RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A former Richmond Public Schools (RPS) teacher is trying to help students and staff thrive in a virtual learning environment by creating a library of virtual backgrounds. They are meant to give people privacy and an even playing field.
“The initiative was quite simple, how do we make a customized backdrop where students feel more comfortable, and where we can limit as much distraction as possible?” asked former RPS teacher Bismark Agbemble. “We know our kids have been through a lot. With COVID-19, the economic unrest, and the racial unrest, the last thing we want is when they come back to school, they have to worry about being inquisitive about what other kids have and what they don’t have.”
Agbemble, affectionately known as Mr. B within the RPS community, says he quickly began to think of creative solutions.
”From Pre-K all the way to high school, every school will have your own customized background,” he explained.
“Educators are given access to a large category of customized backgrounds either using school mascots, names, or special content to enhance lessons and foster creativity,” Agbemble explained. “On the website, educators can select from a list of backgrounds ranging from: Student of the week, birthday, motivational words, English words, life skill concepts, school initiatives, or just video of the week being played in the background to increase engagement and collaboration.”
School board member Cheryl Burke says she saw the need for what she calls an “equal footing for students,” within her district.
“You don’t have to worry about anyone walking back and forth behind you, you don’t have to worry about distractions of what is on your wall, what is not on your wall. Where you live, where you don’t live,” she explained. “We are being very mindful of the privacy of our students. Some children and some teachers would like to have their own space as their private space.”
Burke says the backgrounds promote equity within the school division.
Chief Academic Officer of RPS, Dr. Tracy Epp says the backgrounds will give teachers a way to engage their students.
“We all come to this space with different assets, privileges and realities,” she said. “I was one of those kiddos, I was embarrassed to have kids come to my home in person as a child. I know as professionals, we think about what’s behind us, and are we projecting an image? We don’t have to worry about that. That takes it off the table. It is one less thing to worry about, and it is fun.”
Dr. Epp says the use of backdrops is also a reminder to students to give school their best effort, as there have been students and families expressing anxiety over starting the fall virtually and not in person.
“It is a combination of a real important problem solved in a way that adds fun and engagement,” she explained. “I think our young people are tech natives and they love to create with the tools we give them. This gives them a chance to express themselves in a safe and appropriate way.”
RPS and Plugin Corp, plan to hold a region-wide training on the use of the backgrounds, for parents on Sept. 2, 2020 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. - learn more information now here.
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