With schools closed, Islanders are jumping right into alternative education in the form of online learning.
Students have unfettered access to dozens of different applications that use hands-on methods of teaching, and teachers can interact with students through virtual classrooms.
Joanne Cassidy, an Edgartown School parent, said her kids, Georgia and Mabel DeRoche, are in their second week of online learning, and have already gotten a good handle on their new learning environment.
“The kids are just easing into it,” Cassidy said. “After the first two days we were kind of panicking because it was uncharted waters. The third and fourth days were hard because the kids wanted to see their friends.”
Superintendent Matt D’Andrea initially canceled all school and extracurricular activities for two weeks on March 13, followed by Gov. Charlie Baker closing schools statewide for three weeks. That order has been extended through May 4. Baker said when students go back to school, they won’t have to go beyond June 30, although D’Andrea initially said the missed school days would be treated as snow days, and be tacked on to the end of the school year.
But Cassidy said schools are making it as simple as possible for students and parents to be active and involved, even while they are at home.
According to Cassidy, the teachers use the Zoom teleconference application to host a virtual class where students can raise their hand to ask questions, and interact with their fellow classmates.
An organized Zoom schedule ensures that classes are not overlapping, and every teacher has enough time to transition from class to class.
“Right now, it’s about an hour of math, an hour of reading each day. The kids also do crafts projects with each other, and are being encouraged to play their instruments,” Cassidy said.
Georgia, who is in sixth grade, plays the trumpet, and Mabel, who is in fourth grade, plays the clarinet. Cassidy herself is a musician, and said it’s fun to watch her children be able to practice passions at home.
Cassidy mentioned an educational math application called Prodigy, which uses interactive video games where students have virtual avatars, and can play alongside their friends.
“We have been so lucky that teachers have given us so many options through the internet. We are learning a little bit every day, but trying not to overwhelm the kids,” Cassidy said.
For Cassidy, it is encouraging that the schools are taking a “one day at a time” approach to the major shift in the learning dynamic.
“It’s great that the schools are telling families to not overthink this and just do as much as they can and feel comfortable with,” Cassidy said. “They are taking a lot of the stress away from this huge adjustment.”
Susan Stevens, Chilmark School principal, said she understands how difficult it is for students and families to adjust to such a dramatic change in daily life, especially when it comes to education. She said schools want students to be as engaged as possible, but are not enforcing a stringent curriculum structure, although assignments are being graded and sent back for students to correct. “We are asking the kids to do what they can, this is very hard for everyone, but we are trying to make it easier,” Stevens said.
Assistant superintendent Richie Smith said in an email to The Times that one priority of Island schools is to keep students engaged and connected to the school community and curriculum.
“The platforms for the learning opportunities will be familiar to our students and provide enrichment of their prior learning to allow them to retain their skills and content knowledge that they have been learning through this school year,” Smith wrote.
“By engaging in learning opportunities, our students and staff can together keep this important connection intact through this challenging period.”
Parent and Tisbury School assistant principal Melissa Ogden said it is difficult for schools to assess what a realistic expectation is for students and parents to meet, without overwhelming them and adding to an already difficult situation.
“You aren’t going to re-create school at home, it’s just not realistic. We want to support families, but not overwhelm them,” Ogden said.
Noli Taylor, a Chilmark mom, said her kids are also deep into the online learning world. Taylor’s daughter, Tillie, is in first grade, and she said she is having fun meeting virtually with all her friends and teachers. “It’s been pretty cool so far, we do this little play we made up called the Painter and the Elves with our theater teacher. All my friends are in little boxes on the computer and we can all talk to each other,” Tillie said.
Taylor’s son, Emmett, is in fifth grade, and he said he is also enjoying using the online resources provided by the school.
“We go to Google classroom and can chat with each other. We also do FlipGrid where we can post videos,” Emmett said. “One was a video for our art class of our home art studio and the different art material we are using.”
Emmett said it’s hard not being able to see his friends in person during the school day, but said he is happy to be able to interact with them virtually.
“It’s pretty fun, and the stuff we do in class is cool. We have deadlines for tests and worksheets, but other than that we can do work when we want to,” Emmett said. “It’s nice and easy to understand.”
Taylor said seeing her kids interact with their curriculum and fellow classmates in a whole new way is “very refreshing and exciting.”
“Everyone is handling it really well. I think it’s a scramble for my husband and me because we are both still working, but homeschooling is so much fun,” Taylor said. “I do a lot of the academics, and my husband takes the kids on adventures.”
Taylor said having the kids at home allows for more family time and time together outside in nature.
“We get to teach them all sorts of stuff outside like gardening, and we take them on walks every day. It gives us so much more time with just the four of us,” she said.
According to Taylor, the school has done an impressive job at making it easy for kids to “wrap their heads around” the idea of online education. “The video options allow kids to interact and feel connected. We are so lucky to live in a time where technology gives us these opportunities to connect without having to be physically together,” Taylor said.
Stevens said teachers and faculty are providing a variety of resources to students. “We have our gym teachers posting assignments for kids to stay active, theater and music classes are all done through Zoom,” Stevens said.
Stevens said some teachers host morning meetings where the kids can discuss the day’s activities before getting to work.
For the Chilmark School, Stevens said it has been a big change moving to online learning, because the curriculum has always been so hands-on.
“We are probably one school that uses technology the least because we focus on connecting directly with students and using hands-on methods,” Stevens said.
And for students with Individualized Education Programs and who are involved with special education, all the special education teachers are meeting virtually with individual students for however much time is required in their plan.
“Everyone is navigating this new world together and they have done an incredible job of meeting the needs of students,” Stevens said.
Students were provided textbooks and reading packets, along with many other resources that they can access whenever they want.
“There are hundreds of activities to do inside, and hundreds to do outside. We are working to improve the process one day at a time, and trying to increase the time that students meet together,” Stevens said. “During the first week, this was a novel idea, but now we are starting to work out the kinks and I think we are providing great opportunities for students and parents.”
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