HWRSD presents a day in the life of remote learning

Sept. 10, 2020 | Sarah Heinonen

HAMPDEN/WILBRAHAM – Sample schedules were explored at the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District meeting on Sept. 3 to give parents a more concrete understanding of what a day of remote learning would look like.

Julie Keefe, district liaison for instruction, intervention and technology, explained elementary instruction will rely heavily on Zoom. Coaches are now being utilized as remote learning teachers for math, writing and literacy for grades one through five. The district was unable to hire teachers for remote learning due to financial constraints and Keefe said they “needed to capitalize on existing staff.”

All grades will begin each day with attendance and a “morning meeting to check in with students and do some social-emotional learning. The elementary school will be using a mood meter, developed by the Yale Emotional Intelligence Center, to check in with kids regarding emotional state on a scale of pleasantness and energy, from despair to serene and enraged to ecstatic.

Lessons are broken up into teacher-led instruction, followed by directed learning time consisting of 15 minutes of working away from the screen. Subjects are broken up by movement breaks and mask breaks, lunch and recess.

“We really want to encourage the students to get outside,” Keefe said, and as such outdoor exploration is also worked into snack-time.

At the end of the school day, students take part in another check-in to go over the day and prepare for what their next day will look like.

A maximum amount of screen time throughout the day has been set, with kindergarteners having no more than three hours and 15 minutes on their device, and slowly increasing to three hours and 25 minutes for fifth-graders. Keefe said the schedules were developed, in part, using feedback from the spring remote learning experience.

Fully-remote students will be assigned to an in-person teacher for Wednesdays and will join the instruction for that class. The idea is to build a relationship between the student and the teacher to prepare for a time when the district goes fully remote or fully in-person. If the hybrid instruction were to switch to one of the other models, the coaches would go back to their usual duties and the teachers would take over all instruction.

Wednesday has an asynchronous with a little more flexibility built in. During this time while students work more independently, teachers will be planning and working on curriculum with the coaches.

The district’s website, www.hwrsd.org, has tips for parents and students to help with structuring their day and ways to learn remotely.

Keefe said intervention is being woven into other teaching, including related arts time. The teachers are providing students in the building with hands-on learning and making videos for remote learning students.

Committee Member Michal Boudreau asked about live instruction on remote days. Keefe said that they will provide as much live instruction as possible during in-person time but also recording videos for remote students.

Director for Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Learning Tom Mazza said that similar to the morning meeting at the elementary level, the advisory period at the beginning of the middle school day focuses on “extensive” social-emotional learning. From there, students move into their first block of scheduling, each block being a separate class. At the middle school level, there are five core classes, as well as related arts periods, lunch and water breaks.

There will be homework and virtual group work, and the middle school and high school will be using both Google Classroom and Zoom for remote learning.

At the high school level, class blocks will be 85 minutes with four classes per day plus independent and offline work scattered throughout the blocks. There will also be nightly homework, and students are expected to be ready to work at the same time as their in-person learning classes begin, Mazza said.

The middle school and high school levels are using “hyflex modality,” which Mazza said has been proven to “ensure academic fluidity” and is the “best secondary level” model. Students will be able to shift between in-person and remote learning with a little interruption, he said.

HyFlex modality combines “in-class discussion and activities with participation from remote online learners,” Mazza explained. It includes, “live interactions with real-time feedback.”

Mazza acknowledged that related arts will be a little different at Green Meadows, but the core classes will be the same.

Wednesdays at the secondary level are designed to give related arts teachers time to upload videos for remote and in-person learning, Mazza said. Related arts staff will also be utilized to close the educational gap from the spring school closure by incorporating core learning into classwork, such as talking about science and math concepts in physical education classes.

The goal is to “create a sound [related arts] department that supports learning,” Mazza said.

Superintendent Al Ganem stated,     “This work that we’re going to be doing is going to look different, but it will be second to none.”

In the superintendent’s report, Ganem broke down the cohorts that have been created for the hybrid model of school. District-wide, 38 percent of the student population is scheduled for each of the two in-person learning cohorts, while 0.9 percent of students fall into the high needs “Cohort C,” and will be attending school on all four in-person learning days. Students who have opted to go entirely remote make up 15 percent of the student population. Mile Tree Elementary School and Green Meadows School have the highest number of students in Cohort C at 22 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Ganem said creating the cohorts required a “delicate balance,” and as such, are locked-in for the first marking period. With the exception of a student becoming ill and requiring a transfer to remote learning, students who are attending remotely cannot switch to in-person, or vice versa, until the second term begins in November.

The children in the district whose families have decided to homeschool for the 2020–2021 school year are up to 55, from 35 last year.

The district’s new Director of Finance and Operations Aaron Osborne introduced himself to the school committee and the community. He said that he has gotten right to work in his first week and is busy applying for grants, including funding to fight COVID-19.

Committee Member Sean Kennedy asked about repercussions for students who violate the face-covering policy. Vice-Chair Maura Ryan, who sits on the policy subcommittee, explained that face-covering policy violations, which include, refusal to wear a mask, refusal to wear one in the approved manner or the presence of something deemed unacceptable written or depicted on the mask, will be handled similarly to dress code violations. Ganem agreed, saying that face coverings are expected for all students, with the possible exception of preschoolers.

The HWRSD had ordered 900 Chromebooks, but due to the vendor over-committing to multiple school districts, combined with delays at U.S. Customs, the order will not arrive in time for the opening of school. The district had 270 Chromebooks and was able to secure an additional 350. Osborne said they had tried to purchase some from Walmart and Target, but retailers are low on stock as well.

“If we have to drive from Walmart to Walmart to pick up Chromebooks, we’re prepared to do that,” Osbourne assured the committee.

Distribution of Chromebooks to students was scheduled for Sept. 8 and Sept. 9 and the district planned to hand out as many as possible.

Ganem gave updates on several projects throughout the district. He said the roof at Wilbraham Middle School will be complete by the first day of school. Fiber connectivity lines have been installed at Green Meadows School, Thornton Burgess Middle School and Wilbraham Middle School. The other district schools are also slated for installation.

Additionally, Committee Chair Sherrill Caruana said a technology helpline was being set up for families to call with technical difficulties. After providing basic information, a technician assigned to the student’s specific school will return the call.

This year, instead of receiving a physical packet with student schedules, supply lists, and bus assignments, Ganem said those documents were available through the parent portal on hwrsd.org. Parents should have received students’ schedules on Sept. 4, Mazza said. For help with the parent portal, parents and caregivers can contact the main office at each school.

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