Concord schools plan for more structured approached to remote learning

  • Rundlett Middle School art teacher Stephanie Bednaz hands out supplies in advance of a return to remote learning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Rundlett Middle School art teacher Stephanie Bednaz shows first year student Oballa Ojullo, 11, his art kit that he can use for online learning starting next week. Oballa's mother Awili and brother A.J. look on at the school on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor Staff
Published: 9/5/2020 1:14:19 PM

Tuesday is the first day of school for the Concord School District, but it will look a little different this year. Instead of hopping on the school bus, most students across the district will be logging online to start the school year remotely at home.

Concord is taking a different approach to fall reopening than most school districts in the surrounding area by choosing to operate remotely for all grades. Some students in the district will be able to learn in-person, including students on IEPs and 504 plans, English language learners, students who are unhoused and students who are enrolled in a Concord Regional Technical Center (CRTC) program. All others will learn online.

Principals have been creating schedules for each school that combine live video teaching with independent work time.

“They have put together a schedule that looks like a school day as much as possible,” said interim superintendent Kathleen Murphy. “The most important thing is the interactions that can take place between the instructors and the students, giving them a chance to interact with their peers, having their morning meetings and their advisories. We want to be able to do as much of that with the youngsters as possible.”

Here’s what a typical school day will look like for Concord students.

Elementary schools plan for morning meetings, recess

All of Concord’s elementary schools will start the day at 7:45 a.m. with a school-wide morning meeting on live video. Administrators will take attendance during the morning meeting, and students who are late to log on may be marked as tardy.

The daily class schedules mirror a typical in-person school day, with online class from 8:15 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m. and a 40-minute lunch and recess break in the middle. Classes will be a mixture of live video interaction and solo work time. Teachers will also schedule mini breaks during the classes for kids to move around.

Kindergartners and first- and second-graders will use the online platforms Seesaw and Zoom for instruction, while third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders will use a combination of Zoom and Google Classroom.

Schools are continuing to conduct their “intervention” periods virtually, that helps kids improve certain skills they may be struggling with. Broken Ground School principal Susan Lauze said administrators are concerned that students have fallen behind after the remote spring semester, and will be working to catch them up.

“We have our teachers making sure that we’re checking in on how far they came in the curriculum from the year before, and what gaps we need to fill in for now,” Lauze said.

The question of prolonged screen time and its effect on children was addressed at some of the back-to-school parent forums that were held in late August.

“One of the questions that has come up for families is, ‘Is my 6-year-old going to be online all day?’ The answer is no,” said Anthony Blinn, principal at Abbot-Downing School. “The teachers are going to deliver live lessons throughout the day but they will be shorter lessons and the kids can break offline and do an activity that the teacher has asked them to do.”

Wednesdays will be shortened days for the elementary schools, so teachers can attend meetings and training and do planning.

Rundlett Middle School focuses on connections

A typical day for Rundlett Middle School will start at 8:30 a.m. with advisory, a time for teachers to check in with small groups of student advisees.

“Our theme this year is ‘building connections’ because we know that is so important when we are starting remote,” said principal Paulette Fitzgerald.

The rest of the day will progress like a normal school day, with classes held on Zoom and Google Classroom, until dismissal at 3:30 p.m. Class schedules vary slightly depending on grade level, but the first 30 minutes of each class will feature live instruction with teachers, while the remaining time will be for working alone or in small groups. There is a 45-minute lunch break in the middle of the day.

“We are trying to encourage kids to stay away from the computer at lunchtime,” Fitzgerald said. “We are trying to find the sweet spot, what is an okay amount of screen time, what is too much?”

Wednesdays at RMS are “flex” days that are different from the rest of the week. They start as usual with advisory, but then leave time for teachers to do professional development training and work with students who need extra help.

Concord High emphasizes attendance, plans for calls

At Concord High School, students will start the day with their first class at 7:45 a.m and finish at 2:42 p.m. Their school day will be divided into four 90-minute class blocks, separated by a 30-minute lunch break in the middle.

Wednesdays will be asynchronous “flex” days with independent work time in the morning and blocks of time in the afternoon where students can meet for one-on-one sessions with teachers and participate in student clubs and organizations.

Principal Mike Reardon says the high school’s primary goal for remote learning this year is to have more interaction between teachers and students than there was during the spring semester, something that will be accomplished through live Zoom classes, and the use of Zoom breakout rooms for small-group discussion.

“The kids are in the groups and the teacher will be moving through the groups electronically, seeing how they are doing. And then the groups will reconvene as a whole class to report out where they are in their work,” Reardon said. “That creates a certain rhythm to the classroom around the core ideas.”

Since remote learning limits the amount of content that can be covered, Reardon said teachers are being asked to think in terms of “supercompetencies,” the most important skills and concepts that kids need to learn in each subject area, and focus on those.

Another big goal at CHS is to support students’ social-emotional health, something Reardon said is even more important than academics, given the events of this year. Teachers are being trained to check in with students and make sure everyone is doing okay, and students will be able to reach their guidance counselors virtually at any time.

In the mornings, the school will send out robocalls to students’ homes to make sure they are awake and ready to learn.

“At the end of the spring semester, we had too many kids who were not doing their work and we can’t have that again,” Reardon said. “So we’re going to be on the top of that, and our goal is that all the kids are locked into their classrooms and participating.”

CRTC attendance looks different for each student

Concord Regional Technical Center is the only school in the district that will be operating primarily in person. The exact amount of time a CRTC student will spend on site varies, based on the rules of the sending town that the student is coming from, and the program the student is enrolled in.

The school day will start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 12:45 p.m. That time will be divided into three 90-minute class blocks, A, B and C. The technical center will group students by town and class year to limit intermingling as much as possible. Block A will be just first-year students from Bow, Concord, Merrimack Valley High School and Pittsfield. Block B will be second-year students from all schools, and Block C will be first-year students from Concord, Hillsboro-Deering, Hopkinton, John Stark Regional, Kearsarge and Pembroke Academy.

Students studying things like construction, cosmetology and theater will be in person every day. Other programs, like health science, will be partially in-person and partially remote.

Murphy says she continues to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in the Concord area, and is hopeful that the district will be able to pivot to a hybrid model by Oct. 1.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed that numbers continue to go down in New Hampshire,” Murphy said. “We feel that if those low numbers stay where they are, we will be ready to bring those kids back.”

The Concord School Board will discuss switching to a hybrid model at its Sept. 8 meeting.


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