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‘We did this in two days, and it’s really going pretty well’: Schools begin online learning

  • Hancock Elementary School kindergarten student Lydia Damata and classmates meet virtually after ConVal district students began participating in remote learning activities in lieu of attending school last week. Courtesy photo

  • A student’s weather observation homework. ConVal students participated in remote learning activities in lieu of attending school, beginning Wednesday, March 18. Courtesy photo—

  • A Dublin Consolidated School student completes coursework from home. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/25/2020 4:00:31 PM

The shift to remote learning went relatively smoothly, according to teachers in districts that resumed classes last week. The state’s public schools were instructed to transition to remote learning following an emergency order closing schools for three weeks beginning on March 16. Many teachers lauded the collaboration and support they’ve received from fellow faculty and technical support staff.

“We had two days. We did this in two days, and it’s really going pretty well,” Great Brook School Extended Learning Opportunities teacher Maryanne Cullinan said on Friday. “It’s so nice to be able to say that.”  Cullinan herself has three children in kindergarten, third grade, and fifth grade. They are each receiving age appropriate curriculum and frequent communications from their teachers, she said. Every day around 7 a.m. Cullinan receives an email with an idea of what her kindergartner and third-grader can do to complete work for different subjects, in addition to packets of papers and activities they received in the mail from the school. For kindergarten science, Cullinan said she and her daughter went outside and looked at the weather, made some observations, and drew a picture of her daughter appropriately dressed for the weather. Her son chose to visit the Cincinnati Zoo website to look up information on different animals, and email his teacher what he learned. Cullinan’s oldest daughter is in fifth grade, and she said she helps her younger siblings before starting her own work on the computer.

In the ConVal School District, middle school and high school students are receiving their assignments through Google Classroom, a program that had already been in regular use, Cullinan said.

“Luckily, the voters voted in things we need to be a successful modern district in recent years,” Cullinan said. “We’re so ahead of the curve.” Other school districts have less experience with the online learning programs rolling out, Cullinan said, and that ConVal teachers had been exchanging tips on technology with teachers in other districts over the past week. “We’re all just trying to bond together and help as best we can,” she said.

Olympia Clark, the Family and Consumer Science teacher for Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Middle High School, said that she was one beneficiary of her colleagues’ knowledge over the past week. “I’m probably not the most technology savvy,” she said, but said she’s appreciated being able to push her comfort zone via support and tips from fellow teachers and staff members. She’s even received in-person help: Clark lives down the street from Audra Nolin, the school’s French teacher. They plan to make a video cooking crepes together for an interdisciplinary lesson. Family and Consumer Science adapts well in some ways for the home-based learning environment, Clark said. Her students have been cooking meals for their families, and received materials for making pillows with their other remote learning supplies. “It’s a new dimension to connecting with my students,” she said. A student used Google Meet to discuss alternates to an assignment when his family couldn’t access certain groceries, she said, and another Facetimed her about a senior project.

Physical Education classes adapted curriculum, too. Mascenic Physical Education teacher Brandon Kear said that he was assigning a fitness activity log for students to register 30 minutes of any type of cardiovascular, or muscular strength and conditioning exercise.

“I haven’t seen the kids in a week now – I’m surprised by how much I miss them,” Great Brook School Language Arts and American History teacher Kathryn Doherty said. “I like to stop and tell stories and show pictures and show videos,” she said. “Just looking through each other at a screen is kind of weird.” Doherty gave written instructions for assignments for the first three days of remote classes, but planned to attempt her first live virtual meeting with the students this week. First priority is a discussion about the Bill of Rights and civil liberties. “This is an interesting time to talk about our freedoms,” she said.

Some students in her classes hadn’t communicated with her since remote learning began, Doherty said, but had completed work for other teachers. Teachers received protocol for ensuring that students continued to get work done and engage, Cullinan said. “We have this idea that everybody is at home but they’re not,” she said. Some of her students are communicating with her from their parents’ workplace, she said.

“The entire state has pivoted the way that we teach,” she said, and some of the students thriving in the new environment are not who she’d have expected to. Great Brook School Special Education teacher Ellen Kidd agreed. “It’s remarkable for the students who have attention issues, or have a hard time in school,” she said. “I’m so surprised about how well they’re doing and how well it’s playing to some of their strengths.” Some of Kidd’s eighth graders are extremely motivated by the premise of completing all their work in four hours and taking the rest of the day off, she said. “Kids who struggle to turn in are getting it in,” she said. Kidd provides her students with step-by-step instructions for completing the day’s assignments and communicates with students, parents, paraprofessionals, and case managers even more than she normally would, she said. One thing missing is the opportunity for students to work together, Kidd said. “They get so much more out of being with their typical peers,” she said.

Other students are missing out on inaugural in-person experiences, such as the dissection of a cow eyeball that Cullinan said she now planned to do via video, and follow up with a dissection party with her students when school reconvenes. “I’m very disappointed for the kids that we had to cancel their [Washington] DC trip,” Doherty said, describing the rest of the year as a “milestone-less” experience for students. There may be some highlights coming, however: the Great Brook School Dungeons and Dragons group is scheduling sessions for online play, Cullinan said.

“From my perspective, it’s gone really well so far,” ConVal District Systems Administrator Mark Schaub said. Staff at Great Brook School wondered if they crashed the school’s internet when they attempted to have a group meeting on Zoom last Monday, he said, but the school’s telecommunications provider later said the shutdown was due to a larger problem on their end. “I get the sense there is a lot of strain on the telecoms,” he said, as more and more people transition to working remotely, but so far, the school’s network has been running fine.  Last week, Schaub’s department helped staff members transition to working from home, including themselves. “We’re learning how to [provide] tech support remotely, it’s an interesting challenge,” he said. He fielded lots of calls for help last Wednesday as students and staff were signing into programs and trying new technology. “That’s… noticeably slowing down as people settle into the new routine,” he said.

The next challenge is to distribute additional devices to families who still don’t have enough materials for their kids to get work done, for example, parents of elementary school students who can only access internet with a cell phone, and hotspots for homes with insufficient internet access, Schaub said, and that he is thinking about utilizing the school’s meal delivery bus routes to send materials to families and retrieve malfunctioning devices as problems arise. 


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