With Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandating that schools and non-essential businesses remain closed through April 29, remote learning continues to be the “new normal” for Lynbrook and East Rockaway students, staff members and parents.
Though there have been a few adjustments to ensure that all students are accommodated, school officials in both districts said remote learning has been successful so far.
“I think the staff and students have been working really hard to try to maintain the quality of learning that we’ve been used to in our district,” said Gerard Beleckas, the Lynbrook School District’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment. “We’re very fortunate that we have great people in the community, the parents and students as well as the faculty.”
Beleckas said that students at the upper elementary, middle and high school levels use Microsoft Office 365 to complete assignments, while younger elementary school students use Flipgrid and Seesaw, learning apps that are geared toward that age group. While teachers cannot lecture students as they would in a traditional classroom, they can provide feedback and answer questions at any time of day.
“I think that the teachers are doing a really nice job at reaching out to their students and their families, and just trying to make sure they’re learning,” Beleckas said, “and also making sure that they still feel connected to the school and community. It’s important for the students to realize that folks still care about them when they’re home.”
Beleckas said there are concerns with remote learning, such as some parents and students saying there is too much work, and others saying there is not enough, but he noted teachers have adjusted their workloads to the new environment.
Mona Hecht, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in the East Rockaway School District, said officials had time before schools closed to prepare during a superintendent’s conference for the possibility of remote learning. With that head start, she said, the district was prepared when the closure mandate came from Cuomo.
Hecht noted that each student in fifth through 12th grades has a district-issued Chromebook or laptop, and devices were loaned to any students in kindergarten through fourth grade who needed them.
“I think our teachers have been tremendous in planning and being in contact with families and communicating emotional support for students, as well as the academic learning and content that had to continue,” she said. “We tried to transition the best we can under the circumstances.”
With many parents working from home and some students dealing with family members who are ill, Hecht said, teachers are individualizing their lessons to meet each student’s particular needs.
Students in third through 12th grade are using Google Classroom to learn, while younger students are using Wakelet.
Through each app, teachers post assignments, resource materials and instructional videos, and then follow up with students through virtual classroom meetings or in instructional sessions by phone or email. Faculty and staff have also used Zoom meetings to communicate with and check in on one another.
Hecht said she has received mostly positive responses from parents and students about remote learning in conversations and surveys.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution,” she said. “The feedback has been mostly positive, and we use other feedback to provide changes to what we can.”
Officials from both districts said at press time they were unsure how fourth-quarter grading would work. They also noted there are student support staffs and counselors for students who are feeling the mental and emotional toll of having to stay home and are unable to be with friends, peers and teachers during the pandemic.
Brian Bowes, a phys. ed. and health teacher at Lynbrook North Middle School, said, “Basically our curriculum has not stopped. Obviously, it’s a little bit less than what they’d be doing in class, but it’s still allowing us to continue to teach them and interact with them.”
Bowes said he uses Microsoft 365 to interact with his students and encourages them to post questions there even when he is not around. To meet the phys. ed. requirement, students are keeping a log of the physical activities they do throughout the week. He added that the school had prepared for a possible shutdown in the weeks before it became official.
“The school district is doing a fantastic job,” he said. “This is something that came up abruptly, and we were very well prepared for it.”