EP Students, Teachers, Parents face Distance Learning: See Photo Layout
Online version has additional photos of families distant learning.
The worldwide pandemic, known as coronavirus, has put routine life on hold for most of the nation. Rhode Island schools have been ordered by Governor Gina Raimondo to conduct education through “Distance Learning” since March 23rd. As of this writing, schools will continue with online classrooms through the end of April. It is very possible, however, that the virtual learning may continue into May and beyond. After two weeks of virtual learning, the Governor and Dr. Alexander-Scott will reevaluate the situation and make a new determination. By many accounts, the East Providence School District was in the forefront of preparing to enable teachers and students to continue instruction during school closure.
Midway through the first week of virtual classrooms, Superintendent Crowley had a good assessment of how the program was working. “Distance Learning in East Providence is going very well. One hundred percent of our teachers were online with students. Our student attendance is very good and getting better each day. I am very proud of our teachers and how they embraced this new initiative in a very short period of time. We completed our chromebook pick-up with a small percentage that have not picked up a device,” said Crowley. Students can use their own computers and home technology but can contact their principals if they still need a chrome book to take home. On the second day of home instruction the district passed out over 400 hot spots throughout the city with another 200 made available the next day. “Our technology staff and Director Ben Russell have been a very big part of our success, a fabulous team. This whole project has been a team effort between Directors, Assistant Superintendents, Principals, Assistant Principals, teachers and support staff,” Crowley said. “The school committee has been very supportive of our efforts and also the Mayor and city council. Townie Pride alive and well,” added Crowley.
East Providence had been working on their virtual learning plan for a while. “A virtual learning plan was developed to ensure the continued education of all students in the district,” said East Providence Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Crowley. “Teachers received professional development during the week of March 9-13, 2020 regarding the implementation of this plan. Our plan received approval from the Rhode Island Department of Education and was a template for some other districts.”
Just before schools were closed, the district took swift action to developed plans with school lunch provider Chartwells and Ocean State Transit, the school bus vendor. “Chartwells was asked to provide food to students who may be in need during a quarantine. We also developed a protocol with Ocean State Transit to ensure that our busses are cleaned daily. We rescheduled our maintenance and custodial staff to ensure ongoing, prompt and efficient cleaning and sanitization of our schools,” said Crowley.
The district’s plan has procedures to measure student participation. Each school can list attendance by teacher monitoring of live virtual learning steps. “The way that we will know that students are 'present' is by having them login to their Homeroom Google Classroom each day and answer a question. This should be done as early as possible in the 'school day'. If a student does not login to the Homeroom Google Classroom for two days in a row, a staff member will be contacting home,” said Riverside Middle School principal Robert Perry. The district is keeping daily numbers on attendance and student participation.
A look at district attendance for Tuesday March 24th showed very high attendance rates for every school. Reports show 100% participation by all classroom teachers in every school:
School Students Enrolled Students Online
EPHS 1,430 1,386
Riverside Middle 581 570
Martin Middle 597 587
Myron J. Francis 402 394
Hennessey 249 236
Kent Heights 267 256
Orlo Avenue 259 247
Silver Spring 252 240
Waddington 539 508
Whiteknact 260 248
Oldham 60 Full day 52 Full day 99 Half day 84 Half day
Pre-K @ Martin 99 90
“We have stepped into uncharted territory,” said RMS Principal Perry. “It has been necessary to put together a plan in record time. District and school level staff have come together to create a plan which will be a work-in-progress. We are getting started right away, we know that we are going to have to make changes as we go along. It is going to take a lot of patience, flexibility, and cooperation from everyone. Things are off to a good start though,” added Perry.
Perry was confident that secondary students will benefit from their prior experience with distance learning. “Our kids have had 'Daytime 1:1' for a while now. Every morning during the last two school years, kids have checked out a chrome book, used it in their classes, and checked it back in at the end of the day. We also have an Instructional Coach who works every day with teachers to integrate new learning apps and tech skills into their classes. The biggest challenge for teachers is going to be balancing the need to directly instruct kids with the realities of distance learning,” said Perry.
Students need to be able to access their curriculum on Google Classroom with a device connected to the internet. Several devices can access Google Classroom such as smartphones, tablets, desktops, laptops, and Chromebooks. Many students (mostly secondary) have used Google Classroom and should be familiar with the platform say school officials.
“On March 23rd, we began Distance Learning as the first day of school. Students, staff and families shared some photos of working in their homes as they begin this journey of distance learning. The feedback from families has been very positive,” said Martin Middle Principal Bill Black. “They are pleased the district has a plan and is communicating to them. Everyone has been very flexible as we know this is not how we do business in school usually,” added Black.
The message posted by Silver Spring school is representative of a system-wide feeling: “This will be a new experience for all of us and for some of our students this will be the first time that they are accessing lessons on Google Classroom. We ask our families to be patient, as we will all do our best to ensure that our students have lessons that are aligned with our curriculum and Standards and are supported. We understand that the first week may be a bit stressful, as students and parents/guardians learn how to use the technology and resources. Know that our teachers, support professionals, and staff will be available for assistance, so don't despair. This is uncharted territory for all of us, and we want you to know that we are all in this together.”
The school district provided a chrome book to any student who did not have a computer at home. They were distributed to families from the Martin gymnasium over a three day period before distance learning began in homes. The process was done in a smooth and secure process.
School committee at large member Joel Monteiro assisted in supervising the distribution. “I can't say enough about the speedy action and attention to detail that every employee of our district executed right from the governor's call to close. Each of them is performing their respective roles as effectively as we could ask,” said Monteiro. “From custodians to administrators, our team is rising to the challenge every day, with each day being stronger than the previous one. I'm very proud, and stand ready to continue to support them,” added Monteiro.
Dean of Students for Waddington School, Cory Howland, replied that “the Waddington school community has worked hard to embrace distance learning. Although this is a challenging time for students, parents and teachers, everyone is doing an amazing job. We began our kickoff to distance learning with a Chalk Your Walk Challenge for our community and it was a huge success. We posted many fun pictures on our school’s Facebook page,” said Howland.
“Our school community is learning to navigate Google Meets as our new way to communicate face to face. For our classroom school work, we are using Google Classroom where students get their daily assignments. We miss being together at school, but with everyone working together, we can do this!” added Howland.
The high school has also been hard at work. “We have rallied together - we are all supporting one another and out of the classroom still! This experience is so new for everyone. Our goal is to take things slow, keep communication flowing and work our way through this history making experience as one,” said EPHS principal Shani Wallace. We want everyone (students, parents and educators) to take care of themselves mentally and physically along with keeping our brains flowing with educational opportunities. We want this to be a positive learning opportunity for everyone, one day at a time,” added Wallace.
Kristopher and Rachel Hallene are busy working parents of three school age children, 1st, 3rd, and 6th graders. “First, I would say that I think the district did a very good job of putting this together in a short amount of time. There have, at least from my perspective, been fewer bumps in the road than I expected,” said Kristopher. “The workload seems reasonable for each grade level. From two parents working full time from home trying to assist 3 kids, it can be a struggle sometimes, but as we move forward in this endeavor, and routines become reestablished, we’re thinking it’ll get easier,” he said. Hallene would quip, however, that “also, a huge thanks to my wife Rachel who settled down the majority of the battles and resets our students!”
(Editor's Note: Kris Hallene, a parent quoted in this story, suffered a heart attack on Thursday, April 2nd. Kris is reportedly doing well and expected to be home by this weekend. Kris reached out to us from his hospital room to say he is feeling good and hopes to be recovering at home soon. He thanks all those who have sent kind thoughts and well wishes. We at the Reporter NewsMag send our best wishes for a speedy recovery at home. Riverside Little League and other youth sports groups in EP need him back healthy!)