School district goes digital, suggests virtual graduation for class of 2020

By Daniela Toporek


Imagine being a high school senior right before the COVID-19 outbreak. After years of homework, quizzes, essays and tests, it’s almost time to walk onto the stage, shake the principal’s hand and grab that diploma to pursue the next chapter of life.

That is no longer the case for the class of 2020.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, schools have closed all over the country, leaving it up to online distance learning and virtual contact to get through the final months of the school year.

“This first week was getting everyone online,” said St. Johns County Deputy Superintendent Brennan Asplen, explaining the first week is mainly for acclimating everyone to the new system. “Teachers are working through their lessons plans. We’re just getting used to it all, trying to do video conferencing as well. The teachers are keeping track of who’s getting connected and who’s online. They’ve given students assignments, as well.”

According to Asplen, St. Johns County uses Schoology, a third party company with educational platforms around the world and more than 20 million people registered.

The program already had glitches due to the additional 43,000 students simultaneously using Schoology in St. Johns County, but Asplen predicts most of the technical difficulties have been resolved.

“We’re trying to schedule folks to log on at different times to help and last Thursday and Friday, we saw improvement,” he said. “We’re in good shape and should continue to run well.”

But if anything were to happen, Asplen said they’d just continue to follow the lesson plan and communicate with students via phone calls, video chats and emails, using online textbooks, workbooks or whatever else needed to continue students’ education.

Guidance counselors will also be available to help any student or parent who may need assistance or someone to talk to, whether about grades, credits or any personal issue.

“Other folks like the dean and athletic directors are all working to help support teachers,” Asplen added. “They’ve helped make sure everyone’s connected properly with providing any hard-copy materials, along with following the Florida High School Athletic Association guidelines until May 1.”

As for high school seniors, it’s still unknown on how St. Johns County will handle its graduations, but Asplen assures that they’re trying to find a viable solution as soon as possible.

“We've been talking about alternatives, such as a virtual graduation. We’re working through that and figuring that out now,” he said.

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to uncharted waters for not only the St. Johns County School District, but for all.

According to Asplen, he is more than impressed by how the schools have reacted and adapted to the crisis, both quickly and efficiently.

“Thank you to our teachers and our school staff for working so hard and quickly over these past two weeks to transfer the curriculum to online,” he said. “Thank you to our parents. Thank you to everyone. They’ve really done an amazing job. I’m so proud.”


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