By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Gov. Gina Raimondo said Tuesday reports about Day 1 of distance learning in Rhode Island were positive about the state’s move from classroom to online learning.
“Hat’s off to you!” she said to teachers, families and school administrators. “By all accounts you’re off to a terrific beginning.”
School districts had one week to get their programs up and running. For now, Raimondo has said this will last until April 3, at which point she will decide next steps.
Although the idea of virtual learning had been talked about in recent years as a way to keep unplanned school closures from extending the school year into late June, it remained an idea more than anything else.
“There was nothing to build off of. We built everything from scratch in five days,” said EG’s Director of Teaching and Learning (and incoming superintendent) Alexis Meyer Tuesday afternoon. “It’s hard to really process the amount of work that’s been done in a short amount of time. Teachers, administrators and staff – people have been heroic in trying to make school happen completely different from anything we have really even envisioned.”
The first hurdle was making sure every student had access to a computer device and, if they didn’t, get them a Chromebook. At first numbers looked low, but many households have shared computers. Now, with lots of parents working from home, they were competing with their children to use the computer. All together, Meyer said, the district distributed 396 Chromebooks to 263 families in the several days. Most of those came from computer “carts” at Cole Middle School; the rest were extras on hand as replacements for students at the high school, where every student has had a district-issued Chromebook for several years.
For those students who do not have wifi at home, the district has ordered “hot spots.” Families may face other challenges. Meyer said she herself needed to get a more powerful router at home because she, her husband and son are all now working from home.
Another hurdle was figuring out attendance. A student can be online but not engaged. That would represent an absence – as well as a sign that family needs to be contacted. Parents still need to call in if a student is sick (some things stay the same!). Meyer said only 43 students across the district were reported as absent on Monday.
Even though students and teachers at the high school have been using online resources for years, this transition has not been easy for anyone, Meyer said.
“It’s a big stretch for everybody,” she said. “They’ve never had to think, ‘How do I deliver teaching and learning solely in this manner?’ They are missing the kids and I’m sure the kids are missing them. That lack of human contact makes you pause.”
For the most part, the schools are using Google Meet for the face-to-face experience, though the youngest students and their teachers are using Zoom.
Meyer said she fully understands how difficult this is for some of the school community in particular. She mentioned students with developmental disabilities and their parents, some of whom have been thrust in the role of teacher. And, too, those teachers who have young children at home, needing to be both teacher to students and parent to children simultaneously.
“That’s taking place in homes all over the state,” she said. Still, Meyer said she was awed by the amount of work that has taken place.
“Educators are stepping up. They’ve embraced making sure that kids continue to learn. I cannot adequately express my appreciation and respect for everybody – teachers, administrators, families, and students – to get this done.”
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