Ramping up online learning in a time of social distancing

  • Concord High English teacher Matt Skoby (left) helps fellow English teacher Diane Watson set up her laptop’s webcam at Concord High School on Monday to prepare for a transition to online teaching.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School English-Language Learners Social Worker Anna-Marie DiPasquale helps prepares for a ConcordTV recording of Mandarin and Portuguese translators reading information about COVID-19 that will be streamed online for families of students who don’t speak English. DiPasquale organized for the videos to be made in 11 different languages on Monday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School English-Language Learners Social Worker Anna-Marie DiPasquale looks at a list of New Americans living in the district that the school was calling with translators on Monday to remind them that school would not be in session for three weeks due to COVID-19. LEAH WILLINGHAM photos / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School English-Language Learners Social Worker Anna-Marie DiPasquale looks at a list of New Americans living in the district that the school was calling with translators on Monday to remind them that school would not be in session for three weeks LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Concord Portuguese translator Elsa Chern writes out a Portuguese translation of an English message from the Concord School District for New American families. A camera was set up next to her for her to be recorded by ConcordTV.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Sara Neema, a 2016 graduate of Concord High School and ELL tutor, calls numbers on a list of more than 50 New American families to update them on the district’s response to COVID-19. Neema speaks English and two African languages, including Swahili.

  • Sara Neema, a 2016 graduate of Concord High School and ELL tutor, calls numbers on a list of more than 50 New American families to  update them on the district’s response to COVID-19. Neema speaks English and two African languages, including Swahili.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Mill Brook School Second Grade Teacher Lee Weber prepares folders of work and activities to be sent home to students on Monday while the schools are closed because of COVID-19. LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Mill Brook School Second Grade Teacher Lee Weber prepares folders of work and activities to be sent home to students on Monday while the schools are closed because of COVID-19. LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Concord School District Facilities staff member Phil Fuedner works to disinfect the walls of Mill Brook School using a hospital-grade disinfectant on Monday.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Concord School District Interim Superintendent Frank Bass stands in the district office behind the “electrostatic sprayer,” a device that sprays out HyperFect 256, a “hospital-grade” disinfectant. The district is using the sprayer daily on tabletops, bathroom faucets, handles – any frequently touched surfaces in the schools.

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/16/2020 9:47:49 PM

During a normal classroom day, Matt Skoby and Diane Watson can tell if students are following along with the lesson they write on a whiteboard or need to ask questions for clarification.

The weeks ahead will be anything but normal. 

On Monday, the two Concord High English teachers were poring over a laptop, with no students present, working on a test run of a Google program that allows teachers to record videos of them while they write and explain their lessons. The videos can be viewed in real-time or watched by students later online. 

In one hand, Watson held a little black webcam device that was connected to the laptop. In the other, she scrolled through Google, making sure the device was synced. 

“They say, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’” she said. “That is certainly applicable right now.” 

In the next week, Skoby and Watson will be creating a new curriculum for classes like American literature, media literacy, sports literature and film studies, which they teach at the high school. Most of their revised lessons and coursework will be accessed by students digitally. 

With the announcement that the total number of  COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire continues to rise, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that public schools would be closing until April 3. 

Schools across the state have been scrambling to enact remote educational programming, which must be available to students by next Monday. Most have chosen a combination of digital and hard-copy options.

For districts like Concord and Bow that have tablets or computers for nearly every student, it’s been natural to turn to those digital resources to connect with students, administrators say. Bow had digital programming ready for high school students to start using on Tuesday, Superintendent Dean Cascadden said. Concord is aiming to have programming ready by the end of this week. 

Around 95 percent of teachers at Concord High already use programs like Google Classroom, a platform where teachers can create classes, distribute assignments, grade and send feedback to students over the internet. 

They’ve also used applications like the video program called Screencastify before. Watson said she had students use it to practice recording speeches during a public speaking course. 

Administrators said they wanted to turn to technology during this time of remote study that they knew was safe for students and could provide the most seamless transition. 

“We're being ultra-flexible, but one thing we've been steadfast about saying, from day one, when we started having these conversations, is ‘No new technology,’ ” Concord High Assistant Principal Tim Herbert said. “We are going to use what we use in our class already, which the staff is accustomed to and students are going to be able to use and access pretty readily.” 

Staying connected

Not all school districts are equally equipped and many are trying to figure out how to connect with students who don’t have internet at home.

“We’re assessing the situation, trying to get a good handle on who has access,” said Daniel LeGallo, superintendent of the Franklin school district. The district has been surveying families about home internet access.

“We prepared to provide paper copies of all materials for those that don’t have access,” he said. But details are still worked out and is slated to be a big topic of discussion with the school board.

At the Merrimack Valley School District, which covers a half-dozen towns that include rural areas with scattered communities with poor online connections, similar efforts are underway.

“Families who lack internet or device access are asked to contact administration so arrangements can be made to provide and discuss alternatives or analog (paper) resources,” the district said in an eight-page report on preparations.

And not just students. “Any teacher who lacks reliable internet access must notify administration in order to schedule regular access to the building” to access equipment in the school.

The district is calling its approach REAL, standing for Remote, Extended, Asynchronous Learning. “Asynchronous” means that teaching and learning do not have to be synchronized; in other words, teaching will not usually be done through real-time streaming classes, which require all students to be online at the same time, a handicap for those without access.

Either online or not, this is not an extended vacation.

“Students will need to engage in their schooling every weekday,” Merrimack Valley said in its message to families with the last two words emphasized. “Students and families will need to communicate with their teachers about all coursework-related issues” and “Each teacher will post ‘office hours’ during which he or she can be reached via email, Google Meet, or other online tools as provided for by the teacher (and accessible to students).”

Busy days

At Concord High, teachers arrived early Monday to begin working on refresher courses in programs that can be used for video conferencing. 

As teachers worked to start pulling lesson plans together, the hallways were empty and quiet. 

Each teacher met with their department staff over Google Meets, to reaquaint them with the application and to practice social distancing. Interim Principal Michael Reardon spoke to staff over an intercom, giving them an overview of the day. Some teachers chose to tune in from home.  

Herbert said the work students complete from home during their weeks of remote learning will focus on concepts teachers have already started to introduce in class. 

 Each teacher will hold daily office hours where they will be available to students and families. Herbert said for students who don’t have consistent access to WiFi, the district is looking into providing HotSpots or other resources. 

Skoby said his sports literature class was in the middle of reading Friday Night Lights when school was called off. He said students would continue to read the book on their own and answer weekly reading questions.

The last half of the year in American literature, a sophomore course that Watson teaches, students typically do a lot of writing. Watson said she plans to use GoogleDocs, an online platform where students can submit writing and she can leave edits and chat with students. For film studies, another course Watson teaches, she said she’s working to provide links over the internet to films that students can access from home. 

While Concord High is relying heavily on digital teaching infrastructure that's been built over the last several years, remote teaching methods vary by school and grade level. Rundlett Middle School and the district’s elementary school are combining using packets of hard-copy assignments and digital assignments. 

At Mill Brook School, which serves kindergarten through grade two, almost all information is being given to students through packets that parents will need to pick up from the school. 

Teachers at Mill Brook were pulling together worksheets throughout Monday and placing information in packets for parents to pick up. There was a line at each of the building’s copier machines to create multiple worksheets and instructions to put in folders. 

Second Grade Teacher Lee Weber said especially for younger students, teachers wanted to incorporate as many play-based activities in their packets as possible. There are activities that involve colored pencils, scissors and glue. There are games that might require something like a pack of cards or dice. 

“We're trying to like things that are a little fun and unique, not just plain old sheets of paper,” Weber said. 

To maintain a connection with students and check in on how they are doing with their remote activities, teachers at Mill Brook are planning on calling each student at least once a week. 

“It's going to be extremely important, especially because I feel like I didn't get to say goodbye, or I'll see you in a few weeks kind of thing. It was just sort of abrupt. So we left on Friday, not knowing that this was what was going to go down,” Mill Brook Kindergarten teacher Cristin Kaufman said. “We want to make sure the kids know that we are still here to support them in any way they need.” 

Families will pick up packets this at schools on Wednesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and return them when kids come back to school in April. In addition, if a family is not able to make it to the school during those times, they can contact the principal to arrange for another method of accessing the materials. 

Interim Superintendent Frank Bass said something that has been inspiring for him is seeing how district staff and community members want to pitch in to help. He said he’s had families and community organizations reach out offering to donate supplies and help deliver it to students in need. He said the district is accepting donations of school supplies for students. 

The district is still preparing breakfast and lunch every day for students who usually access food at school. Concord School District Food Services director Donna Reynolds said the district is in the midst of creating a system for kids to access food for dinner and on weekends as well. 

A challenge with remote education is serving kids with unique needs. 

Some resources are easier to apply remotely than others. Special education students will still receive accommodations for work received online or in packets, Herbert said. 

However, some needs like occupational and physical therapy are hard to fill without in-person support. Department of Education officials said they were working to design a system where students could safely continue to receive those resources. 

Herbert said the district is also looking into ways to connect students with their counselors through video chat or calls. Speech and language specialists in the district may be able to work with students online. 

Concord High English-Language Learners Social Worker Anna-Marie DiPasquale called in 11 differnt translators on Monday to film video segments at Concord High providing information about the new learning model for New American families who may not speak English. The videos were to be featured on ConcordTV’s YouTube channel. District staff were also calling New American families Monday to make sure they were keeping up-to-date with the latest plans for remote learning. 

Bass said he was going to be recording video updates multiple times a week for students and families to access on ConcordTV. 

Meanwhile, the district facilities staff is using an "electrostatic sprayer” to sanitize its buildings, Facilities Director Matt Cashman said. The device sprays out HyperFect 256, a "hospital-grade" disinfectant. They are using it on tabletops, bathroom faucets, handles – any frequently touched surfaces. The chemical is a hospital-grade disinfectant. They are also using power sprayers on the walls of the schools and hand pump sprayers for buses. 

As the community waits to find out if more cases of COVID-19 will crop up in New Hampshire, Human Resources Director Larry Prince said teachers can take sick time without penalty. 

“If you are out for this three-week period between April 3 or if you elect to self-quarantine, you will be paid regular pay with no penalty,” he said.  “It’s liberal, it’s not something we have to do, but we didn’t want to penalize them,” Prince said. “We felt that it might be inequitable – some people might not have the allotted sick time, some might have more than they need.”




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy