Film Club: ‘She’s an Honors Student. And Homeless. Will the Virtual Classroom Reach Her?’

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Film Club: ‘She’s an Honors Student. And Homeless. Will the Virtual Classroom Reach Her?’

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Allia Phillips was excited about picking up an iPad from her school in Harlem last week. She did not want to miss any classes and hoped to land on the fourth-grade honor roll again.

On Monday, the first day that New York City public schools began remote learning, the 10-year-old placed her iPad on a tray she set up over her pillow on a twin bed in a studio that she shares with her mother and grandmother inside a homeless shelter on the Upper West Side.

And then, Allia saw nothing.

“I went downstairs to find out that they don’t have any internet,” said Kasha Phillips-Lewis, Allia’s mother. “You’re screwing up my daughter’s education. You want to screw me up? Fine. But not my daughter’s education.”

The Department of Education, which runs the largest school system in the country with more than 1.1 million students, began attempting to teach all students through remote learning this week because schools were closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Shuttering the vast system, which includes 1,800 schools, was a serious challenge for the city, and the large-scale, indefinite school closures are uncharted territory, altering the lives and routines of 75,000 teachers, over one million children, and well over 1 million parents.

Add to that the complication of adapting traditional lesson plans to be taught online, and the city has been faced with an enormous and unprecedented undertaking. Recreating a classroom on the internet is a logistical challenge that will comes with a learning curve for students, teachers and parents.

And it is already leaving poor and vulnerable students behind — especially the estimated 114,000 children who live in shelters and unstable housing.