You're not so far away

Warwick. District’s administrators, teachers and students taking the next step in distance learning.

19 May 2020 | 01:41

Although they cannot be together in their classrooms, students and teachers are continuing to work through lessons, manage homework assignments and get together for virtual office hours through Google Classroom and Google Meet and other district-approved digital platforms.

“Everyone in the Warwick Valley School District understands how important it is to serve our students by maintaining our commitment to delivering excellence in education during this unique and challenging time,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Leach. “From our principals and teachers to our students and parents, I am glad to report that our efforts so far have been smoothly implemented and are proving to be very effective.”

Many teachers have also provided email and even personal phone access for their students.

Read-aloud sessions and group lunch times

“Teachers are contacting their students at least twice a week,” said Sanfordville Elementary School Principal Johnna Maraia. “They’re doing read-aloud sessions and even group lunchtimes and learning games on Fridays.”

The district approach to education is to target students’ individual needs.

“That’s our approach when we’re in our school buildings and our teachers are upholding that remotely,” said Park Avenue Elementary School Principal Bill Biniaris. “Each grade level meets with me twice a week to review the previous week and strategize for the week ahead.”

Biniaris points to the balance of live and recorded sessions as a big part of the program’s success. With teachers hosting, recording and then posting multiple lessons per week, families that may have unusual or challenging circumstances can access the content any time that suits them.

The value of video

“It is a big thing with distance learning – everyone's schedules are different and we have to accommodate that,” said Park Avenue third-grade teacher Diane Kilbride. “That’s where the video component is so helpful. For students who are unable to interact with us in real-time, the lessons are there for them to work on at any time.”

Online lessons began using Google Classroom and other resources the students had previously used in the classroom; new technology has been introduced at a manageable pace.

“Part of the beauty of Google Classroom is that you can see what your students are doing,” said Kilbride. “If they’re not getting something, not understanding a particular skill, inviting them to a Google Meet or reaching out another way to help them can limit a lot of frustration on their part.”

Park Avenue parent Christine Retcho said she felt the challenges of distance learning at first, but that she and her daughters got their routine down quickly.

“The teachers have been amazing and super helpful,” said Mrs. Retcho. “Mrs. Kilbride even called the house to help Riley out one-on-one with math. That’s how everyone in the district has been.”

Ryliegh Retcho, whose favorite subject is ELA, agrees.

“Mrs. Kilbride is doing amazing,” said the third-grade student. “We're doing poetry right now, so I submit my poem online and then get directions back – I had to make mine more descriptive. We're also doing a read-aloud of The Wild Robot Escapes and the whole class loves it.”

Team teaching

Teachers in team teaching situations, such as Middle School fifth-grade teacher Diana Piascik and Janine Mitchell, divide their classwork by subject.

“I teach ELA and social studies and Ms. Mitchell does math and science,” said Piascik. “We take turns posting assignments according to the district's distance learning plan and try to be as responsive to parents as possible.”

Piascik is one of many teachers who sends her parents a weekly communication – hers goes out on Sunday nights – to let them know what to expect for the coming week. Teachers are also having success reviewing Google Sheets in real-time with students and their parents.

“We've posted video tutorials for everybody,” said Piascik. “The technology curve has been a learning experience for all of us – teachers, students, and parents.”

Nicholas Vicchiaro, a student in Piascik’s class, finds the video component of distance learning to be helpful. Nicholas attends Google Meets with groups of students from his classroom – four students on one day and a different four on another day, – so the class can talk about what they’ve been learning and walk through lessons and specific problems.

Teachers and administrators have been impressed with the measure of responsibility being shown by students to stay engaged and up to date with their work.

“These are young people truly rising to the occasion," Kilbride said.

Parent Guide to Distance Learning

As distance learning continues, the district’s Parent Guide to Distance Learning Plan will be updated. The district’s official source for best practices on day-to-day academics also provides information for coping with the emotional and mental strain of the current stay-at-home order.

Students, however, miss their friends.

“I miss playing sports with my friends, and just eating lunch with them,” said Nicholas Vicchiaro, who true to the Warwick spirit of teamwork, added, “But, the Google Meets are fun!”