Initial results from a survey of secondary students suggest the Anoka-Hennepin School District is seeing success in its distance learning program, which launched March 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 70% of the 2,800 respondents who have filled out a survey are satisfied with distance learning, Superintendent David Law said.

“Just about 2% or 1% are dissatisfied, so the vast majority are satisfied,” he said.

Approximately half of families in secondary education are using their own devices, a third are using only school-provided devices, and the remainder are using a mix, Law said. Approximately 70% of families say the homework load is appropriate, with about 20% saying it’s a little light and about 10% saying it’s too much.

Law figured that’s comparable to opinions of the workload when school is in session under normal conditions. Students in kindergarten through third grade began receiving Chromebooks April 3. Surveys of those students and teachers were expected to go out soon.

Results of all the surveys likely will be presented publicly to the School Board at its April meeting, Law said.

“What I would say is, based on family experiences it’s going much better than I thought,” Law said.

Paraprofessional educators were recently provided technology to help special education students. The devices allow them to watch a teacher’s lesson while communicating with the child they support in order to help them.

This year’s experience with distance learning may open the door for Anoka-Hennepin to implement greater usage of technology in future years. While teachers haven’t been surveyed, Law said he’s heard anecdotally that they have picked up the technology use quickly. Back in January, the district surveyed teachers about moving to a one-to-one technology platform. A little more than 60% were interested then, Law said. He expects more teachers will be interested in using technology in class now because previous reservations were largely based on access.

Distance learning has shown the district has enough materials to provide access to almost every student. The district is hoping to get 200-1,000 hot spots to provide more families with internet access.

“That will get us pretty close to 100%,” Law said.

As the district moves forward, Law expects to see “a pretty significant shift away from traditional paper and pencil stuff in classrooms.” He pointed to survey responses that said students were better able to work at their own pace and focus on their interests than before.

Distance learning will likely be how education looks through the end of the school year. With 15 states announcing closures through the end of the year, Law believes Minnesota will follow suit.

The district is still wrestling with decisions regarding end-of-year celebrations like graduation and scholarship opportunities. Law said he expects Anoka-Hennepin will begin making plans for those ceremonies soon.

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