November 28, 2021

Teachers, parents and schools adapt during coronavirus closure

Learning as they go

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

Taryn (left), Andrew and Genevieve Femino walk home Thursday morning after picking up free meals for the kids at Randall Middle School. Taryn Femino said she is optimistic about the school district’s distance learning program, which will begin Monday.

Dryden science teacher Eric Reisweber began cleaning his classroom Friday, removing items off surfaces and storing them away. His students took notice.

“They were kind of like, ‘what are you doing? It looks like were going for summer break,’” he said.

But it wasn’t break. Rather, he was putting away items so that surfaces would be better cleaned when Dryden School District disinfected and sanitized.

Dryden School District, like every other one in the greater Cortland County area, shut down and developed education-from-home strategies to teach kids to help try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“I feel like ever since Wednesday (March 11) we haven’t talked about it in class,” he said. “We’ve been bombarded with questions and it dominates conversations.”

It’s a learning curve for everyone.

Teachers must find new ways of educating their students. Students must adapt to a new way of learning. Schools must find a way to continue feeding kids. Parents must cope with helping their kids learn at home, while possibly also working from home themselves.

Education in the United States has changed and while school districts like Dryden are hoping it’s only for a few weeks, no one knows if that will actually be the case. So everyone is taking it day by day and learning as they go, Reisweber said.

Educational websites

Breakout Edu — students from Kindergarten through 12th grade can learn about various topics like math or science

Circletime — kids up to age 6 can watch sing-alongs, learn beginner yoga and participate in storytime

CK-12 Foundation — students of all ages can watch videos and answer review questions related to math, science and reading

Minecraft: Education Edition — doesn’t specify particular age groups, but teaches things like problem-solving and collaboration

NASA Kid’s Club — for kids in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, teaches kids about NASA’s various missions using educational games

National Geographic Kids — kids of all ages can watch videos, play games and participate in other activities related to wildlife

Nearpod — kids in kindergarten through 12th grade can take various classes on a range of subjects

PBS Learning Media — Kids pre-kindergarten and up can learn about topics like math, science and language arts

Scholastic “Learn at home” program — Pre-kindergarten students through ninth grade students can get daily projects to work on

The Weather Channel — kids of all ages can watch science-based videos

Educating students

Reisweber teaches 10th-grade Earth science and 11th- and 12th-grade environmental science for Dryden School District. The change to the online format for at least the next three weeks isn’t new for all of his students, but it still makes learning a little bit more complicated.

“These kids didn’t sign up for an online class,” Reisweber said. “I did all of my master’s credits and classes online because that was the ease I wanted to work in. That’s what I signed up for and I knew that and I had access to technology to be able to do it. These kids didn’t necessarily do that, so to have to approach it through the online lens it’s difficult because I think they would rather have the human interaction and be in their labs groups working with their lab partners. That hands-on aspect, that’s what science is.”

Reisweber said his environmental sciences classes have pretty much gone paperless — using Google Classroom to get everything done, so the change there wasn’t as hard.

“It’s been nice because it wasn’t this burden thrown on us in the 11th hour,” he said “It was more or less this is business as usual just without us being together in the classroom and me being the one leading it in either lecture form or lab form.”

In Groton second grade teacher Tanya Winney said “a packet for reading/writing and one for math was sent home with each student.”

However, there are still setbacks.

The lack of high speed broadband in rural sections of town has been a problem in Dryden. The school needed to offer the coursework to kids in both an online and paper form after considering how many students may have access to laptops and the internet.

It’s a similar situation in Groton, where Winney said some students were given USB drives if they didn’t have Wi-Fi access to use their laptops.

Reisweber said his earth science class won’t be able to do labs at the school. Instead, a colleague of Reisweber’s created a lab that could be done anywhere.

“He developed a lab where they could go to the creek or a stream, whatever is nearby, and they would talk about the erosion and deposition that they are seeing, shapes of the sediments and sizes of the sediments, stuff that we covered in class before, but applying it to their backyard,” he said.

The students are also doing a weather lab where they must keep track of the weather each day and then develop a weather station model.

“The goal is to keep every kid learning,” said Randall Middle School Principal Jordan Ashley. “You can’t substitute for inperson learning, but we’re doing the best that we can.”

Randall students will also have the option of choosing a paper-and-book distance learning method; materials can be picked up Monday. Ashley said he did not anticipate that many parents would choose this method.

Some area parents said they are preparing for Monday’s big switch.

Taryn Femino, mother of two children in the Cortland Enlarged City School District, said she did not anticipate her daughter Genevieve, 13, an eighth grader at Cortland Junior High School, having problems with distance learning. But her son Andrew, 10, a fifth-grader at Randall Middle School, might require a little more supervision, she said.

Normally Femino works in the office for Paradigm Properties, but since she’s now working from home, she’ll be able to monitor her children as they participate in their distance learning lessons. Femino said Genevieve’s teachers have been doing a good job keeping them informed about the switch.

“So far, so good,” Femino said.

Genevieve said she found distance learning “confusing and weird.”

“It’s weird not having to get up every day to get ready,” she said.

Jessica Bischoff, mother of Grayson South, 8, a second grader at F.S. Barry Primary School in Cortland, said she was a bit apprehensive about distance learning — and how long it might last.

“We don’t know a specific duration,” she said. “No one’s ever seen this happen before, so I think it just makes everyone nervous in general. But I hope for the best.”

Bischoff said that she would be at home to monitor her child. But not every parent will be able to do that.

Teachers, however, will be checking in with parents by phone and email to make sure that students are keeping up with their distance learning lessons.

Students, teachers and parents are working to get through the next few weeks and they are leaning on each other for insight, Reisweber said.

“I have colleagues that we will still communicate with and we’re bouncing ideas off of one another, so that’s been helpful in kind of grounding me,” Reisweber said. “They’re in the same boat I am, which is good to know that you’re not alone in this.”

That will become increasingly important if school districts have to continue being closed longer than a few weeks, Reisweber said.

He said they provided students material for three weeks. That material wasn’t on new topics either.

“We were told to cover about three weeks’ worth of content that was supplemental/review from topics we’ve already covered,” he said.

However, he said if conversations begin to float toward educating students for more than three weeks, then he will have to plan out how he will do that.

Winney said they planned for one week and will continue coming up with educational material as time progresses until they are back in the schools.

Reisweber said teachers were also given a list of 10 to 11 students from their homeroom that they must contact twice a week to check in on and the teachers must keep a log of that contact.

“We kind of just check in with them and make sure they have everything they need, ask them questions about how school work is going, what questions they may have, whether they are communicating with their teachers,” he said.

Winney said Groton School District is doing something similar using Google Meet with a rotation of teachers.

The Groton School District also uses the Remind app, which allows teachers and parents to stay in contact.

It’s about ensuring the kids get their work done in order to get the education they need. “We’re going to do whatever we can to keep the kids accountable and make sure they are doing whatever they have to do,” Ashley said.

Reisweber said it’s important parents remember that they’re not in it alone.

He said parents should make sure their child is staying in contact with their teacher about work, especially if they are having problems He also said parents can supplement some of the work with other educational material if they feel their child needs to be challenged more or maybe is struggling with a particular subject.

“Every parent is going to approach this differently,” Reisweber said. “I think it’s going to be just as overwhelming for them as it is going to be for their child or for us, so just realizing that this is our first approach at this and we are going to learn along with them what works, what doesn’t and hopefully we’ll be able to adapt together to meet their needs.”