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Remote Learning Opportunities Await Peoria Area Students

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The school bells may be ringing again in the Peoria area, but many students find themselves at home in front of a computer instead of in the classroom.

All of the 12,000 children enrolled in the Peoria Public Schools system will start class next week remotely, along with some 1,000 students at East Peoria Community High School and a third of the 4,400 enrolled in the Dunlap school district.

With the coronavirus still raging in central Illinois, many students are picking up where they left off in the spring when the pandemic shut down schools across the country.

This time around, there’s more help available when it comes to studying online. Nicole Nguyen, who writes a personal technology column for the Wall Street Journal, includes a modern router and headphones to her “guide to teacher-approved back-to-online school supplies.”

Learning can be achieved online, said Chad Udell, managing partner at Float, a division of the Iona Group in Morton. “We’d like to have more face-to-face time, but we need to realize that education is important,” he said, adding a little preparation and a few low-cost tools can make a difference when it comes to learning online.

“Try to set up a dedicated environment for kids at home—maybe it’s just a writing desk, but have a place where the student knows that when I go to this spot, it’s to work,” said Udell, co-author with Gary Woodill of “Shock of the New: The Challenge and Promise of Emerging Technology.”

A dedicated keyboard, available for $20 to $30, also could make it easier for students, he said.

Depending on how many people use the internet at home during the day, it might be worth expanding wi-fi coverage with a wi-fi mesh network (about $200), suggested Udell, pointing out that an internet adapter (about $60) also can transfer internet power to a select room.

Adopt the same routine you would if kids were headed out the door, he said for those supervising the online school room. “Get out of the pajamas and stay positive,” said Udell, a believer in online and adaptive learning. “The pandemic has just accelerated adoption by 20 years or so,” he said.

“There are tons of websites out there that people can use right now,” he said, offering suggestions such as:

--ABCya!, educational games for pre-K through 6th grade.

--Cousera, free online courses where you can earn a certificate or a degree from a leading university (like the U of I).

--Firefox, the eb browser dedicated to internet health and privacy.

--Duolingo,  free app that helps the user learn different languages.
 
Library offers additional online tools
One of the tools that should be included on any back-to-school list is a library card, said Roberta Koscielski, deputy director of the Peoria Public Library and recently-named Librarian of the Year by the Illinois Library Association.

“We believe Peoria Public Library has digital resources to make studying easier,” she said.

Koscielski is referring to programs the user can access from home with an internet connection and a library card. The library’s research tab, available at peoriapubliclibrary.org, offers articles, practice tests and databases.

“Brainfuse is a program we’ve offered for a number of years that offers live tutoring help as well as an online writing lab,” she said, adding the Britannica Library has information on thousands of topics and an online world atlas.

“The Tumble Book Library is geared to ages three to 10. Along with digital books, there are puzzles, games and language learning help in both Spanish and French,” said Koscielski.

Computers are once again available for public use at the five library outlets in Peoria, she said.

It’s advisable to call ahead for an appointment, said Koscielski, noting that computers are spread out to meet social distancing requirements.

Masks also are required for library visitors.
 
WTVP to offer remote learning channel 
While the computer is the chief teaching tool when it comes to remote learning, other aids also are available.

WTVP-TV, Peoria’s public television station, once identified as simply Channel 47, now represents a consortium of four stations—soon to be five.

Along with the main PBS outlet, WTVP offers a kids’ channel, World, Create and, coming Sept. 14, Remote.

“We wanted the remote channel to be a learning opportunity,” said Lesley Matuszak, WTVP CEO.

“As I know from my 17 years with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Peoria, not everyone has access to the internet, computers or cable TV—both in the city and in the country,” she said.

“Remote was born out of the coronavirus pandemic—to reinforce classroom learning,” said Matuszak, adding that area school superintendents will tailor program content needs for WTVP’s 20-county service area.

Putting on a new channel is challenging, she said, pointing out the remote program is funded separately from the normal public TV effort.

“We’re still raising money,” said Matuszak, crediting Flo and Sid Banwort and CEFCU for supporting the remote channel.

“There’s a business underwriting opportunity in this. We need to help our kids from slipping back. It’s an investment in the community,” she said.

Programming on Remote will vary, said Matuszak. In addition to an extensive educational library and award-winning PBS programs such as “Nova” and “Frontline,” locally-produced shows such as “Emiquon” will be available, she said.

“We have a lot of filmmakers out there. We’re in touch with the Illinois Arts Council. We may be looking for some of those films for our late-night hours,” said Matuszak.