Coronavirus News: A look inside one NYC digital classroom amid COVID-19

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The digital platform that's emerged as a primary source of connection amidst coronavirus is also serving as New York City's newly launched digital schools.

Across the city, teachers have been embracing Zoom and also utilizing social media apps such as TikTok and Instagram to connect with students and share lesson plans.

"I was and still am a combination of overwhelmed, sad, and also hopeful. There is some hopefulness in it," said high school teacher Martin Urbach, regarding the first full week of remote learning.

Eyewitness News sat in on Urbach's social justice class Friday afternoon to see how things were going.

"Thumbs up if you can hear me," Urbach said as he started class.

"The youth in New York City are really resilient," Urbach said. "We have been making lemonade out of lemons."

Urbach said his students have embraced the digital model of learning. He's had 100% participation from students.
"I think technology is the language of youth," Urbach said. "When students have the ability to actually feel that they are in a platform where you are not talking at them, they step up to the plate."

While students battled distractions such as crying younger siblings, they also told Eyewitness News that the digital classroom eliminated other barriers to attendance, such as struggles with transportation and other personal challenges, and also gave them the ability to reference materials related to assignments which are now all online.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza acknowledged the rush to transition the city's more than one million students to a digital environment has had challenges.

"Flexibility and patience are the two words to remember as we go through this new environment," Carranza said. "We cannot take a traditional classroom environment and shove it into a remote learning paradigm."

Carranza described uneven access as an immediate challenge for the city. While some schools easily embraced digital classrooms, others have struggled.

Thousands of students live in homeless shelters throughout the city and many do not have computer devices or WiFi. Carranza said these students are being prioritized for delivery of the roughly 300,000 connected devices obtained by the city to eliminate the digital divide.

"They are being delivered to homeless shelters as we speak," Carranza said.

In the meantime, Carranza said students were given paper and pencil assignments and could access most of the city's digital learning spaces without WiFi from a smartphone.

"One thing is for sure post-coronavirus, school and schooling is going to look very different from this point forward. We can't go back, and I think that is going to be one of those positive unintended consequences. We, in New York City, are taking this as an opportunity to eliminate the digital divide."

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