For educators, staying connected is as important as academics
ADDISON COUNTY — After a couple days of planning late last week, Addison County’s unified school districts went into distance-learning mode on Monday — with an emphasis, at least through the end of next week, on what school officials called maintenance of education.
Addison Central, Mount Abraham and Addison Northwest superintendents reported in emails a smooth start for efforts that included delivering meals to many students who rely on school food as an important source of nutrition, as well as creating a new system for educating students.
MAUSD eighth-grader Grace Orvis noted the challenges and frustrations of the process from the student point of view.
“Online school is definitely different, for many of us this is something we’ve never experienced,” she told the Independent. “The transition from a very social environment where you’re surrounded by your peers all day to the isolation of social distancing is a difficult one.”
Mount Abraham Superintendent Patrick Reen praised district employees — teachers, food workers, custodians and office staff — and residents alike for their response.
“I can’t say enough about the willingness and ability of our staff and community to step up to the plate in this time of need. Thanks to the efforts of many people we are successfully delivering free meals to families each day, maintaining learning for students, providing free childcare to children of essential workers, and thoroughly cleaning our school buildings,” Reen said.
“We’ve seen innovation, increased collaboration and hope within and around our MAUSD community.”
Addison Central Superintendent Peter Burrows said the emphasis during the first two weeks — the period ending April 6 as originally ordered by Gov. Phil Scott — is to make sure students don’t fall behind. But, he said, the structure being put in place can serve for full learning if, as he and others expect, remote education continues for longer.
“If school dismissal continues after April 6, we will use the new system and online connections we have built to introduce new learning,” Burrows said.
Addison Northwest Superintendent Sheila Soule said her district’s effort started well, and like Burrows hinted at a longer game plan.
“The Learning Plans went home Friday, and things are going great so far,” Soule said. “The purpose of these plans is to maintain learning for students — if we stay out of school longer we will transition to a continuation of learning plan using technology to interact regularly with students.”
In the Bristol area, Orvis is settling in to the new routine.
“Our teachers are doing the best they can to be accessible, to answer questions, and help out with work,” the eighth-grader wrote. “Most of the assignments we are getting just review, nothing too time consuming, or confusing, and are easily doable on our schedule. I’ve yet to have a class on Zoom, but my siblings have and it’s evident that Zoom is a great way for student-teacher communication.
“Overall, I can’t wait for this all to be over, so I can get back into a classroom again.”
Districts sent out distance-learning plans on Friday that took effect on Monday, and many students who lack computers are receiving Chromebooks and technical support.
Districts are generally taking advantage of bus routes to deliver meals, and are working with local childcare providers to provide required care for children of essential employees. All are working on how best to provide special education, particularly for students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) that call for personal attention.
In ACSD Burrows noted the district is “partnering with local internet service providers to increase internet access to all ACSD homes,” and, like other districts, is working on “designing alternative methods to continue student learning for those without home Internet access.” Districts have been providing paper assignment sheets during this maintenance phase.
Overall, Burrows described this phase, as, “In the first weeks our focus will be on connecting classes virtually and establishing a sense of educational community. More academic work will come later.”
According to the ACSD plan, “Between now and April 6, ACSD educators will focus first on building community across distance. Teachers will be making regular contact with students and helping everyone navigate online systems.”
Teachers and students will work and plan their time independently during the first two weeks in ACSD, according to the plan, and that is the case in other districts also.
According to the plan, “The goal in these first two weeks is to maintain educational progress.”
For elementary school students Reen said MAUSD is “using Google Docs to capture content-specific areas,” while “the intent of this framework is to be family-friendly and activity-forward.”
As is the case elsewhere, the intent during the first two weeks, according to the MAUSD plan, is to lay the groundwork for what probably lies ahead for younger pupils.
“We want to provide learners with a road map for how they can use their learning time at home productively and in a way that will reduce the chance of losing skills,” Reen said.
Per the MAUSD plan, grades 7 through 12 are working with Google Classroom “to engage with learners for each class or learning experience that they have in their schedule,” Reen said. “The intent is to rely on a platform that all students are already familiar with through their PLPs (Personal Learning Plans) and many of their classes. Lessons and activities in the short term will be designed to maintain skills.”
Reen hopes for the best.
“These are truly challenging times, and we will emerge from these times having learned and grown a lot as an organization,” he said.
ANWSD emphasized for the first two weeks just that students should not lose ground from where they were when their schools closed.
Both the Vergennes union high and elementary school websites emphasized maintenance of education.
All students at elementary, middle and high school levels were given online assignments that were also available on paper in classrooms. Teachers are called on to check in with elementary school students and/or families daily, and with high school students at least weekly.
VUHS stated the hope that “parents/guardians can partner with students to complete these activities,” all of which will be ungraded and were described as “similar to the student experience during a typical school day.”
VUES teachers’ plans stated, “activities will be easy enough for kids to accomplish, as this is familiar material.”
The district is aware that not all homes have computers with online access, Soule said, and she added that not everything was in place early this week to support special needs students.
“We will manage student access to the internet on a case-by-case basis and are working on plans to support special education needs,” Soule said.