Like millions across the country entering an uncertain, all-virtual school year borne of the coronavirus pandemic, the students of the U.S. Virgin Islands on Monday kicked off their first day of school with a mix of curiosity, excitement and a tad bit of nerves.
Deemed the start of a two-week “soft opening,” in which students, parents and teachers could work out the kinks of their new virtual learning environment, the much-anticipated “first day of school” was largely a day to troubleshoot as much as it was to welcome students.
“There were some kinks, mostly to do with email access,” said V.I. Education Department spokesperson Cynthia Graham.
Wendy Wynter, a fourth-grade teacher at Lew Muckle Elementary School on St. Croix, said much of her day involved helping parents with their children’s email.
“I had a lot of situations trying to help parents get onto the email program,” she said. “Every student is supposed to activate their Department of Education email — so that was a task. A lot of kids weren’t activated and that took most of my day.”
Graham stated, however, that it was still a “very positive day” across the two districts.
“By all accounts, we’re getting a lot of positive feedback from teachers and parents,” Graham said. “It’s day one — and if it was as positive as it was [Monday], it can only get better as we continue on.”
Other parents acknowledged that no major hiccups disrupted the day.
Bianca Francis, a St. Croix resident and mother of two students at Pearl B. Larsen School, said the day went “pretty smoothly.”
“[My son] was very excited because he finally got to see his peers on Microsoft Teams,” Francis said. “They haven’t seen each other since March, so he was very excited about that and he’s looking forward to tomorrow.”
Francis said her son, Ayngel Ayala, a sixth-grader, was online with his first period teacher for much of the day and received an orientation on how virtual learning would transpire for the first semester.
Francis’ daughter, Aylayna, a second grader, had a workbook, which allowed Francis to “create my own schedule for her.”
Indeed, due to a limited inventory of laptops, the Education Department, for the St. Croix district, has temporarily given instructional workbooks to K-2nd graders; Acellus tablets for 3-4th graders; and laptops for online instruction for 5th graders and above, with 12th graders given priority.
For the St. Thomas-St. John district, a limited number of laptops were also distributed with seniors given priority.
Graham said many students have their own devices at home. But “in a month or so” the territory will be receiving Chromebooks for every student in the territory and allow online instruction for everyone.
Schedules and links to register for the St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John parent technology training can be accessed through the “For Families” tab at www.vide.vi.