March 12, 2020 administrators from the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) approached WCNY with a request: Could WCNY help them teach 7,000 PreK-12th grade students unable to participate in online learning? WCNY quickly said yes and met with the district to make plans for their educators to teach classroom lessons at WCNY with WCNY producing and distributing – broadcast as well as livestream and on-demand.
SCSD teachers and educators from other districts, Syracuse University, the national Reading League, and organizations including the local library system, zoo, nature center, and history museum, soon began recording lessons at WCNY. And, by the end of March, Syracuse’s mayor and SCSD superintendent participated in the broadcast launch of WCNY’s TV Classroom Network, with WCNY becoming the first public media station in the country to create a classroom instruction network in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This new network has the ability to impact thousands of students across Central New York while supporting teachers, parents, and families,” said Ben Walsh, City of Syracuse’s Mayor.
WCNY pre-empted its regularly scheduled weekday programming from 8 am – 5 pm on its Global Connect channel to make way for this critically needed education resource. Lessons were taught in key subject areas – English Language Arts including lessons for English as a New Language lessons, math, science, social studies, health and wellness, and for early childhood learners, Storytime (including a bilingual weekly storytime) and phonetic reading instruction. K-5 music lessons, high school and SAT/ACT exam prep lessons and some PBS programming related to science and social studies lessons joined the weekly broadcast schedule.
WCNY also developed strategic partnerships with Great Minds and Huntington Learning Centers, to utilize some of their educational content. SCSD teachers prepared take-home activity packets for students (distributed at school meal sites and through the mail) that aligned to TV Classroom lessons. WCNY broadcast TV Classroom through June 12, in alignment with the district’s calendar. WCNY created surveys – one for teachers and educators, the other for parents – to collect feedback and SCSD worked with Syracuse University regarding in-depth surveying of families regarding learning outside the classroom. We also invited families to submit photos or videos showing how TV Classroom was being used. Parent comments helped WCNY recognize how important the broadcast and on-demand availability of the lessons were for even families with Internet access struggling to share limited computers among working parents and multiple children. WCNY also broadcast a three-day summer edition ending August 28.