As the COVID19 crisis continues to impact people across the globe, students in local districts got back to the business of learning thanks to modern technology and dedicated educators in the Monomoy and Nauset school districts, as well as at the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School.
Monomoy Superintendent Dr. Scott Carpenter said he began working with district administrators on remote learning several weeks ago in preparation for what he felt was an inevitable closure of the schools.
“I went into this looking at how [the COVID19 crisis] has been playing out overseas,” Carpenter said. “When everyone else was thinking about possibly having to close for two weeks, I was preparing our staff for the long run. I knew if we could communicate that to our families, we’d be ahead of things.”
Remote learning for Monomoy Schools began on Monday, with students in the middle and high school using school-issued Chromebooks and elementary students either using home computers or school-issued laptops. Carpenter said the feedback was promising, with emails from parents saying how their kids were glad to see one another and their teachers via video, helping them feel connected to their school environment again. Carpenter said his own children, both students in the Monomoy district, were grateful for remote learning.
“I think Rory said it best when he told me he was looking forward to having that regular schedule again,” Carpenter said. “I think that consistency and regularity is important.”
Carpenter said it’s the connection offered by remote learning that helps students during times like this, and that the district will find ways to work with families with internet issues.
“I was watching some video of the morning meetings kindergarten and preschool teachers were having with their classes, and there were some precious moments,” he said. “To know that our students have the opportunity to experience that interaction is important. When we were going into planning this, we discussed that if we want remote learning to work, there has to be a personal connection.”
Most kids seem to be weathering the closure well, said Chatham Elementary School Principal Robin Millen. “I think they're glad to be back in school, glad to see their community of learners,” she said.
Monomoy Regional Middle School science teacher Nancy Gifford said students popped up online early on Monday to check in with her and find out how she’s been doing since the school closed.
“I have 95 kids that are in my classes,” Gifford said. “Most of them checked in today, and most have already done the work.”
The challenges she saw involved teacher familiarity with the Google learning platform and trying to determine what the school system will do should certain students not “show up” for online learning.
“We want to be sure we make contact with every kid,” Gifford said. “Each teacher is scheduled to be online during a certain time block, but we’re all basically available all day via email. I think once everybody gets into the routine of it, I think it’ll be good to keep kids connected.”
Monomoy Regional High School biology teacher Kari Flint also said her first day of remote learning went well.
“It’s new for everyone, so each group of students responded a little differently,” she said. “Some were really quiet and didn’t have much to say during our videoconference, while others were happy to lighten the mood and bring a little humor to the session. I think everyone responds differently in times like this and it’s important for us to carve out this time to reconnect.”
At MRHS, teachers are following a schedule similar to that of the one occurring when they’re in school, with rotating blocks for each class.
MRHS History teacher Rich Houston broke down his hour into15-minute chunks.
“The 15 minutes when you’re actually seeing their smiling faces, that’s not a 60-minute instruction,” he said. “I think the district is doing an amazing job of trying to shift into a whole new modality, but it can’t replace what happens in a given school day when you have an hourlong class with each of the kids.”
What remote learning does offer both students and teachers is a semblance of familiarity.
“I was only with each of the groups for 10 or 15 minutes, but from their point of view, there was a sense of relief to be with their friends and to be ‘in the classroom,’” Houston said. “It was almost offering virtual normalcy.”
At the Lighthouse Charter School, executive director Paul Niles said his staff and students began online learning on March 16, having been preparing for the possibility since February, with many teachers being innovative, such as one language arts teacher who’s been dressing up as various Greek goddesses during lessons.
“It’s been going really great for the most part. I would say that 90 percent of the communications that we’ve gotten from parents and families have been highly, highly positive,” Niles said. “The other 10 percent have been around issues like anxiety or access that we’ve been able to effectively troubleshoot.”
For the students on individualized education plans (IEPs), Niles said his staff developed what he’s calling a “suite of concierge services” dependent upon family needs.
In the Nauset district, students in grades 3 to 12 have access to Chromebooks, though remote learning wasn’t something Superintendent Tom Conrad ever imagined would become a reality.
“The administrators and union officials have worked a great deal of hours to put this in place,” said Conrad of the program, which went into effect on Monday. “Teachers have been more than helpful in getting this organized and shifting to this remote learning model.”
Conrad expects that as educators go forward with remote learning, key feedback from teachers and parents will allow for adjustments to be made as needed.
“The key piece is to stay connected with our families and students and provide them with what we hope will be enriching opportunities for kids to continue to learn,” Conrad said. “This is a new journey that public education has not taken on before. I think that if we work together, we’ll accomplish some really great things.”
Both Monomoy and Nauset have grab-and-go food programs available for all students, not just those on free and reduced lunch. In the Monomoy district, families can pick up bagged meals at MRMS and MRHS from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. Nauset families can pick up meals at Stony Brook Elementary, Wellfleet Elementary, Eastham Elementary, and Orleans Elementary from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays. Visit the school district websites for updates.