Due to the governor’s current stay-at-home order, New Hanover County Schools announced on March 29 they will remain closed to the public through May 15. The closure includes all schools and facilities, except by appointment or at the discretion of a school’s principal. Learning continuity planning and training for teachers has been underway since March 24, and teachers are expected to launch their online courses on April 1 (NHCS’s spring break, from April 6-13, remains unchanged).
Forest Hills Global Elementary 5th-grade teachers Adriana Poveromo (science) and Annie Lovoy (math, homeroom reading and writing) have more than two decades of experience between them. Through hurricanes and unexpected school closings, they’ve learned to adapt to new schedules and act accordingly. However, both concur they have never experienced anything quite like the whirlwind caused by COVID-19.
“Initially, I was concerned about the logistics of how to implement distance learning at an elementary-level,” Lovoy admits. “Like any other challenge we face as educators, I am trying to tackle it head-on with perseverance because that is what my students need from me: my very best for their education.”
Moving to fully online instruction for Poveromo wasn’t a tectonic shift, per se. She would often use technology in her science classes for supplemental instruction at least two or three times a week. “I have been using Google Classroom and other Google Apps for Education in order for students to complete formative and informative assessments,” she explains. “So I feel I was prepared for this shift.”
Forest Hills will use Google Classroom as its learning management system (LMS) from here on out. They will begin testing the use of Google Meet and Zoom this week, too. Students can access assignments and teachers can individualize instruction with additional online apps or programs that can be imported into Google Classroom.
“This provides continuity across grade levels for parents who have multiple children in our school,” Lovoy adds. “Our principal [Boni Hall] has been very supportive of ideas we have expressed wanting to try, and has given us the autonomy to make our own decisions on how to deliver instruction. . . . Content and the coursework will be the same as it has been, but we know some students have support at home and others don’t. It allows us to really think through the lesson a lot more [in terms of] being equitable to all students.”
encore picked Poveromo’s and Lovoy’s brains on how NHC parents and guardians can navigate major changes in their children’s education, with additional resources to help them at home.
encore (e): Tell us how families have responded to these drastic changes thus far.
Adriana Poveromo (AP): We have been making sure that we are creating resources and tutorials for parents [so] they understand the shift into virtual learning. We have been calling families, in order to make sure they have internet and a device at home. If not, we are using different avenues and problem-solving to make sure all students are able to access the content. Our families have been very patient and understanding. They have been reaching out with questions and making sure they are knowledgeable on the Learning Management System we are using in order to make sure that they can assist their students at home.
Annie Lovoy (AL): Some are concerned about grading policies, promotion and retention. However, what schools and districts are focusing on right now is making sure learning still occurs in some form.
e: Are there communication barriers, such as access to computers, tablets, etc.?
AL: We have contacted every student household either by email, phone, Class Dojo messenger, and/or Google Form to discover who has access to them to complete their online learning from home. A vast majority of our student population responded. Those in need of a device will be offered to check out one iPad per household that will be distributed at our school starting March 30.
NHCS Technology Department has been working extremely hard to make this transition work for all, and they deserve a lot of credit. NHCS is sending out weekly updates to parents through our automated messaging system, Connect 5, as things change and develop.
AP: Sometimes we have phone numbers that do not work, homes that lack internet or a device, and lack of resources or support at home. This has posed a challenge, but as a school, we have been able to use our resources in order to connect with our families. We keep them informed on our social media, class websites and Class Dojo.
e: Does a student’s grade level/age ultimately impact how involved the parent needs to be at home?
AP: Grade levels will be impacted by this. Coming from the elementary level, I feel it is much more difficult for our students. Kindergartners need support from teachers in order to help them log in to their applications that they have access to . . . as well as being taught how to use the tools associated with these resources . . . As a teacher at a Title I school, I think about every scenario that could occur when my students are at home, and I tailor my lessons and activities to meet the needs of all of my learners.
AL: I’ve spoken to a few middle-school and high-school teachers and the transition for their online learning has been simpler due to students’ ability to easily utilize technology independently at that age.
e: What resources do you find most helpful for parents trying to help their kids at home right now?
AL: I would suggest first utilizing any resource their child’s teacher provides. Keep in constant contact with your child’s teacher for help . . . Also, most programs, applications, and online resources provide videos/tutorials on their websites, too.
There are unlimited online resources, such as Khan Academy on YouTube that gives math instruction by video. Many online platforms are providing premium services for free. . . . Reputable education publications, such as Time for Kids, Ranger Rick, Scholastic, and Curriculum Associates are offering free online magazines and resources on their home pages. Also, take advantage of “online virtual field trips” provided by organizations, such as zoos and art museums (Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, National Parks and Smithsonian National Zoo are great).
During this time, we are not introducing too many new resources because we don’t want to overwhelm families with new resources and have them not want to complete the work. At our school, we are using websites and apps we have been using in our classrooms so there is consistency with what they do at school and home.
e: What have been some “lessons learned” so far in all of this?
AP: I have learned I need to think about what I would normally plan for a face-to-face lesson and cut it in half. I need to read through the lesson, and see what the overall end goal is for my students and just focus on that.
This has also been a time where I have learned more about my flexibility as a teacher and how making the connections at the beginning of the year are really playing a huge part in this process. Teachers across the district need to be reminded to make these assignments and lessons a realistic expectation for your students and for yourself. During this time, use it as an opportunity to empower students, and create opportunities to allow them to get excited about their growth and development in school.
AL: One of the most important lessons I have learned is that anything can happen; situations can change rapidly. This is unchartered territory for everyone in the world. No one could have ever predicted such an event. You have to be willing to adapt and do so quickly; our students’ continued education is dependent upon being able to implement distance learning. Is it going to be perfect? No. Is it going to replicate and replace their usual form of education? No. However, all stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, support staff, administration and district office personnel) must try to make this transition as smooth as possible and know that it is a “work-in-progress” on everyone’s part.
e: How might this impact standardized tests required of certain grades?
AL: Fortunately, with the disruption in education for all NC students, the Department of Public Instruction has applied for a waiver for standardized testing for this school year. The Department of Education has stated they will grant waivers for any state that requests it. At this time, teachers have not been officially told that standardized testing has been exempted for this school year.
I cannot see how any standardized test would be valid at this point. Our students are missing at least eight weeks of school, which is almost one-fourth of our school year. While online learning is underway, it does not replace the value of face-to-face classroom instruction, in which our students are accustomed. Also, with so much decision-making dependent upon these test scores, I do not feel it is fair to the student or the teacher to assess students under these circumstances.
AP: During this time, I am not thinking about standardized tests, but how my students are doing. I am still meeting the standards that are addressed in my lessons, but I want my students to be able to have a chance to access the content and have exposure to the material I am giving them.
With standardized testing, I feel the state needs to be understanding because students don’t have access to the resources they normally would; it can limit their exposure to the content. At this time, we need to be thinking about the whole child and not the student as a test score. These students have had a major change in their normal routine, and to bring the added pressure of still having state testing is not in the best interest or equitable for all students.
As a teacher in a testing grade with three tested areas, I know the stress and pressures that can be put on you and your students to perform to the best of your ability, but during this time of uncertainty, we need to have the best interest of the child at the forefront before even thinking about giving them a standardized test, two weeks after they are supposed to return to school.
e: How are teachers supporting each other right now?
AP: I can say the teaching community is at its strongest right now. We have all come together to discuss resources we are using, and we have been able to play off of others’ strengths in order to work together to make this the easiest and best experience possible for our students. I am so proud to call myself a teacher because of the support and sense of community I have felt during this time. This is a time where teachers are truly stepping up and shining in their profession, showcasing we are flexible and we are here for our students and families.
Personally, I have been a nervous wreck because I am constantly going to bed each night thinking about what my students are doing at home. I am wanting to make sure they are all OK during this time. It is humbling to see I am not alone in these feelings and this is where I know that I am meant to be a teacher.
AL: I am happily overwhelmed by the sharing teachers are doing right now. I have found so many excellent resources and information on how to implement certain applications and programs. I am a member of many social media groups for teachers, and when schools began closing, teachers across the country started collaborating and sharing thoughts, ideas, and resources with one another. It has made me even prouder to be an educator.