By Scott Asadorian

It is impossible to fully comprehend the impact created by covid-19 on every aspect of society. Socialization, work, worship and education have gone through massive adaptations, and we are constantly learning the effect these changes are having on our lives. As someone who has always believed that education is one key to a highly functional person, I was curious to understand what specifically the impact of distance learning has had on our public schools.

I reached out to Joshua LaPlante, Head of School at The Greene School where I am a board member, to get his perspective on how distance learning is being experienced by parents, students and teachers. Here are some of his thoughts.

  • What were some of your initial observations once distance learning began?

    Josh: Overall, distance learning has gone well because teachers and leadership have worked tirelessly to design a program that is still aligned to the learning standards for each grade. The school took advantage of the Governor’s one-week pause in school operations in early March to ensure that we would be ready on the following Monday – day 1 of distance learning. We wanted to maintain a high level of rigor and advancement in learning, and we did that, but we had to work harder with students and their families as time went on to keep engagement high. Very quickly, the workload became overwhelming for students, teachers and parents (who still had their own jobs to tend to).

  • What do you think caused everyone to feel overwhelmed?

    Josh: Our goal was to maintain academic rigor, and we communicated that with our staff. One common response our teachers had was to increase the assessments the students were taking – the rational being “if I can’t be with my students in class, I need to give them more work.” This strategy, however, quickly backfired. Teachers and students were feeling like “we can’t do this”. Our “aha” moment was when people started to panic. We quickly put the brakes on our initial approach and used the pause to rethink our goals. The challenge was to have a flexible interpretation of what “maintaining rigor” means when we are no longer face-to-face with students in a classroom. Now isn’t the time to be rigid. So, we helped teachers modify their approach.

  • How engaged have students been considering they are now learning from their homes?

    Josh:  The overall attendance rate is high, but there is a difference between attendance and engagement.  The diverse nature of the school comes with varying challenges and support systems for students.  The extent to which students are engaged in the learning process and the amount of dialogue has been mixed.  In some cases, students have the ideal environment, structure and access to technology while at home.  In other cases, they have become the primary caregiver for their younger siblings while their parents are working.  It is difficult for a student to maintain the motivation to learn while they are tending to the learning needs of their brothers and sisters.  Our response has been to create a team of teachers who have been calling families twice daily, reminding parents to have their children log onto class, keep engaged in the assignments, etc.…. There is also an element of differing abilities among students, which requires an even greater level of involvement by the school to ensure that all students have the attention they need.

     

  • What else have you learned about how students are responding and coping during the stay-at-home period?

    Josh: In addition to the social elements I mentioned, there is an emotional element that has arisen with distance learning. As the parent of two young children, I am seeing this from both the school and a parent’s perspective. Children are angry, lonely, confused and scared. So, the question is, how do we build supports so we can manage this with children and their families? We not only have to work with the child, but with the parent also to educate them on how they can support their child in a way that they have never had to before – because this is new to everybody. We tell parents to do the best they can, be empathetic, compassionate, flexible and resilient. We are all in this together.

    On the bright side, this is an opportunity for students to learn a new level of independence that it seems children experience less of in the modern-day school setting.  There are so many supports and structures in school now to provide students with help.  Distance learning has taken those supports away, so students need to start independently asking “where am I right now in my day, where do I have to spend my time right now, what is a priority, how can I get in touch with my teacher, etc.…”. 

     

  • What are the future implications of this disruption in learning?

    Josh:  We are already starting to look at what it will look like next fall when students return.  We are asking, how can we narrow the gap between where they would normally be developmentally, and where they are right now?  We don’t know what that gap looks like, but we know it’s there and we need to adjust to it.  Also, one unique element of the Greene School is its focus on experiential learning in the natural environment.  Students have not had the opportunity to hike and camp as they normally would while at school, so we have to factor in the absence of what has been an integral part of the curriculum for many years.

     

  • Finally, is there anything you would recommend to parents?

    Josh:  For parents, we first want you to know we have been incredibly grateful and appreciative of your support.  We appreciate the flexibility and willingness to work with the school during this really challenging time.  The best thing parents can do is talk with their children about school – not just “how was your day”.  But ask the probing questions around what they are learning, the types of conversations they are having and the questions they are asking.  If the child is in elementary school, the best thing a parent can do is to continue reading to their child at night, and letting them know everything will be OK.  For middle school children, be their support system and bring comfort when they need it.  And for the students themselves, we are letting them know to do the best they can.  That it’s ok to ask questions.

     

Thanks Josh, and also thank you to all the students, parents, teachers and staff who have made the best out of a situation no one could have anticipated.

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