Polk Vision and Polk County Public Schools (PCPS) are teaching more than just students. Through a new pilot program at two elementary schools, the organizations are teaching parents how to better use technology to help their children while also helping themselves.

While parents are learning about tech as part of the new Know & Grow initiative, their children are learning about healthy eating habits. The program, which started in February 2020, is also offering an incentive: Parents who attend classes have a chance at winning a refurbished computer at the end of each session.

“The pandemic and the resulting shift to online learning have exposed the digital divide that exists within our community. Many of our parents lack the technological skills and equipment needed to support their children in an online learning environment,” said Tina Barrios, PCPS assistant superintendent of information systems & technology.

“This program will help to address both areas of need — with the added bonus of working in healthy nutritional concepts. This is very exciting news for our community.”

Holly Vida, director of Marketing and Community Relations for Central Florida Health Care (CFHC), said her organization is involved in the program to help fulfill its mission and vision “to serve our communities not only as a premier health-care organization but also to enhance our patients’ quality of life.”

To do that, CFHC is always looking for opportunities to engage and help the community, which is why it signed on as a sponsor to be involved with Know & Grow.

“CFHC’s goal is to continue to serve as a strong community partner in all we do,” she said. “Helping families bridge the technology divide is essential in increasing health literacy and our communities’ well-being.”

CFHC sees a tie between technology and good health, she said and hopes more families will be able to use technology more successfully once they have completed this program. “There is no question that as technology is available and increased utilization occurs, health and well-being of communities increases proportionately.  As a health-care provider, this is always the outcome we are looking for.”

The Details

Know & Grow is part of the Synced for Students initiative developed by Polk Vision and PCPS in 2020 to address technological inequity within Polk County. The pilot program includes:

  • Three 2 ½ hour sessions held at Crystal Lake Elementary in Lakeland and Inwood Elementary in Winter Haven.
  • Up to 25 adults and 30 children.
  • Participants selected based on family access to technology and their student’s performance in digital learning, among other factors.
  • Participants will learn to use PCPS’ Parent Portal, the system that allows parents and guardians to access student records, and Schoology, the district’s online learning platform.
  • An optional fourth session will familiarize parents with additional computer skills.
  • Sessions taught by PCPS’ Information Systems & Technology staff.
  • Sessions taught at times conducive to participants’ work schedules.

Participants will be tested at the beginning and end of each program to measure improvement, said Polk Vision Executive Director Kim Long. The goal is to hold the program at 10 elementary schools across the county.

While parents are attending sessions, their children will learn about healthy nutrition through interactive games headed by PCPS’s School Nutrition department and will leave with grab-and-go meals.

Other partners in the program include the Learning Resource Center, the Polk County Library Cooperative and Theatre Winter Haven. Learn more at syncedforstudents.org.

Students and Online Learning

Michelle Townley, acting chief academic officer for the public school system, said students face challenges when learning online, which is why having parents who can help is critical.

“Online learning can be quite challenging, and it isn’t a perfect fit for every student,” she said. “Students are finding that communication skills are very important for success – whether it’s expressing their thoughts during a Zoom classroom discussion or sending an email to their teachers. Some students adjust well to this learning format, but others struggle and need extra support because face-to-face instruction is widely viewed as the optimum teaching environment. Fortunately, we have the flexibility to offer online learning and face-to-face learning so parents can choose what suits the needs of their families.”

Townley praised teachers for stepping up to the challenges of providing online instruction and keeping their students engaged in the learning process during the global pandemic.

“Our teachers have been fantastic,” Townley said. “They deserve so much credit for crafting creative lessons and finding new ways to stoke the intellectual curiosity of students — even if they are learning outside a traditional classroom setting. Teachers often share ideas and instructional tips with each other. They’ve also been working hard to master new software and technology that make online learning possible. Without their dedication and passion for teaching, online learning would simply not be possible.”