Tech struggles and silver linings: The first week back to school for Pittsburgh Public Schools

by Tylesa Johnson

Back-to-school traditions were upended for many students as they returned to school this year: no long-awaited hugs from sunburned friends, no hallway time to catch up about their summer adventures and no in-person icebreakers to make connections with teachers.

Pittsburgh Public Schools’s [PPS] nearly 23,000 students on Tuesday returned to school in an e-learning environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The district will be in full remote learning for the first nine weeks.

The return to school illustrated a new normal for thousands of families and teachers districtwide, as parents juggled work schedules with teaching and technical assistance and students struggled to get connected.

The first day of school followed a weeklong delay by the district because some students lacked needed devices. Some students still lacked devices on Tuesday, so the district offered laptop distribution at Pittsburgh Carrick, Pittsburgh Oliver and Pittsburgh Westinghouse. Students without technology relied on paper writing activities and lesson plans, the district said.

The district did not respond to requests for comment about the number of students who still lacked devices and the shipment of 7,000 devices it still awaits to provide each student with a district device, making the district 1:1.

Students and families were met with myriad challenges throughout the first days of school, including inappropriate cyberattacks by hackers and a lack of access to technology for some families.

Some who spoke with PublicSource described internet connectivity challenges with district devices that prevented students from connecting with classes and platforms such as Schoology and Microsoft Teams. Others described challenges with the adjustment to e-learning and juggling work and home life, with the two now melded together. For all we interviewed, their teachers and principals were a silver lining.

We spoke with some families across the district about their hurdles in the first few days of school and their hope for the future. Here are their stories.

Leah McDougald works remotely at her mother’s home in Penn Hills. McDougald’s 7-year-old daughter Amina Sirmons, a second-grade student at Pittsburgh Montessori, is seen in the kitchen with their puppy, Cush. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)





Tech struggles and silver linings: The first week back to school for Pittsburgh Public


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