Decades from now, today’s students will tell their children about the time they couldn’t go to school because a virus caused everything, including schools, to close. And most will say they missed being there.
With schools closed since Monday, March 16, the. Boothbay Register checked with a sampling of local teachers to see how distance learning is going.
Boothbay Region High School English teacher Mark Gorey said distance learning is “asynchronous,” meaning students are learning at different times, not by a regular school schedule while based at home.
“Our model is not a home school model,” he explained. “The idea is that the assignments need to be manageable within one hour. Typically, students are taught for four hours each day.”
Gorey teaches four English classes with a total of 44 students. Google classroom, which the company describes as “A streamlined, easy-to-use tool that helps teachers manage coursework,” lets teachers create assignments and provide feedback for students. The students have been using the platform since the beginning of the school year.
After the decision was made to close the schools, teachers attended a meeting to explain what would be involved for distance learning. Parents came to the schools to pick up materials for their children and students and teachers became home-based.
Gorey said the early feedback “runs the gamut,” but he is concerned about a few students who haven’t yet checked in and the school system will start calling those students to make sure everything is going well.
Shawn Gallagher teaches grades four, five and six at Southport Central School. He said there was a bit of excitement when he spoke with the families of 10 of his 14 students. Gallagher put together a packet of two weeks’ work which leaned toward creativity. The packets were placed on the school bus and were picked up from the bus during school hours.
“The parents have been great so far,” said Gallagher, who has checked in at least once with each student.
“Every parent is working to give their child some structure.” Parents have called to clarify how much work can be done each day. If the student and parent want more work to do, they can let Gallagher know and he will extend the packet.
One student he spoke with is “very social” and is missing school, as is Gallagher. “Southport (school) has a close relationship with our kiddos and their families. This feels surreal and I’m missing being with them.”
As part of their experience, Gallagher is encouraging parents and students to stay off their devices and use this as a time to explore their creativity.
Edgecomb Eddy School Principal Ira Michaud said he is “overwhelmed” by his staff’s dedication and professionalism. Teachers are connecting every day with their students and families, and Michaud said they are even “delivering needed meals and materials to families who cannot make it to the school.”
He said he is also “inspired” by the ways parents have met the challenges of working with unfamiliar software and have remained flexible to help their children even though they aren’t trained as educators.
BRHS science teacher Lauren Graham said, “I have never been more proud to be a teacher at BRHS. There has been a tremendous amount of teamwork, communication and support as we transition to online learning.”
Last week, BRHS homeroom teachers called every student, checking on their internet status and speaking with parents. Graham was surprised to learn that her students are missing school, when asked in a “question of the day” if they would rather be at home or in school. She connects live with her students via Google Meet which she explained is similar to FaceTime.
Mike Cherry teaches English at BRHS. He reported that the process is going very well. “Most students are checking in daily, engaging in assignments and learning activities, and many are appearing live both in daily classes and during teachers' office hours via Google Meet video conferencing. “
He echoed Graham’s finding that students say they would rather be in school than at home, and he sees the “most pressing immediate concern” is to make sure all students are signed up online for classes and moving forward.
BRHS interim principal Tricia Campbell said she has been “overwhelmed and impressed” by the staff and faculty, calling the teachers “rock stars.” “Our teachers did not enter this new experience leading with fear of the unknown,” she said. “They ran into it with smiles and optimism.”
Campbell credited the students’ families, the larger community and “our love for the children” in making the transition successful. She kept parents updated as teachers contacted students to set them up for distance learning.
All teachers agreed flexibility will be critical as the distance learning continues. “There’s no replacement for actual classroom, face-to-face teaching and learning,” Gorey said. “But we all need to be flexible and reasonable with our expectations.”