The sudden and unprecedented arrival of the COVID-19 virus resulting in the onset of wide swaths of school closures across our area has understandably sent many educators and families scrambling to find solutions to problems that were unimaginable mere weeks prior. Now, in the throes of pandemic, many questions still linger for local institutions as well as the students who once occupied their classrooms.
Will the school year be extended? How will graduation and college admissions be affected? And perhaps above all, how will education at every level continue from home?
Despite the rapid pace with which the social distancing guidelines became implemented throughout New York State, Massachusetts and Connecticut, local educators are already finding themselves adapting to new ways of distance learning. As state representatives, small businesses and health officials grapple with the crisis in the interim, the pressure of sustaining the same high levels of learning has pressed its share of diamonds within the education system. What began as a maelstrom of improvised learning just weeks ago, might in fact spawn a new era of online learning across the region.
As principal of Housatonic Valley Regional High School, Ian Strever is accustomed to the rigors of public school administration. Though the Northwest Corner’s beloved school has closed through April, 20, Mr.Strever and his fellow administrators as well as the team of educators had previously already laid the groundwork for students to continue to learn outside of the traditional classroom setting, “We have established a technology continuum here at Housey,” says Strever, “Though a situation like this is never easy, we now have the opportunity to institute new technologies to enhance students’ distance learning experience.” Some of those learning technologies had already been in place prior to pandemic closures. Video conferencing between students, teachers, and parents had played a large role in communication and Housatonic’s 1 to 1 program has given students the individualized learning experience that now compliments distance learning. Through the use of individual Chromebooks and the virtual Google Classroom, student access to essential materials as well as teachers themselves has become more intuitively comprehensive. “As a principal, I must ensure accountability,” asserts Strever, “there will be several guidelines in place to make sure students stay connected to the curriculum.” For administrators like Mr.Strever, being technologically prepared has meant a smoother transition- and even an intriguing future, “We are lucky here in Housatonic that we were ahead of the curve in regards to distance learning. We have implemented many distance prep tools to assist students transitioning to college and much of our online features were put together in case of weather related closures. This could be a watershed moment in education, I see no reason why distance learning can’t be utilized at least once a week in the future.”
Similarly, for Bridgette Proper, a teacher of mathematics for the Brown School, a private institution in Schenectady, NY, the transition to an online environment has been enlightening, “Working at a small private school, I was able to begin online learning lessons almost immediately after the state mandated closures. The teachers at Brown were able to almost seamlessly switch their curriculum, making it possible for our students to learn online from home.” For Ms.Proper, the greatest challenge to adapting to an online learning environment was the speed with which the sudden changes took place, “I had the not-so unique challenge of figuring out how I would be able to switch my five different math classes to an online format in a matter of just two days,” says Proper, “For nearly a week now, I have been pre-recording my lessons for my students using an Elmo and then posting the lessons for my students to watch. I am also available on Zoom during their scheduled class time so they are able to ask me any questions they have about the day’s lesson. It is amazing to still see my students’ faces and hear their voices.”
Despite enduring through the chaos of the sudden and dramatic upheaval caused by the spread of the coronavirus in seemingly every corner of our region, Ms.Proper shares the same sentiment of many of her colleagues across the area awaiting the return to normalcy and seeing the students they have invested so much in once more, “I must say, having just completed my Master’s Degree in Curriculum Development and Technology Integration has definitely helped me better prepare for being an online teacher. Still, I miss my students every day. Although I am enjoying sleeping a little later and being home more with my puppy, I can’t wait until I can be back in my school with my colleagues and my students.” While the familiar classrooms and hallways have been replaced by digital interface for the moment, the heart of our educational system is as human as ever and while we are living in an uncertain present, the future of education for children across the area- thanks to a massive collective effort on the part of administrators and educators alike- was never in doubt.
-by Griffin Cooper