By Paul Stein
As the news about COVID-19 has dominated the media, so has news about school closures across the Commonwealth.
The word closure falls short. Closure often implies a comforting sense of finality, as well as a shutting down of all activities. Neither is the case.
We are collectively faced with an unsettling and unfamiliar reality. Yet, in the face of this reality, we are finding new ways to come together (in spite of the imposed physical distancing).
Technology has helped many of us stay connected to our extended family, friends and colleagues. It has enabled us to work remotely.
In the case of the school programs within Schools for Children, staff members are making extraordinary efforts while our buildings remain closed at this time. Staff members continue to think creatively about developing opportunities for enrichment activities and remote learning, and reaching out to offer conversations with counselors and teachers. My discussions with staff about these efforts are always heartening.
This is a time when we especially appreciate and want to support the caregivers throughout our communities. What follows is a brief description from each of our five school leaders of some of the ways that our school programs are reaching out to students and their families – and how they remain open, and helping, in a time of closure.
Dearborn Academy is working to help students maintain their academic skills during the school building closure with online learning opportunities, including an online summer program. The school also continues to help students maintain their social and emotional health and connection to Dearborn.
For example, during the school year, clinicians reached out on a weekly basis to each family individually to offer support and maintain relationships. Families were encouraged to use the Dearborn Family contact list to connect their students to one another primarily through telephone and social media contact. Clinicians were also available to offer ideas for who/how the students with whom they work could stay connected while school is out.
Dearborn families were invited to reach out to their student’s clinician for additional resources or ideas on how to help maintain students’ skills and/or fill the time with fun things to do while school is closed. Understanding that each family’s needs and hopes for guidance regarding academic and fun activities are different, the school has worked hard to personalize each recommendation.
Dearborn is exploring additional ways to stay connected as a community during the summer program and is in frequent communication with families.
Dearborn STEP assessment
Guiding its response to the COVID-19 school closures, the Dearborn STEP program’s primary goal was to ensure that staff members do all they can to support the needs of students and families. To ensure the safety of all and maximize support for each student, the program provided online learning, groups and clinical support remotely via Zoom, telephone, email and Google classroom.
STEP 2019-20 School-Year Plan Details
- Calling home once a week to counsel and touch base with their students.
- Calling home once a week to have a regular parent phone call.
- Offering additional support as the need arises.
- Letting parents and students know how STEP is moving forward academically.
- Using student emails to set up Zoom conferences with all students.
- Providing work and supporting students online and with Zoom.
- Having a check-in model for each student to support their success. Parents are asked to speak with teachers if they have questions.
Lesley Ellis School
When considering the potential for school closure, the staff at Lesley Ellis School consulted educators who regularly teach remotely. The latter stressed that setting up a structure and daily routine for students is essential for online learning. Starting at the same time each day; having designated snack, movement and relaxation times; and setting clear expectations for when to do school work are all beneficial.
To prepare all Leslie Ellis families for online learning, each division within the school practiced the use of their online platforms in advance of the closure.
In Early Childhood
Families have the opportunity for their children to meet online with one of their early childhood teachers on a daily basis. Using Google Hangouts, the interactions last between 10-15 minutes. Teachers also send optional activities daily that span the learning domains of early childhood education. Specialists are continuing their curriculum for early childhood, sending links to classroom teachers to then forward to families.
In addition to online instruction, Lesley Ellis has provided students with supplies for designated teacher-directed/guided learning times/lessons. For Kindergarten: Prior to the school closure, parents were invited to sign their child up for regular daily face-to-face meeting times with teachers. For Grades 1/2: Teachers emailed information outlining the “school-at-home” schedule. For Grades 3/4: Families were sent the plan for school days with the expectation that third and fourth graders “attend” school through the experiences provided.
In Middle School
Students in middle school are participating in live classes via the web-based platform Zoom. All middle school students (and their parents) received their remote learning schedule, which includes live learning times, the classes that will assign work each day and teachers’ virtual “office hours.” Specifics about workload, homework, and assessments and related guidelines and expectations were also included. Students were sent home with a backpack full of school materials to be used in guided lessons during the closure.
As with all Schools for Children programs, the health and safety of Seaport Academy students, staff, parents and families are of the utmost importance. In this context, Seaport decided that there will be no school from Monday, March 16- Friday, April 3.
Seaport is responding to the COVID-19 health closure with the following steps:
- The Seaport clinical staff remains available for counseling during this period. Counselors have reached out to their students to set up weekly counseling times via phone or telecommunication application, e.g., Skype, Zoom or FaceTime.
- The Seaport teaching staff is coordinating a distance-learning program in order to mitigate this unplanned closure.
- Seaport is providing food support to all of its families.
Seaport will continue to update students and families as the situation unfolds via its website. Also, more detailed information will be sent through email. The director has also invited families to contact him directly to share additional questions or concerns.
Winn Brook Extended Learning
As its name implies, Winn Brook Extended Learning expands the knowledge that its students acquire during the school day. During this time of physical distancing, the program is encouraging families to use internet resources to practice skills that the students began to develop in WBExL clubs and activities.
For example, there are free language-learning websites and platforms, like Duolingo, that can help children continue to build on skills learned in the Spanish program or Chinese club. Online cooking videos specifically for children are fun for the entire family. Parents can also ask their child to teach the family some of the games that WBExL students have learned, as another way to enjoy their time together.
The health and safety of our students, staff, parents and families are of the utmost importance. As the response to COVID-19 at the national, state and local levels continues to unfold, we will keep you updated on the work our schools and programs are doing to help students continue to develop academically, socially and emotionally during the days ahead.