Reflecting on First Week of Distance Learning

The Westfield Public School District began remote learning on Tues, March 17 with the district’s superintendent calling the response by the entire school community “inspiring.”

“In the past week, I have heard from parents who shared the many positive ways their families are adjusting to distance learning.  I have witnessed virtual staff meetings, webinars, and other online get-togethers by our administrators, supervisors, and teachers seeking to further educate themselves about the best way to reach our students in this remote environment,” said Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan at a public meeting of the Westfield Board of Education on March 24, which was held remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Our technology team and master technology teachers have provided virtual resources to our educators and valuable assistance to the entire school community,” Dolan added.  “I also thank each one of our custodial, maintenance, and support staff members for their tireless efforts to lend a hand in this uncertain time.”

At the elementary level, the remote plan blends learning opportunities across math, English, science, social studies, and special subjects including music, art, library and physical education.

“I think remote learning is off to a good start at the elementary level this past week,” says Dr. Andrew Perry, principal of Washington School.  “Many of the skills that teachers are using are new and challenging, however, and they are doing it while juggling their own families at home.”

Perry adds that teachers have been “alternatively excited and exhausted.” 

“They are figuring out new ways to manage their instruction while answering student questions during live video chats and responding to parent emails,” he says,

The district’s youngest learners started off with traditional paper/pencil assignments with teacher plans to supplement with online and interactive learning.

“Lincoln School families and teachers are working together to provide fun and educational learning experiences for our pre K and kindergarten students,” says Lincoln principal Audrey Zavetz who, along with other elementary principals, records a morning announcement for students and parents each day.  “These experiences are beautifully evolving as everyone works together to make them meaningful for our young learners.”

Intermediate and high school students receive engaging learning experiences aligned to curricular expectations and are standards-based to maintain a continuity of learning and instruction.  Students are able to access assignments, instructional resources, and videos through teacher websites and/or Google Classroom.  Teachers are available on a modified schedule based on existing class periods for questions, support, or implementing online resources.

Edison Intermediate School principal Dr. Matthew Bolton says teachers are working diligently to find an appropriate balance between assigning and instructing.

“Through the use of various online interactive platforms, many of our teachers have found creative ways to interact with students,” Bolton says.  “An 8th grade language arts teacher just conducted a shared reading of an Act within Romeo and Juliet, while one of our art teachers conducts regular live demonstrations of art projects so that the students can following along.” 

Westfield High School principal Mary Asfendis adds:  “Fortunately, our staff has been using many different online tools for a number of years and both teachers and students were comfortable using platforms like Google classroom to organize instruction.  I think the biggest challenge for our school was that we had prepared and started to plan, yet the situation escalated so quickly that we did not have in-person training/planning sessions.  However, our teachers met that challenge by modeling distance learning and were able to learn additional tools remotely.”

Asfendis says she is thankful for “the flexibility of the students, parents and staff as we are working through this new approach to instruction.”

“As we proceed, we are seeing how important communication is for the success of our students,” she adds.  “As a staff, we have regular virtual meetings to see that we are on the same page and we encourage students and families to regularly check websites and reach out to teachers, counselors, and administration with any questions.”

“Remote learning is no small task,” says Dolan.  “We will all learn and grow.  I am impressed by the fortitude of our entire community and I am confident that we will eventually emerge from this public health crisis stronger than before.”

Source: Westfield Public Schools