| Salisbury Daily Times
‘Positivity and flexibility’: How Wicomico teachers are prepping for a virtual start
As the coronavirus pandemic continues into the fall, three Wicomico County teachers explain how they’re preparing for the upcoming virtual semester.
Habacuc Petion is very active in the minority community throughout Delmarva.
The executive director of Rebirth Inc. has worked to ensure equality in all areas, including the classroom.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing schools across the country to transition to a virtual learning format, technology became a necessity if students wanted to maintain their education.
That was difficult for some minority families, who Petion said don’t have the same access or understanding of technology as others. Fighting just to understand the English language, some students and parents struggled to make the transition.
It caught Petion’s attention, and it’s what kicked off the Rebirth Community Virtual School Support Center.
The center, which is housed at the Langeler Memorial Building in Salisbury, offers high-speed internet, tutoring and a computer lab to any student or parent in Delmarva looking to have access to required technology for learning.
Held Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-7 p.m., the center is a way for families who have struggled to adapt to the virtual learning format to ensure their child gets the full benefit of their education.
“It’s the first of its kind on the Shore,” Petion said. “The system was overwhelmed and overloaded, parents were complaining …the whole idea is empowerment – empower the kids and make sure they don’t get left behind.”
Instructors will speak three languages – Creole, Spanish and English – and help those in attendance better understand the technological tools that many schools have used for instruction, such as Zoom, Google Classroom and MyClasses.
Natalie Saint-Phard serves at the director of the center, using her own experience with child care and education to ensure everyone is benefiting from the experience.
“This is my calling,” she said. “This is not a minority issues – this is a Wicomico, a Salisbury issue. We want to make it better for one another and make sure everyone has a fighting chance.”
Petion said the center currently has just four students registered, but could house more than 100 once permitted to do so by the local health department.
Petion and Saint-Phard have worked to ensure all CDC guidelines and precautions are taken to ensure the safety of students and parents. Masks are required at all times, plexiglass shields have been put around each desk and sanitation often takes place.
Monitoring the intake of students isn’t just a precaution to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to ensure each child or parent can work closely with instructors.
Students will complete their schoolwork and studies while continuing to familiarize themselves with the technology. Parents can utilize the offered computer lab to learn new skills and then pass them on to their child.
Bringing in trilingual instructors was a major factor in developing the center, letting all attendees know regardless of their background, they will have a place at the support center.
“This place is for everyone,” Saint-Phard said. “Technology is something we all need to rely on. It’s being integrated into our daily lives. Lacking the literacy in technology is a handicap, and having children who aren’t familiar with the computer will have them fall behind.”
The center continues to seek experienced instructors. Saint-Phard noted a college education is the minimum requirement.
Both Saint-Phard and Petion hope many members of the community partake in the new center, but the ultimate goal is once they attend, they’ll eventually leave with a new grasp on technology, allowing more room for others to come in and receive instruction.
“It’s a group effort, and we need everyone’s collaborative advice and effort,” Saint-Phard said. “We will be relying on people in the community to see the need and fill these voids.”
COVID-19 will eventually subside, but the instructors at the support center hope their operation lasts for the foreseeable future.
As technology continues to advance and becomes an integral part of daily lives, Saint-Phard and Petion want to ensure any person of any background can utilize the center for their benefit.
“It’s important to do something, but it’s not something just one person can do,” Petion said. “It’s a variety of ethnicities coming together for a common goal.”