The Lake Charles Charter Schools unveiled state of the art virtual education technology on Tuesday. John Hage, Charter Schools USA chief executive officer, visited Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy to unveil the technology soon to be arriving there and at Lake Charles Charter Academy.
The Owl, part of Charter Schools USA's "Mobile Classroom" model, is a 360-degree camera system that allows teachers to instruct students in the classroom simultaneously with virtually enrolled students. "It's the first of its kind in the country," Hage said.
The device connects to the teacher's computer and smart board and allows students at home to login and view the teacher's lesson in real-time.
Unlike traditional teleconferencing equipment, the Owl does not limit teachers to one stationary position in the room. Rather, they are free to move throughout the classroom with the camera following their motion.
While instructing, the teacher wears a headset that allows them to hear questions from students learning at home and lessons are recorded for students to go back and re-watch later.
"It breaks down the barriers of the walls and allows the classroom to become alive wherever the students are," Hage said.
Morgun Marshall, a third grade student who will begin the school year virtually, was present for the demonstration. The Owl gives him a sense that the unknowns of virtual school may not be so bad after all, he said.
"Everything is going to be different but there is still going to be a lot the same," he said. "Like, I'm still going to see some of my friends on that Owl thing."
Hage said providing virtual students an equitable experience to face-to-face students is a core mission in funding the Owl technology. The devices cost approximately $1,000 each and were paid for at no additional expense to students or schools through CARES Act funding.
"Here's the hard facts: Kids in low income areas and minority kids are disproportionately left behind during this pandemic right now. This is an opportunity for us to not allow there to be an achievement gap."
Every core classroom on Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy's campus and Lake Charles Charter Academy's campus will be outfitted with the Owl by the time school starts on August 24.
"It's going to allow us in our Charter Schools to deliver the same quality instruction that would've been delivered had the kids been in person," Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Lake Charles Charter Schools president, said. "This is one of kind in Lake Charles. There is no other system like this."