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Schools enter unchartered territory with remote learning

by | Apr 5, 2020 | Education, Featured Front Page

Hopkins School window sign of support

Staffers at Hopkins School left a sign of support in the window for students, who were scheduled to begin a formal remote learning program April 6 in the midst of the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO/JERRY SPAR

Hopkinton schools were scheduled to begin a remote learning plan April 6 that will include new instruction, in addition to reviewing prior lessons and providing enrichment as is currently being done, Superintendent of Schools Carol Cavanaugh told School Committee members during their meeting on March 26.

“We will try to have the highest quality remote education we possibly can,” Cavanaugh said.

Participation is no longer voluntary but will be expected of students. Each school has developed its own schedule that teachers will follow. Principals and teachers will reach out to students and families to outline the schedules.

However, Cavanaugh said that remote education will not replace the learning experience students receive with in-person classroom instruction.

“We cannot cover all that we would have before June 23, 2020,” she said. “No matter what we implement, it will not be of the same quality as the day-to-day classroom experiences.”

Regarding prom and graduation, Cavanaugh said Hopkinton High School principal Evan Bishop will work with class officers “to make decisions about these important events.”

These decisions will be impacted by school closure announcements by Gov. Charlie Baker and information from the Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

AP exams are overseen by the College Board, which is developing a secure, 45-minute online free-response exam for each course.

The status of MCAS testing was uncertain at press time. The tests might be waived for this spring but the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education was still working on the needed process to waive them, Cavanaugh said.

Prior to the April 6 new Hopkinton instruction date, a major focus was on “ensuring connections between educators and students [and their] families,” Cavanaugh stated.

Educators researched and vetted the best possible remote learning resources and worked with the technology department to provide the best possible access for students, looking at issues such as Wi-Fi capability and access to devices, she said.

Going forward, educators will review the curriculum to “highlight critical skills and content that must be addressed this year,” she said.

The Department of Secondary and Elementary Education recommends that students engage in learning for about half the traditional learning day.

This could take many forms, with teachers working with all 24 students in a class, or with 75 students in one course section or in small groups with students who might be “struggling with a specific concept,” Cavanaugh said.

Teachers have a range of technical skills and experience. That has been “a huge steppingstone for a lot of our teachers,” Cavanaugh said. Many teachers also have children of their own who are at home during the crisis.

A major concern is that remote learning puts the district’s most vulnerable learners, including those with special needs, at risk.

“You’re disenfranchising a portion of the student population if you introduce new curriculum that all students do not have equal access to,” committee member Meg Tyler said.

Tyler urged all community members to consider the needs of all students and not just their own.

“I feel sad that you feel some pressure from the community to all of a sudden ramp up the competitive engine again,” she told Cavanaugh. “It’s really important to realize that some of us are in a greater place of privilege than others” in terms of students accessing new curriculum.

She said she hopes the community will “lead with our hearts.”

Responded Cavanaugh, “We have to think about all our learners and how to help every child to advance. If this needs to be slow and steady, it will be slow and steady.”

A major component of the current educational experience is to keep students and teachers connected, committee member Amanda Fargiano said. Creating these “points of connection” has made “the greatest impact.”

“Just to see each other and say, ‘Hi, I’m still here,’ ” matters, she said.

Fargiano said she hopes the schools will “maintain these points of connection and build from there.”

The current situation is filled with unknowns, Cavanaugh observed, and not all questions can be immediately answered.

“We need to do what’s right for Hopkinton,” she said. “I don’t think we know exactly what that is today.”

Editor’s note: This story appears in the April 8 print edition of the Hopkinton Independent.

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