Canvas, an Online Portal for South Orange-Maplewood Students, Goes Live

by Bruno J. Navarro
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As South Orange and Maplewood students prepare for an all-virtual start to the academic year on Tuesday, September 8, even longtime members of the school community will encounter a new way of doing things this fall — primarily via the online learning management system known as Canvas.

“I think that it’s probably helpful for parents to think of Canvas as an extension of PowerSchool,” Keith Bonds, director of technology for the South Orange-Maplewood School District, told the Village Green. “It’s meant to be a one-stop shop for parents.”

PowerSchool isn’t going anywhere. The online portal used by parents to check on students’ attendance records, progress reports and grades will be supplemented with Canvas, which will provide a centralized location for students and their guardians to keep tabs on lesson plans and schoolwork, along with various web-based platforms that had been used over the spring semester. 

“It’s all packaged for them in one spot, which is beneficial for the teachers,” Bonds said. “It’s all done for them, but also that connectivity — you’ll be able to see fleshed out down the road. You’re no longer going to have to jump into 500 different applications.”

See a PDF on how to access Canvas here:

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When schools shut down in March to stem the spread of COVID-19 amid a global pandemic that initially took its heaviest toll on New York and New Jersey, teachers and students scrambled to move lessons online, employing a variety of online tools such as Google Classroom, IXL, Kahoot and others.

While some teachers might continue to employ some of those websites and apps, Bonds said that Canvas would provide families “the structured, online approach that they’ve been asking for.” But he also cautioned that there are likely to be growing pains, too.

SOMSD provided Canvas training for teachers in August and early September, Bonds said. Anticipating the difficulty involved in a quick ramp-up of users of new tech, the school district has also scaled up support services for teachers and parents.

Bonds said that the school district will provide additional resources, as well as a video, to help new Canvas users. 

Initial pricing for Canvas — which includes “a large amount” of funding for training and add-ons, including 24-7 live online, phone and email support for teachers — clocked in at $76,875 for the first academic year, Bonds said.

Already, the school district has distributed approximately 1,100 loaner Chromebook laptop computers from April through July, Bonds said. That number, he added “could easily reach 1,500 requests.”

The school district released its 46-page 2020-2021 Virtual Instructional Guidebook for Families earlier this month, which includes detailed Canvas instructions for students and parents beginning on page 34.

Canvas: Teachers, students, parents and administrators can access Canvas by signing into their SOMSD-provided Google accounts, visiting https://www.somsd.k12.nj.us/canvas/ and following the prompts. A link to the Virtual Instruction Guidebook is available there.

PowerSchool: Both Canvas and PowerSchool are accessible at https://powerschool.somsd.k12.nj.us/public/ as well as by going to the school district’s website and navigating to Quick Links in the top navigation bar.

Those who do not have their login credentials or need a password reset are asked to email their school librarian from the contact list provided on the Canvas instruction page.

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