“I don’t think any of us have ever experienced anything quite like this before,” Bonesteel said. “It’s a significant change for all of us: students, parents, guardians, and families, as well as our educators and administrators.”
Until April 13, schools were in a “maintenance of learning” phase as Bonesteel and her staff designed new, remote learning plans.
“My initial directive to my staff was to provide opportunities to maintain learning,” Bonesteel said. “Some teachers had students review prior skills and prior work.”
For some students, that meant focusing on mastering grade-level requirements, Bonesteel said.
“For example, multiplication fluency is a third-grade math standard, and that’s something kids can easily practice at home through computer games and card games and things like that,” she explained. “So our teachers provided resources to parents as to how they could practice that fluency.”
After April 13, schools moved into a “continuity of learning” plan developed by teachers and administrators with guidance from the Agency of Education.
“The Agency let us know what needed to be included in the class, so our teachers worked off that plan and submitted it on April 8,” Bonesteel said. “The Agency reviewed our plan and gave us the thumbs up that we were ready to go, so we’re moving forward with that now.”
To access the lesson plan online, students can visit the school website mrpsvt.org and click on “Visit the Remote Learning Website.” There, students can click on their school to open a grade-appropriate lesson plan.
Bonesteel said her biggest concern right now is finding ways to effectively communicate with students and their families—particularly those without internet access.
“We’re in a much better place than many of my superintendent colleagues across the district, where 30 to 40 percent of their kids don’t have internet access,” Bonesteel said. “But some of our families philosophically disagree with having internet in the home. And then we have a few kids who simply don’t have access to it in any way because of where they live, or the lack of broadband access in Vermont.”
Bonesteel is aware of which students are without internet service, and uses other methods to provide them with the necessary lesson plans and worksheets.
“I have a list of names,” she said. “But thankfully there’s not too many.”
Another challenge, Bonesteel said, is the lack of daily contact with students who rely on their teachers for support and encouragement in ways difficult to replicate online.
“Relationships are what education is really all about,” Bonesteel continued. “We have to figure out how to maintain and reform these relationships when we can’t see kids every day to put our arm around them and give them high fives and that sort of thing.”
But along with the drawbacks of remote learning, Bonesteel said teachers have discovered some unexpected benefits they hope to maintain even after classrooms reopen.
“Some of our teachers are coming up with some amazingly creative ideas that I certainly don’t want to lose once we get back to more traditional schooling,” she said. “We are seeing some opportunities to develop modules of learning for engaging kids who may have been disengaged before school was closed.”
One teacher is using a gaming platform for students to collaboratively build cities to learn, and then write about, ancient Greece, Bonesteel explained.
“The teacher found that through the gaming platform, he can successfully engage students he tried to engage in the classroom without much success,” she said. “We’re just constantly looking for ways to engage kids in learning right now.”
Also on the school’s website is a “District COVID-19 Page” with information on food service, special education, childcare, health and wellness, and more.
“We started working on our COVID-19 page on March 2, and we had our website up within a week from when we thought this (virus) might be bigger than just ‘wash your hands,’” Bonesteel said. “Our COVID page is a hub for all the information we’ve sent home and all the resources we’ve provided so far. And any time anything new comes up that’s where we put it. So we really try to drive our communities to that page.”
While students may not sit in a classroom again until September, Bonesteel is committed to making sure no one feels left behind.
“Everybody has a bit higher stress level or is understandably a bit anxious and nervous about what is in store,” Bonesteel said. “But we want our students and families to know that we are here for them, and we remain committed to doing the best job we possibly can to meet their educational needs.”