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Parents & Educators are Managing with Extended Period of Distance Learning

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Story by Sara Paul

     On the afternoon of Fri., Mar. 13, the Warwick Valley Central School District (WVCSD) closed its doors for on-site classroom instruction and extracurricular activities. As the District was following directives from Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus and paying close attention to the dangers stemming from the spread of the ongoing COVID-19 situation, most parents and teachers were confident that this was the best and most responsible option in response to a health pandemic.

     Week one was a bit scrambled, according to some parents, while week two offered a bit more structure. Now, well into this new system of teaching and learning, week three brings some interesting perspective into how exactly kids will receive a proper education in what has now become an extended period of distance learning, currently slated to end in mid-April. As of this week, the WVCSD will be covering new content through distance learning.

School District Steps Up

     Times are surely tough, and Warwick’s teachers and administrators are exploring new ways to teach in unchartered academic waters.  Instructors are doing everything they can to ensure their students are receiving assignments, feedback, support, and guidance during this unprecedented time.

     “The communication has been amazing! Both my children’s teachers respond within moments and check up multiple times throughout the day,” reports Lauren Christine, who has two children at Sanfordville Elementary School.

     Stefany Durland has her hands full with two children in Warwick High School and two in Park Ave. Elementary, along with a toddler, now all at home. Still, the Warwick mom is remaining positive and thankful for the guidance that Warwick teachers have continued to provide.

     “All my kids’ teachers have been very helpful, supportive and extremely flexible during this transition from public school to learning online. Aside from the fact that they had no idea where to begin, I know they do almost daily meetings behind the scenes to ensure these kids’ educational needs are met. We’re logging into multiple Google classrooms at any given time throughout the week… We have certainly taken for granted, really by no fault of our own, what wonderful and selfless people become teachers,” she commented.

     WVCSD Superintendent Dr. David Leach said he is proud of the commitment from his staff who have accomplished much in this trying and unexpected health crisis.

     “In a few days, our entire school district shifted to an at-home, distance learning model. Many of our faculty and staff supported our community in the delivery of meals, provided technology to students, attended online training, addressed the needs within our own families, and overcame many other issues that come with these challenging times,” stated Dr. Leach, assuring that the District was closely monitoring the coronavirus concerns and had started to plan for a potential closure several weeks ago.

Parents Coping With At-Home Focus

     While many folks are gracefully accepting their new role as full-time teacher, others admit that their resumes are ill-equipped for child education classes, not to mention the pressures of continuing with their own jobs.

     Warwick Middle School mom Maryann Houston was a bit troubled during the initial at-home instruction, but says studies at home have gotten easier with the addition of online interaction for school work as well as extra-curricular activities.

     “The at-home focus is a bit better since chorus and instrumental lessons, plus some teacher meetings came online, and we’ve been on my daughter more about the work… I’m the type who won’t get crazed unless the grades start slipping,” Houston said, admitting that, “It’s just a challenge because I’m not naturally focused and organized, and neither is my husband (and he’s still working), so hours will go by before I remember to check in on her progress. When I am sitting with her, it can be excruciating as I have to keep redirecting her, and we end up aggravated with each other. It’s like house breaking a puppy! But, sometimes, there will be an opening, when her resistance is low, and she’ll get on a roll.”

Children Who Benefit from Services

     Some parents who have children receiving hard-to-replicate on-site school services like Occupational Therapy (OT) and Physical Therapy (PT) are concerned about missing out on these important sessions.

     “With materials from my daughter’s teacher we are doing well. However, she is missing Speech Therapy, OT, PT and counseling. The New York State Board of Education has not granted teletherapy for these kids,” worries mom Christina Gerity.

     “During this time, I think people need to think of those children who need services and aren’t getting them. We are doing our best but this is very hard on the special needs community,” said Gerity, who said she received general suggestions, mass e-mails, and suggestions for websites that did not specifically pertain to her child’s needs.

     “We have taken it upon ourselves to find appropriate activities and curriculum to keep her learning,” she said.

     Dr. Leach explained, “We appreciate the concerns of parents and students, especially those who depend on the delivery of special education instruction, accommodations, supports and related services. We are committed to doing our best to address children’s needs remotely, but it is possible that not all typical school-based instruction and special education supports can be feasibly implemented through a distance learning model during the present COVID-19 health crisis.”

     “The District is committed to providing parents with a meaningful opportunity to communicate their concerns and participate in the on-going implementation of special education services and development of their children’s Section 504 plans or IEPs. Parents that have specific questions or concerns about their child’s special education program or related services are encouraged to contact the teacher or Ms. McGourty (Director of Student Services) via email to address their individual situation,” continued Dr. Leach.

Technology: More Necessary Than Ever

     In the coming weeks, parents, teachers and students will certainly be challenged to use technology in an intense and consistent way. Reactions to the sole reliance on computers and Chromebooks have varied.

     Pine Island resident Susan McCosker commented, “We miss our teacher, and she has given a fair schedule to keep them on track. I would love to see everyone on the same platforms with the same access. Some schools are doing live classes with Zoom. This way the kids get to see their teacher, their friends, and get a lesson.”

     Karen Heald Bess has children at Sanfordville and felt that one Chromebook was not adequate.

     “It was too difficult to share. We fell behind without having two. Also, I appreciate the teachers doing online meeting with the kids, but they need to be taught how to do school work from home and online etiquette. My second grader spends two hours a day with schooling, my fourth spend more than three hours,” Bess said.

     Dr. Leach reported that currently 750 WVCSD Chromebooks have been distributed for student use at home.

     The Superintendent acknowledges, “The Governor’s executive order calls for teachers to perform distance learning, and we all know that means the use of computers to deliver instruction. To address the goal of providing education to our students, District teachers will provide educational instruction and support using District-provided and supported platforms, email, and other district-provided technology to engage students with new learning and instructional material, beyond reviewing, reinforcing, and enriching instruction.”

     For more information on WVCSD plans, visit www.wvcsd.org.

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Warwick students, parents & teachers are adapting to the recent shift to solely online academic instruction in the wake of school closings due to the COVID-19 health crisis. Photo credit: Warwick Valley Dispatch/Sara Paul

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