HARTFORD, Conn — Keeping students engaged in this virtual world of learning isn’t always easy. At the start of the school year, about 2,500 Hartford Public School students were not connecting for one reason or another. Now, that number has nearly been erased by going door-to-door and bridging the technology gap.
"A gap kind of minimizes it." said John Fergus of Hartford Public Schools. "It was a gulf. It was a canyon."
A canyon that Hartford Public Schools made their mission to bridge to get students back in the classroom.
"We started the school year with about 2500 students that we were not able to connect with. That number is down 94%," said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez.
An impressive turn around that didn’t happen overnight or without tireless work from school staff. That includes a dozen "School Engagement Specialists" who work specifically to connect and engage with students through a multi-step process.
"It is beyond the phone calls. It is beyond the emails. It is also the home visits," said Dr. Rodriguez.
The district has knocked on 568 doors this school year. They say the most common reasons for the disengagement was the lack of connection from remote learning, housing insecurities and the technological gap.
"We want to make sure that we don’t lead with this notion that our students are not wanting to learn," said Dr. Rodriguez. "There are other issues that are potentially affecting the student and their family."
Hartford Public schools made it a goal to provide every student with a school issued device to handle online learning demands. Nearly 95% of their 18,000 students have received one.
"We’ve given out hundreds of hotspots that we purchased to provide to families that need them," said Fergus.
From providing wellness checks to offering housing and mental health support, the Engagement Specialists won’t stop until every student is accounted for.
"They were just a ton of people that leave no stone unturned to reach our students and families and make sure that learning is happening," said Fergus.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and Dr. Rodriguez agree that offering in-person learning is vital to keep engagement. That is why they are asking everyone in the city to get tested for the virus to keep schools open.
The city has added eight additional temporary testing locations to the dozen permeant locations in the city. All the locations are at Hartford Public school locations. For a list of the locations and times, click here.