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How Online Learning Came To Be At WDMCS (And Why Your Help Is Still Needed) (11/30/20)

Nov. 30, 2020

working as a community how online learning came to be at wdmcs

When the West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) announced earlier in November that all students would transition to fully online learning, the news didn’t phase Valley High School Spanish teacher Krista Becker.

Because as each day of this whacky and unprecedented 2020-21 school year passes, she gains that much more assurance. She wasn’t overwhelmed. She wasn’t intimidated.

She was ready.

“If I think back to August and just how things were compared to now, I feel so much better with what I’m doing,” Becker said. “Every day we’re gaining that confidence and learning new tricks. We have so many tools available to us that we’re now really able to pick and choose what works best in our content area. I have my laptop. I have another screen up. I have everything connected so that it’s projected for my on-site learners and my online learners can see it too.

“I’m starting to feel pretty techy.”

Flashback to the start of this year, where students and teachers interacted either in person and followed proper COVID-19 mitigation strategies, or engaged together over the internet. Recently, WDMCS moved to online learning for all of its learners. Students will remain in this environment through Friday, Dec. 4, as the COVID-19 positivity rate in Polk County settles and student and staff absences decrease. WDMCS is applying for a second waiver to the Iowa Department of Education to continue online learning up to Tuesday, Dec. 22; the district’s winter break is Dec. 23 to Jan. 4.

How did WDMCS reinvent the classroom and prepare for online learning in the first place? For starters: A lot of planning and assistance from district leadership and key staff first began in early March. But there to help connect the dots was the WDMCS Foundation—ready to fundraise and lead the charge of impacting our school district community amid uncertainty.

Inside The Foundation’s Fundraising Efforts

Tina Hadden serves as president of the WDMCS Foundation, which is the nonprofit organization that benefits the students, teachers, and school district by offering quality fundraising and accounting resources for WDMCS—like its teacher grant and student support programs. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, the Foundation became very intentional with its fundraising, Hadden said. There were two main buckets: nutrition and technology. Treading into new ground in this world of online learning, the Foundation’s Board of Directors knew the limitations teachers and students alike were soon facing. 

“We knew last spring when we went online that roughly 25% did not have an internet connection,” Hadden said. “The district researched ways to bring an internet connection to as many school families as possible, and the Foundation wanted help raise funds to offset those costs. And for our teachers, we knew that they would need to be able to teach in the classroom and be able to teach online, so raising funds for the tools they needed for that dual job was important.”

From there, donations soon started pouring in once the Foundation put out requests through phone lines and email inboxes. By August, Hadden said contributions reached roughly $100,000 to assist with the district’s technology gaps. 

WDMCS Director of Technology Brian Abeling said the money that the Foundation raised helped reimburse and support the district’s ongoing technology needs, such as purchasing Chromebooks for learners in pre-kindergarten through second grade and webcams for teachers. What Abeling believes to be the real game-changer for virtual instruction, though, are teacher microphones and cabling that connect to teachers’ laptops.

“For secondary teachers, who all have part of the class in-person and part of the class online, they needed the ability to walk anywhere in the room and make sure that both audiences could clearly hear them,” Abeling said. “The teacher is able to wear a wireless microphone and project their voice to the ceiling-mounted speaker in their classroom and to the students remoting into the classroom.”

Becker admits she never realized the benefits of teachers’ classroom mics until this school year’s blend of on-site and online learning.

“I think even after masks and pandemic, I will continue to use it,” she said. “The whole class can hear me, and my voice isn’t as tired at the end of the day. The fact that we have those is amazing. Our students can hear us so well.”

‘I Don’t Think We Had Any Idea How Much It Was Going To Cost’

How much did WDMCS spend on technology? Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Chromebooks for grades PK-2. At roughly 2,000 units total, the district spent approximately $500,000.
  • Webcams for teachers. For both standard webcams and 360-degree smart conferencing cameras (like the Owl), the district spent approximately $200,000.
  • Teacher microphones and cabling. These pieces cost WDMCS approximately $150,000.

Add it all up (excluding the hundreds of hot spots WDMCS purchased for families who did not have a reliable internet connection in their homes), and you’re at roughly $850,000.

“From our perspective when we started this back in the spring, we had no idea what today would look like,” Hadden said. “I don’t think we had any idea how much it was going to cost in order to do some of this.”

Meet Jill Oman, one of the hundreds of donors who contributed to the Foundation’s campaign earlier this year. Oman is a proud parent of two WDMCS graduates. Both she and her husband, Mark, are passionate about education and kids. Furthermore, Oman’s mother was also a teacher, she said.

“It broke our hearts to think there were families who couldn’t do online learning because either they didn’t have an internet source or they didn’t have a Chromebook,” Oman said. That’s not OK in this day and age with this pandemic. Every kid should have an equal opportunity to receive a good education. 

“We’re in West Des Moines, Iowa. There’s no excuse for us not to have this, and the community rallied for it.”

Beaming with pride after another week’s worth of teaching virtually, Becker praised the Foundation and said WDMCS has stepped up in so many different ways.

“The tech support that we have received to be able to do this well is phenomenal,” she said. “I would only hope that other districts and teachers are experiencing this kind of support, because in West Des Moines, we’re rocking it.”

“Teachers and departments are now collaborating and sharing resources like never before,” Becker continued. “I wouldn’t be experiencing any success if it weren’t for the support and collaboration of all of these talented and hard-working people.

“We truly are better together.”

Hadden applauds Becker and all WDMCS teachers and staff, and commends Oman and all donors who helped make the path to online learning at WDMCS a bit clearer.

“We need to keep asking. There are more Jill Omans out there, and we need to find them and keep asking,” Hadden said. “People want to keep our kids in school, and the best way to do that is to make sure we’re keeping schools clean and disinfecting when there’s an outbreak. I don’t think people realize how much even that costs. 

“We have to keep working as a community to address rising costs of sending our kids to a public school.”

Donate To The WDMCS Foundation

Inspired by this story? Anyone can make a contribution to the WDMCS Foundation today!

Donate Now

For any questions about donating, fundraising, and planned giving, please call 515-633-5023. You can also learn more about the WDMCS Foundation by visiting its website at www.wdmcsfoundation.org.