It has been nearly a month since schools were ordered closed by Gov. Ned Lamont in response to the Wuhan Virus outbreak. Originally scheduled until March 30, the chief executive extended the closure until April 20. Superintendent of Schools Neil C. Cavallaro, like all of his counterparts, has come up ways of getting lessons to the city’s more than 6,000 students.
The phrase “distance learning,” like “social distancing” has become familiar to the public in general and to the city’s school children. The “distance learning option, which employs electronic lessons or other means to get information to students, allows districts to continue classes virtually, and not have to make up the days at the end of the year.
The April 20 extension is anticipated to go on longer, according to Cavallaro. That jibes with the extension announced last week by the White House, keeping the national guidelines in place until at least April 30. Schools in Connecticut are expected to remain closed.
With the continued closure, Cavallaro said plans are in place to continue the off-site lessons for as long as schools remain on lockdown.
”I am anticipating an extension given the current trend and escalation of the virus, so we will continue to develop our Distance Learning Plan accordingly following our regular curriculum, he said.
According to the superintendent the following pattern is used citywide:
~~ Lessons and suggested activities are prepared two weeks in advance and then posted for students;
~~ Through an agreement with city teachers, for as long as this shutdown exists and following the adopted school calendar, they are required to communicate and work with students between the hours of 9 and 1.
~~ Teachers are using technology such as email, homework reminder apps, and telephone conferencing. Google Classroom also provides a platform in which students can submit work to their teachers and then get immediate feedback.
Cavallaro said some teachers have become innovative in the way they present their materials.
“Some have made videos and are using other methods to conduct virtual classrooms,” he said. “Our entire curriculum, as well as suggestions for activities, and even virtual field trips, is posted on our website at whschools.org.”
For those students without access to the internet or a computer device, packets are available at the schools. Support staff and our administrative team are continually reaching out to families to ensure all students are engaged.
It is understood some students depend on in-school meals as part of their daily requirements. Cavallaro said the district is helping those youngsters.
“The district has applied for and been granted permission to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students in the school district. That will stay in effect for the duration of the shutdown. Site information and pick-up times are also listed on the school district website,” he said.
With spring arriving, the focus of many schools is on end-of-year exercises, including awards ceremonies and graduations. No decisions have been made, but all possibilities are being considered.
“We are in the process of developing plans and contingency plans for many of our end-of-year activities, which includes events like senior awards, and high school graduation. There has been some indication from the State Department of Education that we might have to think in terms of a ceremony taking place sometime next fall,” he said.
Cavallaro said the school system, like everyone else, is hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
“We will continue to seek guidance and follow all recommendations from the Governor’s Office as well as the Commissioner of Education. While it is our hope to return to regular classes prior to the conclusion of the school year on June 12, we will be prepared to complete it through distance learning,” he said finally.