools and families.
“We’re going to inundate them with flyers and with personal talks,” she said.
Tom Osina, the council’s treasurer and a Democratic city council candidate, said part of the push isn’t totally unlike efforts the organization makes every late summer to help with back-to-school prep. But the scope of needs is much wider, and the required supplies different.
“We’re not going to be asking for backpacks this year,” Osina said. “Maybe headphones would be a good thing to start collecting. We gotta put our thinking caps on and think about what kids are going to need.”
As is the case every year, the council will turn to the community for money and supplies.
“We in Georgetown South are blessed to have a lot of community partners that help us out — churches, individuals — it’s just amazing. People will donate, will supply resources,” Osina said. “Or in the case of where we need people power, they’ll come out and assist those sort of things.”