Getting the hang of distance learning

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

PROSPECT — Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin last week offered a bit of clarity to what students can expect as the region forges ahead into the uncharted waters of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right now this is something we haven’t been faced with, the way we’re doing business in education,” said Yamin April 1 during a special meeting of the Region 16 Board of Education.

School districts across the state are closed through at least April 20, and possibly the rest of the 2019-20 school year, and offering distance-learning programs for students online.

Yamin said capstone projects and community service hours required for Woodland Regional High School seniors to graduate are waived this year.

There will be no final exams if schools are closed the rest of the year, he said, and officials are developing a modified grading formula to assess work done through distance learning.

Yamin said the region will suspend distance learning, and its meals program, starting Friday for April vacation. The programs will start again April 20.

“We think it’s going to be a well-needed break for everyone,” he said.

Almost a month has passed since Region 16 implemented distance learning, and it’s still a work in progress.

“We’re anything but perfect, and every day is a new challenge we’re working through,” Yamin said.

Yamin said officials developed a modified block schedule for middle and high school students. The modified schedule drops the number of periods a day for middle school students from seven to four.

Madison Lisowski, a senior and Woodland student body president, said distance-learning was a major adjustment at first, but students and teachers got the hang of it after a few weeks.

“All of the teachers have been extremely understanding to the circumstances and are making sure that you are all caught up on the curriculum,” she said.

Lisowski said a typical school day for her now is three or four hours in conferences or doing classwork, but the amount of work varies per grade level.

Madelyn Vallillo, president of Woodland’s Class of 2020, said teachers have been doing a great job of adjusting learning plans and scheduling weekly conferences to talk about schoolwork or just catch up.

“These are personally the most helpful for me as it simulates the idea of class time, but regardless of the fact that hearing and seeing familiar voices and faces is nice, it still can’t compare to real human interaction. I miss my friends, teachers and all the little things that make high school worthwhile,” Vallillo said.

Lisowski said the only major flaw she sees in the program is the difficulty to prevent potential cheating, and that students may not be putting in the work to actually learn the material.

Vallillo and Lisowski both said they and their classmates are concerned about what will happen with senior activities like prom and graduation.

“I wish I knew when we were coming back to school,” Lisowski said. “As a senior who doesn’t want to miss out on the things that typical seniors partake in, it is a little upsetting to me and hard to not be disappointed about, however, I do feel much worse for those being affected by this virus.”

The Board of Education last week set the last day of school and Woodland’s graduation ceremony for June 12. Regardless of if schools reopen, the school year will end June 12. Whether graduation will be held depends on the status of the pandemic.

Yamin said the region can hold graduation up until Aug. 14 and will support a prom or another celebration for seniors over the summer, if the event can’t be held sooner.

Lisowski said class officers are working to find alternatives if events are canceled.

“We have to take it day by day, week by week which is extremely hard when venues need to plan, students need to rent tuxedos or dresses, and parents need to contact family members who plan to fly out for graduation ceremonies,” Vallillo said.

“The one good outcome from this virus though, is our community being brought together to recover what seniors might lose,” she continued. “Seeing parents and students swoop in to plan proms, graduations and so on with their own time and money simply because they care means a lot. It’s a good silver lining to all of this madness.”