Underserved communities struggle more than others with remote learning challenges

West Harvey-Dixmoor School District 147 is one of the poorest districts in Illinois
DIXMOOR, Ill. (WLS) -- While some school districts have spent part of the fall doing in-person learning because of the pandemic, others have stayed remote the entire time.

That includes District 147 that covers parts of the south suburbs, where remote learning has created challenges for an area struggling through tough economic times.

With tiny chairs stacked, Alison Sullivan stands alone in her classroom teaching her kindergarten students who are stacked in rows on her computer.

"When I found out I had to teach every day from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. every day, wow, how are they supposed to stay in front of the camera," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said to her surprise remote learning, is going better than she thought, but is still far from ideal.

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"When they start to get antsy, we dance and sing together," Sullivan said. "I quickly realized I have to do it on camera with them, so I'm singing and dancing myself."

Sullivan teaches for West Harvey-Dixmoor School District 147, which is one of the poorest districts in the state. Remote learning was only supposed to last six weeks, but high COVID-19 numbers in the area pushed in-person learning back until next year.

"This is a fluid situation, it changes daily," said West Harvey-Dixmoor School District 147 Superintendent Johnnetta Miller.

Back in August, the district's biggest challenge was equipping its 1,000 students with devices. Now, three months later, Miller admits remote learning is tough for kids who are already underserved.

"They are losing learning," Miller said. "We know they are falling behind at rates we are not satisfied with and it breaks our hearts."

Feeling like it's a no-win situation, Miller said she will deal with the consequences of falling behind if it means keeping her students and staff safe. Besides academics, she said the district must also worry about families' emotional and social needs.

"We know they are losing jobs at alarming rates. We know they don't have the resources," she said.

Partnering with community groups Thursday, the district provided the makings of an entire Thanksgiving dinner for every school family.

The plan for students to return on a hybrid schedule on January 19, but Miller said if COVID-19 numbers keep going up, that will not be the case.
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