Despite poor internet access and language barriers, LA teacher tries to reach students

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Keara Williams in her home ‘classroom.’ Photo courtesy of Keara Williams.

Keara Williams is among hundreds of teachers in LA trying to make sure students can show up to their virtual classroom when Spring Break ends Monday.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner says teachers have connected with about 96 percent of high school students online since classes ended March 13, but that leaves thousands of students still unaccounted for.

Williams teaches at Augustus Hawkins High School in South LA. 

As of last Friday, only eight of her 24 advanced placement English students had submitted assignments she posted online after school closed three weeks ago.

She says getting into contact with the 16 other students was a challenge.

“A lot of numbers were disconnected,” she says. “A lot of Spanish speakers, so I had to pull in my grandmother, who is bilingual.”

Once she got hold of a parent or guardian, she tried to figure out why the teenager hadn’t handed in their homework.

“Some students didn't have access to laptops,” says Williams. “Some students don't have Internet. It’s having to work to help provide for the families. So our students in South LA are faced with a variety of issues, a variety of situations that prevent them from logging on when teachers want them to.”

Williams says she’s trying to strike the right balance between remaining flexible and sympathetic while maintaining deadlines and structure.

“I'm relying on my relationships with the students,” she says. “I'm working on it every day, but I think it becomes easier over time, especially when students know where your heart is. So if I'm telling the student, ‘Hey, I didn't get an assignment, what's going on?’ They're more likely to tell me or just submit it because they know that I'm coming from a place of love.”

Over the past week she and other South LA teachers distributed laptops to students in need. She’s now working on making sure the free Internet access offered by LAUSD gets installed.

Even as the logistics of learning online get sorted out, she has trouble answering some of the questions at the top of her students’ minds, like what’s going to happen with graduation and prom.

“They feel like they've been robbed of their senior year,” she says. “And I totally understand.”




Matt Guilhem


Kathryn Barnes