Los Angeles County Office of Education

01/20/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/20/2021 19:22

Tech innovation, teacher dedication keep learning alive for justice-involved youth

Images of frazzled parents and kids on laptops at kitchen tables have filled the news about public schools forced to provide distance learning due to the pandemic.

But for some Los Angeles County youth, learning is taking place not in a cozy home but inside a detention facility.

Ensuring that these students continue to receive high-quality instruction has been the focus of LACOE's Juvenile Court School educators since the onset of COVID-forced closures.

Providing effective distance learning has put regular public schools to the test. Inside a juvenile hall or camp, educators must contend with unique circumstances and challenges.

'Strict limitations on student internet access meant we could not use existing web-based teaching tools,' said LACOE Chief Education Officer Maricela Ramirez. 'But we had to find a way for our students to engage in rigorous content, receive live instruction and stay connected with their teachers.'

LACOE's Technology Services team rose to the challenge, working tirelessly to build the custom JCS Online Learning System. Other county offices of education have expressed interest in replicating the system in their court schools. View an overview of the JCS Online Learning System

'The system was created out of necessity for our students in that they have unique requirements for security,' said LACOE Chief Technology Officer Greg Lindner. 'Our implementation of Microsoft Teams in the system allowed us to meet all security needs. It was quite an effort and is a one-of-a kind solution.'

Classroom teachers and school staff received special training on the system and how to deliver direct instruction via the platform. It enables teachers to address students' special needs and for counselors to provide transition and after-care services.

'The system connects teachers and students in a secure virtual learning environment,' said Technology, Learning and Support Services Director Michele Parga, whose team provided the training. 'Students also are provided access to their digital curriculum and supplemental resources to support learning.'

Following physical distancing protocols, each school site developed a schedule for all students to be brought in small cohorts from the living units to classrooms for online live instruction. A limited number of administrators, classroom aides and counselors provide on-site support.

Accomplishments have included:

  • Establishing 'Connection Rooms' that allow supervised students to use school laptops to connect with family members or to receive one-on-one services from counselors and others.
  • A first-time JCS all-student assembly with motivational guest speaker Chris Gardner, author of 'The Pursuit of Happyness.'
  • Virtual exhibitions of student work to showcase and celebrate achievement and acknowledge the perseverance and dedication of school staff during COVID.
  • Conducting virtual townhall meetings and engagement activities for parents and caregivers. (Read story)

With the recent increase in positive COVID cases, it has become imperative that students quarantined in their living units can continue to participate in virtual instruction. A top priority for LACOE has been to wire all juvenile hall and camp living units for internet access with funding support from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

'The switch to online live instruction was challenging,' Ramirez said. 'But I'm proud to say that whether students are in class or in quarantine, they now have the opportunity to receive live remote instruction each school day as well as weekly portfolios to supplement and support virtual lessons.'

She added, 'New technologies have led to positive transformations. I anticipate expanding virtual opportunities for our students and families to connect, learn and engage well beyond the pandemic. We are committed to all students.'

LACOE is a major partner with the County Probation Department, providing a model instructional program to more than 400 students in the county's two juvenile halls and four probation camps.

Photo: Following physical distancing and other COVID safety protocols, a small cohort of students receives online live instruction in a LACOE classroom at Central Juvenile Hall.