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Desktop computers and headphones at Gardenview Elementary School in Memphis, Tennessee.

Desktop computers and headphones at Gardenview Elementary School in Memphis, Tennessee.

Karen Pulfer Focht for Chalkbeat

Memphis district shares plan to help struggling seniors graduate during coronavirus closure

Memphis seniors who are at risk of not graduating because of failing grades will still have the opportunity to catch up even though Shelby County Schools is not holding classes, according to a plan the district released Wednesday.

Online classes for those seniors are scheduled to begin Monday and run through May 22. Seniors without internet access will receive paper workbooks. Students can call the district’s homework hotline for help completing assignments. Project Graduation teachers who specialize in helping students improve their grades will also be available.

Superintendent Joris Ray at a press conference in March 2020.

Superintendent Joris Ray at a press conference in March 2020.

Shelby County Schools

The plan comes about a week after the State Board of Education approved emergency rules that allow students to improve their grades while school buildings are closed to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The district is closed until further notice, but has stopped short of saying buildings will remain shuttered for the rest of the school year.

The plan for seniors was shared during Superintendent Joris Ray’s presentation to county commissioners Wednesday, but was not discussed during the meeting.

Ray’s plan addresses some school operations upended because of building closures, such as testing for magnet programs, mental health services, completing college-credit and job certification classes, and teaching students with disabilities and English learners.

The plan does not address what graduation ceremonies will look like, or if there is a plan to get all of the district’s 95,000 students online to continue learning anytime soon.

“My team is researching that as we speak,” Ray told the commissioners, which are the local funding body for schools. “This is going to be a long-term strategy to move to one [student] to one [device].”

Teachers this week are starting to survey parents about existing devices and internet access in the home, a task many of the city’s charter schools started weeks ago to transition to online learning.

Below are the highlights of Ray’s “Roadmap to Continuous Learning” plan, which you can read at the end of this story:

Seniors at risk of not graduating: Project Graduation will provide schoolwork for seniors at risk of not graduating, either online or through paper workbooks. Ray did not say how many seniors are at risk of not graduating, but district officials said they are working to provide that information to Chalkbeat.

Seniors can connect with certified teachers who will help them complete the assignments through Project Graduation or the district’s homework hotline in English, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Farsi, and Swahili by calling 901-416-1234.

Recognition for top seniors: High school valedictorians and salutatorians will receive balloon bouquets at home and will be invited to an on-air interview on the district radio station 88.5 FM. Those features began this week. In place of the district’s annual banquet for top seniors, there will be a virtual event at 6 p.m. April 30 on Facebook Live and the district TV station C19.

Job certification for career and technical education classes: The district plans to provide online access to job certification exams, but did not provide specifics. The district hopes to eventually offer virtual internship opportunities through the city’s MPLOY youth job program.

Shelby County Schools gave out free books in Spanish during a Hispanic Heritage Month event in 2019.

Shelby County Schools gave out free books in Spanish during a Hispanic Heritage Month event in 2019.

Supports for students with disabilities: The district plans to meet weekly with all special education teachers to discuss best practices for teaching students with disabilities remotely with a mix of online and paper assignments. Life skill classes are expected to return for middle and high school students through an online platform. The district previously announced bus drivers would be delivering paper packets for students with severe disabilities.

Supports for English language learners: Teachers and bilingual staff will contact parents about academic resources, including English as a Second Language-specific paper packets available at some food distribution sites. The district hopes to eventually offer small group tutoring sessions for students through conference calls or online programs.

Admission testing for optional school programs: Interviews or auditions necessary for admission to magnet programs will be held virtually. District staff will still administer admission tests in person, but in groups of 10 or fewer with recommended social distancing. For first- and second-grade students, testing will extend through June 2020. The district is developing a FAQ for school administrators to implement the changes.

Advanced courses for college credit: District staff will have weekly calls with area colleges that offer dual enrollment courses to assess student progress and the district is exploring options to provide those students with devices and internet access. College Board, which administers Advanced Placement courses and exams, is also offering online review sessions, classes, and exams.

Mental health services: The district curated videos and online programs that teach students how to manage stress, conflict, and other emotions on its resources website, and plans to release a bi-weekly newsletter on coping strategies. School counselors have been highlighting those resources on schools’ existing social media pages. The district’s mental health center is working to create a weekday call line dedicated to social-emotional learning.