How St. Johns is Meeting the Challenge

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, the world was going about its regular schedule. For students and parents, that meant spring break.

And as the world pivoted, so did school districts, ramping up quickly and accessing their technological assets. The world had forever changed, and, for the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year, classroom education would be online.

Now summer break has some and gone, but not so the virus. School districts across the country, such as Flagler County Public Schools, are gearing up for a new year, and new challenged.


“Our last nine weeks of school last year were done on a distance learning model,” says Jason Wheeler, the district’s communication information specialist. “We got out on spring break and actually never returned in person, face-to-face learning.”

Following state guidelines, schools including Flagler turned to distance learning.

“We are fortunate here that about 20 years ago we started to work on an infrastructure to work for digital transformation. We are a one-to-one district, in that all students have a device.”

That means that all kindergarten through third graders have an electronic device – an iPad – at school. Students in grades four through 12 have MacBooks that they can take home.

The district has approximately 13,000 students.

“So we were able to pivot pretty quickly last year to get devices in the hands of kids that didn’t have devices in their hands,” says Wheeler. “This has helped us tremendously, where some school districts were struggling. 


But while having a device is great, it’s only good if you can have access to the internet to access instruction.

“There are still some rural areas of our counties that are not served by reliable internet access,” Wheeler says. “We’ve been working with providers and our local municipalities to get that resolved, but that may take some time.

For now, Flagler schools are providing hotspots, which are compact devices that provide WiFi through cellular networks to launch internet signals for devices such as iPads and MacBooks. 


“Moving forward we have three options for our families,” Wheeler says.

These include traditional, face-to-face instruction, which about 63 percent of families have opted for. 

“We also offer an iFlagler virtual school which is a learning program that we’ve had in our district for more than 10 years now. It’s more of an independent learning thing.

And we have a remote, live option where you’ll have a teacher remote teaching from the classroom and the student will be home, so they’ll follow the school day on the computer, but they’ll have a teacher in front of them throughout the day,” says Wheeler. 


“We learned that our parents and students and our teachers can pivot rather quickly,” Wheeler says. “This was a big shock to our system, going almost overnight from face-to-face instruction to almost completely virtual. But we made it. “

Wheeler says the summer has given the district time to ramp up their technology and prepare for the new school year.

“Parents have embraced this; these devices connect parents and students and teachers, and they understand how important the technology is. We’re lucky to have the technology.”

Teachers have also used peers to help them get up to speed.

“Teachers who were nimble around technology have partnered up with some who had some trepidation around it, and have walked them through it and really helped them out.”

Wheeler says the district has also had additional training for teachers and staff.

“Nothing about this is normal,” he says. “It’s normal to have our kids in the classroom and to have the connection with the students, and for the students to work with each other,” he says. 

“The technology isn’t replacing the teachers, but it is adding to what the teachers do. It’s a tool. A great tool.”