BLOOMFIELD, NJ — For at least the next two weeks, Bloomfield School District teachers and students have embarked on an educational journey that thrusts remote learning into everyday education. Because of the coronavirus threat, Bloomfield schools will be closed until March 30, with classrooms being replaced by internet connections between teachers and students.
“These are extraordinary times,” said Kelley Krick, the Watsessing Elementary School media specialist on Monday afternoon, March 16, as a group of teachers in the media room initiated preliminary computer contact with students.
Monday was the last day for teachers to be at the school, preparing lesson plans and working alongside colleagues accessing computer platforms. The last day for students was Friday, March 13. Homework was sent home with them.
Bloomfield elementary school teachers will be required to make themselves available to students for four hours a day, and they may also have students connect with them at a specific time. Kindergarten through the second-grade students can use emails or their teacher’s website. Third- through sixth-graders can also use these points of contact, plus Google Classroom, which allows teacher and student to see each other.
“We have a number of tools we can push out,” Krick said. “We don’t encourage the lower grades to go into emails, but now we’ll have to start changing that. This is a paradigm shift for everyone. For the third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, we’ve been slowly increasing the use of Google Classroom. Middle school students are comfortable with this, and we know our kids need face-to-face interaction.”
Krick has some concerns. A classroom provides a young student with consistency, she said, something remote learning may not. Also, with children working from home, a parent’s routine may be interrupted. As the media specialist/librarian, Krick teaches computer technology, and Watsessing students have practiced remote learning.
“We all have to be patient with everyone at this time,” she said. “That’s easier said than done. It’s a learning process, and we have to be flexible. I think the district has sent out a great plan. We have to adapt for as long as it takes.”
In a fourth-grade classroom, teachers Barbara Nazzaretto, Monika Martin and inclusionist Lisa Cavanaugh sat at a table, looking into laptop monitors. They had on Google Classroom.
“We worked it out with the students last week, how to do the math workbook online,” Martin said.
One student, she said, wrote to say that typing on the keyboard made their hand tired. Martin wrote back instructing them to use the mouse instead. Passwords to access teacher accounts could not be sent via the internet, so students were given these on Friday.
Martin’s concern was that a student may not connect with their teacher, or an older sibling might monopolize the computer. Nazzaretto expressed concern with losing a normal teacher/student interaction.
“When you take teachers out of the equation, students are left to their own devices,” she said.
Some students, she said, are not as resourceful as others.
Martin concurred. “We’re hoping the quality of work meets our standards,” she said.
But overall, the three teachers were excited about remote teaching.
“Colleges do this,” Nazzaretto said. “It’s a good experience.”
Principal Gina Rosamilia said students are involved in remote learning because it was novel. But if a student did not go online, the school will do its best to correct that, whether it means making a phone call or sending an email. Of the 300 Watsessing students, only about 20 did not have access to a computer at home. The district is providing those students with laptops and a Wi-Fi device.
“If a parent doesn’t come to pick up the equipment, we’ll do our best,” she said. “All equipment has to be signed out.”
The district, Rosamilia said, has come up with a comprehensive plan in this crisis.
“I’m just concerned about parents and children being well,” she said. “That everyone stays safe. I’ll check the websites and be available.”
Photos by Daniel Jackovino