Robert Runcie

Broward County Superintendent of Schools Robert Runcie

Broward County public schools shutdown in March due to the new coronavirus and shifted to online learning. Three months later, the district has announced a tentative reopening plan for the 2020 - 21 school year.

On June 20, Broward County Superintendent of Schools Robert Runcie said that schools will reopen on August 19 according to the physical distancing and health protocols that limit transportation and on-campus populations. Runcie said that BCPS has been exploring what to do through electronic surveys and based on responses by more than 80,000 parents/guardians, teachers, staff members, and students, Florida's second-largest school system is to adopt a hybrid educational format.

The goal, said the superintendent, is to safely maximize the amount of time in school through a staggered days approach, where four days a week students will be separated into two groups that will alternate between classroom-based instruction and distance learning. To further shield the community from infection, Wednesdays will be reserved for e-learning only while deep cleaning and sanitation take place on school grounds. Athletics, including cheerleading and band programs are to resume in mid-July with a phased approach.

"We don't have this all figured out. And we also know that with whatever decisions we make it still won't be an ideal situation until we'll be able to get back to regular operations," noted the superintendent who added that operations details are still being weighed for getting children back into the classroom. Another survey will be sent out so families can further relay information on their preferences and intentions.

"There are many different audiences being taken into consideration. We received numerous emails from parents that want kids to school full time because it's difficult to manage having them at home,” BCSB member Dr. Rosalind Osgood told The Miami Times adding that virtual education will be a continued option for parents who choose to keep their children at home when schools reopen this fall.

“Another group of parents needs them back for survival reasons - they need to work and can't leave kids alone. Instructors are also learning how to go about virtual teaching and we need to factor into the equation those that are immune-compromised and

will need to get training in e-learning.”

To thousands of students around the country, the new educational and social reality has brought about yet another challenging scenario. The pandemic has put a hold on graduation ceremonies, delaying them without further notice or replacing the tradition with quick celebrations held in unconventional locations like parking lots in accordance to social distancing guidelines.

BCPS's Class of 2020 were also mourning the loss of the rite-of-passage until a new virtual experience, called #2020gradsecret, was created. The mobile app allows seniors to record themselves accepting diplomas from Runcie, joining international music superstar Flo Rida for a congratulatory message, or dancing with one of them while instantly sharing the videos on social media.

Created by Broward Education Foundation in partnership with ImagineAR, #2020gradsecretfeatures an immersive augmented reality (AR) experience. The technology uses a phone or tablet to create a bridge between the digital world and the physical one, which is augmented with digital information. The mobile device becomes a window through which flat images are made three dimensional, creating virtual information and objects users can see and study up close in their immediate environment.

“This technology is mind-blowing," said Runcie. “When Broward Education Foundation proposed this idea that would allow students to video themselves receiving their diploma and more, in their own homes, it occurred to me how truly great things are often born from challenging situations.”

The free mobile app is geo-targeted to Broward County and was kept under wraps for a month and a half before launching, said Shea Ciriago, Broward Education Foundation's executive director. A nonprofit that contributes more than $3 million annually to Broward County schools, the foundation provides grants for teachers who develop innovative curriculum, school supplies, scholarships, and support for programs and initiatives like Debate, Scholastic Chess, TurnAround Arts, and STEM.

The result is a new experience that gives students the opportunity to salvage a moment they have been looking forward to honor, make it special, and share their big accomplishment with peers, faraway friends, and family members.

"It literally looks like the Superintendent or Flo Rida are right next to these graduates, whether they’re in their living rooms, back yards or anywhere,” said Alen Paul Silverrstieen, CEO and president of ImagineAR.

In addition to the custom immersive experiences, the app also allows grads to point their phones at the #2020gradsecret social media sign and access a video message from former Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade.

As part of the initiative, each of the more than 18,000 Broward County graduating seniors has received a special "Class of 2020" sign with their cap and gown packages. The grads are encouraged to post their videos on social media, tagging their school and #2020GradSecret.

One student in each of the four AR experience categories will be awarded $200 from Broward Education Foundation in a “who did it best” contest.

“This futuristic ImagineAR augmented reality technology is a trip,” said Flo Rida of the new digital storytelling medium. “I’m happy to help these graduates define a new way of celebrating and social interaction as they move on to the next chapter in their young lives.”

For more information on Broward Education Foundation, visit https://browardedfoundation.orf.

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