Connecticut students face the struggles of distance learning

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CHESHIRE, Conn. (AP) — After practicing her singing for chorus in her backyard, Cheshire High School senior Emma Cody, 17, returned to her school work on Wednesday, signing into a slew of online apps to write papers, translate phrases in Latin and complete worksheets on physics.

Online learning began for Cody and other students across the state days after schools were closed to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Though it was easier to focus without the distractions of the classroom, Cody said it’s been difficult to get motivated without her teachers as she works in a home office with her brother and mother.

Since teachers had used many of the same online resources to administer homework throughout the school year, it was easy to log in and keep up with her class.

“There’s an online textbook, there’s an online version of everything,” she said.

Her mother, Amy Cody, said adults often worry about how much time youth spend on social media and technology, however she’s seen their immersion in the digital world is a lifeline to their education. She also praised the school district for quickly starting the online classes.

“I think they’ve done an incredible job with the amount of work that they’ve had to put in — to even get us the ability to do online learning was a feat in itself,” she said.

Cody is worried about her kids missing out on the social side of high school. Her son Colin Cody, 15, a sophomore, has already missed out on going to the state swimming championship.

Emma Cody was looking forward to activities that define senior year, like prom, graduation and B1 Day — a June event where students share some of the difficulties they’ve experienced before coming together to play games outside the school.

“I just want the full senior experience and I feel like I’m not getting that quarantined,” she said. ” … I hope that school gets started up soon. I never thought I’d say that, but I really do.”

On Friday, the Department of Education announced that schools impacted by COVID-19 closures will be able to bypass standardized testing for the 2019-20 school year.

State Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona said earlier in the week, during a press conference with Gov. Ned Lamont, that he believes schools will reopen this spring, but the closure may be extended past March 31.

“We’re hoping to welcome students back, but at this point we’re taking precautions and if we have to extend the class cancellation, we will,” he said.

A letter Cardona sent to school superintendents advised them to implement online learning as quickly as possible, reversing an earlier stance that districts close school and make up days at the end of the year.

“Shift thinking from supplemental learning, which was intended for short-term cancellations, to distance learning, which is intended to serve as an alternative to learning in a school house. Engage students and families as soon as you can,” Cardona’s letter stated. ” … Given these new updates, do not wait for a perfect plan to be developed to start your distance learning. Continue to strengthen your model that can serve as long-term education in the coming weeks.”

Online instruction in Cheshire began Wednesday after a two-day rush by the district’s technology staff to ensure that all families have the hardware needed to access digital materials, School Superintendent Jeff Solan said. Families received a survey from the district to identify technology needs.

“I have the sense — not just from looking at what you see in education, but what you see in news in general with restaurants, fitness centers being closed ... that we’re preparing for something that may last longer than anyone initially suggested,” Solan said.

Students between kindergarten and third grade received learning toolkits with grade-specific reading, writing and math instruction, while older students have remote learning via direct instruction from teachers, who create videos or upload documents and activities.

“We’ve been working very hard for the last week to really make sure that we can continue our education for our students to the greatest extent possible under these unprecedented circumstances,” Solan said. ” … Even (physical education) teachers are providing activities for students to do at home.”

Solan said online instruction cannot provide the same educational experience as face-to-face instruction, especially for students with individual needs.

“There are some students in our community that require extensive individual support which under the current health guidance is frankly impossible to deliver,” Solan said.

The district will focus on addressing any regression in learning among the high needs population after school resumes.

"It’s definitely going to require more intensive supports for those students when they return,” he said.

Meriden schools began engaging students in online instruction on March 13 and are distributing Chromebooks and wifi access hardware to families that need it, according to Supervisor of Blended Learning Susan Moore and Director of Teacher Innovation Barbara Haeffner.

Students between grades 6 and 12 are already issued laptops and students between grades 3 and 5 can receive them to access digital materials. Kindergarten through second-grade students received paper packets with instructional material and will be issued additional packets.

Moore said students and teachers are already accustomed to using the digital education software in the classroom, but are now using it in a new environment and to a much more intense degree.

Haeffner said she’s been able to see lessons and activities being posted online to sites like Google Classroom and Moodle.

“Meriden is looking to keep our students engaged and active online while we are unable to come to school,” she said.

In Wallingford, the Board of Education approved a distance learning plan presented by Superintendent Sal Menzo on Tuesday. It set online instruction to begin on Thursday. Board member Tammy Raccio was pleased special education students were included.

“I’m involved with other organizations for special needs students, and I’ve seen plans — or I should say lack of plans — in other districts, and many districts … are just in the mindset of we’ll have to catch up with special ed or we’ll deal with regression afterwards,” she said.

Lucca Riccio, president of Southington High School’s senior class, said adjusting to learning at home has been easier than expected. Some degree of online learning had been incorporated into his regular classroom structure and he had experience using Google Classroom for homework.

“We’re not learning new platforms and online material that we wouldn’t have known without this. Everything’s already been discussed, it really wasn’t a big change,” he said.

Teachers have been regularly uploading assignments and he’s used video conferencing to work on group projects. Riccio said the smooth transition shows the school was prepared.

In conversations with friends, Riccio has found most seem to want to continue their learning.

“We’re old enough to understand how to pace ourselves and make our own schedules even when the teachers aren’t giving them to us,” he said. “It’s at the point where it’s much more independent.”

Sheehan High School senior Grace Waldron, who had just completed a lesson in AP statistics, said she was glad the lesson included a video to help her with the math problems.

“All of the teachers are doing a really good job getting everything on Google Classroom for us,” she said, though she misses the face-to-face interactions with her teachers.

She also worries about the possibility that school might not reconvene this year. Her last high school tennis season is already delayed and might be canceled. Her friends have missed out on the end of the hockey and basketball seasons.

“Our whole lives we’ve been looking forward to things like prom and graduation,” she said, adding that some of her friends have already spent hundreds of dollars on prom dresses.

Worse still is the idea their senior year has already ended.

“We might have had our last day of school and not even known about it,” she said.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Up3dLC

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