Educators keep students’ minds and bodies fed during COVID-19 closure

REGION – As local schools have shut their doors to help stem the spread of COVID-19, educators within the surrounding supervisory unions, as well as individual school staff members, have made herculean efforts to organize an intricate system of online learning and remote classroom interaction while schools are closed.

Educators across the region are utilizing online resources to keep students occupied during school closure.
Educators across the region are utilizing online resources to keep students occupied during school closure. Stock photo

In addition to organizing the “how-to” of getting students their necessary supplies, teachers have created online lessons, developed workable schedules, and opened communication channels with students, parents, administrators, and each other.

If that weren’t daunting enough, local school districts have also committed to making sure that local families are getting the necessary food they rely on throughout the school year. Through a system of opting in, scheduled bus delivery along traditional routes, and a network of pick-up locations throughout individual towns, local school children are being fed – one less thing for families to worry about while quarantining in their homes.

The timeline for local districts varies. Superintendent Meg Powden of Two Rivers Supervisory Union made the call to close TRSU district schools first in this area as of March 14 in response to reports of a confirmed case of the virus with connections to Cavendish Town Elementary School. Although seen as overly cautious at the time, her fast action was proven praiseworthy as Gov. Phil Scott made the call Sunday, March 15, for schools throughout the state to close by Wednesday, March 18.

CTES teacher Jennifer Harper lauded Powden for her leadership in rallying the district as a whole and moving so quickly to organize them, using an available remote platform, Zoom. She also praised Powden for sending electronic surveys to parents to spearhead breakfast and lunch deliveries. With the survey, families would have to “opt out” of receiving food, helping insure more widespread distribution.

For the elementary level, Harper said that a Directed Home Learning Plan was developed by administrators and a Professional Learning and Wellness Committee to determine that they would teach one math lesson and one literacy lesson per day with some teachers adding science or social studies into the mix.

Harper’s first remote class with her fourth grade was Friday, March 20, a day after a big shipment went out to all students with their individual learning supplies, personal items, electronic devices, charging cords, and anything else they might need. Her class started at 8:30 a.m., and they worked together until 12:40 p.m. This included an hour lunch and several 15, 20, and 30-minute breaks in between.

According to Harper, the teachers are very aware of breaking up screen time for students. Her goal on Monday was to review skill work for 10-15 minutes. Then work time and then break into smaller groups to work together. Any student who would normally have a support person will still have that person working with them remotely.

At CTES, all teachers, paras, support staff, and principal meet remotely at 2:45 p.m. every day as staff to sign in, see each other, talk, problem-solve, and share updates on progress.

Harper’s first impression of their efforts in a word “amazing.” She said that the level of organization that happened so quickly is absolutely amazing and that everything is fitting neatly together. She was also impressed that every single kid logged onto a device to participate.

Harper said that being a “Google District” was a big advantage since it made sharing documents, videos, and assignments easier to navigate with the kids. That platform, coupled with Zoom, is what makes things work. If the online learning stretches into months, Harper said that big national companies are stepping up and offering learning products for free, which will help make learning easier and more engaging for students.

GMUHS students’ first day of online learning was Thursday, March 19. High school and middle school students’ online timeframe is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is a schedule posted on the GMUHS website.

According to Green Mountain Union High School Principal Lauren Fierman, there is no anticipation that students will stay online for 80 minutes at time. Instead, the expectation is that students are signing in and seeing teachers for at least a few minutes during one of their class sessions and are given their assignment. It is also a time to check in and discuss what issues they might be having. There is also a two-hour block outside of classroom hours to either have students call in, send emails, or spend virtual time face to face.

For the middle school, the hours are basically the same, starting at 11 a.m. and finishing at 2 p.m., but the expectation is that middle schoolers will spend no more than half an hour for each of their teachers. According to Fierman, they will have access to all of their teachers, but they are not expected to spend three to four hours staring at a screen.

Making things easier, all students already have laptops that were given to them to bring home. Fierman said that students were already in an environment to personalize their learning as much as possible so they are continuing that now.

Fierman also praised Powden’s strong leadership during this process as well as her staff for organizing remote learning on this scale so quickly and never saying it couldn’t be done. “They have done a tremendous job taking that challenge and running with it,” she said.

The Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, which includes Bellows Falls High School and Middle School, Saxtons River Elementary, Grafton Elementary, and Westminster Elementary closed Monday, March 16 and are mobilizing their remote learning with pick up of learning packets for all district schools scheduled for Wednesday, March 25. They are also distributing an electronic survey for organizing distribution of Chromebooks.

According to the WNESU website, high school students will be communicating with their teachers through emails, video chats, and other platforms to establish their learning routine. Elementary students will pick up their learning packets to receive their work assignments. Additional information can be found on the WNESU website at www.wnesu.org.

WNESU is providing free breakfast and lunch to all children 18 and under during school closure, requiring no enrollment. Meals will be available Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as of Monday, March 23 at several pick-up sites and along WNESU bus routes. You can find the schedule and drop off routes on the WNESU website.

According to the Springfield School District 56 website, Springfield High School students began remote learning Monday, March 23, using Google Classroom for each of their courses from Monday through Thursday with a combination of live, virtual learning, and other online learning opportunities. In addition to class meetings, they will have daily advisory meetings. Scheduling details can be found on the Springfield School District 56 at www.union.ssdvt.org.

Springfield School District is serving daily breakfast, snack, and lunch. They have set up approximately 24 meal service locations around town with new locations being added. To request delivery of a meal, they ask that residents call the district’s food service hotline at 802-885-5133. For details, visit www.ssdvt.org.

All districts are continuing to add services, including counseling services for students who may need additional support. They are also posting updates as new programs and changes continue to evolve. Please check your districts’ website for updated details.

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