Rantoul City Schools heading in a different direction with remote-learning program, beginning Monday

Home is where the learning is these days due to the stay-at-home order in Illinois. Rantoul City School students will begin their remote-learning studies on Monday.

RANTOUL — An online remote-learning plan for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade has been scrapped by Rantoul City Schools during the stay-at-home break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, those students will learn from take-home lesson plans that will be customized to each student.

“Everything will be paper for pre-K through fifth grade,” Superintendent Michelle Ramage said. “Everybody thinks remote learning means Chromebooks and the internet. Our remote learning at this point will not include those devices and the internet for elementary students.”

There are a couple of reasons for the decision, including difficulty finding enough hotspots for those students whose homes are not internet-equipped.

“We have the one-to-one devices, but we do not have the hotspots,” Ramage said. “So we shifted and spent all of our time preparing this remote learning in a paper format.”

She said not only are hotspots scarce, those that are available have skyrocketed in price.

A hotspot is a physical location where people may obtain internet access, typically using wi-fi technology, via a wireless local-area network using a router connected to an internet service provider.

Another factor is not expecting young children who have limited exposure to the devices and the internet to use new equipment when many of them do not have a parent at home to help during the day.

“The higher up they are grade-wise, the more familiar they are with devices,” Ramage said. “Our elementary students, they use devices, but it is not as much a part of their daily learning. We also don’t want to give out devices to students and say, ‘Let’s do this online’ when they’re not used to it.”

Even if there were enough hotspots and devices for all who needed them, Ramage said online work still wouldn’t have been used in 100 percent of their learning.  

Junior high students, meanwhile, will have their choice of whether to learn online or on paper.

All remote learning will begin Monday.

Getting the remote-learning program planned and ready to roll in just a few weeks has been a challenge. RCS isn’t the only school district rolling out its program.

“It’s been a lot of time and thought put into what ... we’re providing,” Ramage said. “We have to consider special needs, bilingual, that some students have no adults at home during the day because their parents are working.”

And some students might not be around at all. Ramage said with Rantoul’s transient population, many families use spring break as the time to move or to take extended breaks with family.

“We have put together a document. We have to have every bit of this translated to Spanish. There is a remote-learning plan that must be posted online. It’s to be used along with the packet of information they will get,” she said.

Ramage said just finding enough folders to put the remote-learning packets in has been a problem.

“We needed 1,800 folders for the work packets,” she said. “We can’t even find 1,100 folders.”

RCS got a jump on some districts by sending two weeks worth of work home with students prior to them going on spring break — a break that coincided with the first week of the stay-at-home order.  

Ramage said parents shouldn’t be under the impression their children will be spending as much time on their school work at home as they would if they were at school. Using Illinois State Board of Education guidelines, times spent studying at home under the remote-learning model should range from as few as 30-90 minutes a day for kindergartners to 60-120 minutes for third through fifth grades.

The remote-learning packets may be picked up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday at J.W. Eater Junior High School when that week’s meals are handed out. They will also be available that day from 5 to 7 p.m. at  Eater. Three weeks worth of homework will be handed out at once.

Ramage said most teachers are working remotely. In their packet, the teacher includes a letter that tells their office hours and the two-hour period they can be contacted. During the time the teachers are not doing office hours, they will be reaching out to those parents/students they haven’t heard from.