Virtual school bells ring as academic year begins in Philadelphia district

A student learning on a tablet
Photo credit Chinnapong/Getty Images
By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  Virtual school bells are ringing Wednesday morning as 125,000 students in the district begin their academic year online.

The first-day butterflies are happening in living rooms in front of Chromebooks.

Natalee Edmondson’s daughter Tianna is starting eighth grade at Farrell Elementary School in Rhawnhurst, so she’s been through first days of school before. 

But Edmondson said this one is different for her daughter because of the pandemic.

“She’s kind of anxious because she’s not actually going in. Everything’s going to be at home,” Edmondson said.

She told KYW Newsradio she’s been reassuring Tianna that the virtual classes are only temporary. In the meantime, she’s providing computer help for Tianna. 

“We’re helping her with tech support,” Edmondson said. “We’re helping her as far as getting the equipment together, getting the Chromebooks. Just reassuring her that it’s going to be okay. It’s not going to be forever.”

Victoria Davis of Logan said she prefers virtual classes for her granddaughter Samirah Muhammad because she doesn’t think it’s safe having kids physically in school. 

“No way in the world are you going to be able to keep children from interacting with each other or being close to each other,” she said.

Davis said Samirah is eager to begin the year, even if it is through a Chromebook.  “She’s bored anyway. She wants to go back to school because she likes being in school, she likes seeing her friends. But she understands what’s going on,” she said.

Chromebook crush

Some students may not have a Chromebook yet. There was a rush to pick up the devices for students as recently as Tuesday.

"I’m going to try to log in from my phone," parent Tamika Hanks told NBC 10. "I was told, suggested, to do that. So I’m gonna do that, and if it doesn’t work, I don’t know what I’m going to do."

The district says there are enough computers for every student who needs one.

Monica Lewis with the School District of Philadelphia says, if you can’t make it, send a trusted adult who can.

“This is kind of where your 'village' might come into play," she said. "So, if you happen to have another family member or a trusted adult that you have in your village, as long as you have a photo ID for yourself and the child’s student ID number, you can pick uno a device.”

Anyone who is having trouble setting up a district Chromebook is encouraged to email familytechsupport@philasd.org.

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KYW Newsradio's Mike Dougherty contributed to this report.