Remote learning not ideal, but beats none 

BAR HARBOR — Remote learning during the coronavirus shutdown is far from ideal for students or teachers, but educators say it’s much better than no structured or guided learning at all. 

“This is not online learning like you would have with a virtual high school or if you took college courses online,” said Julie Meltzer, the Mount Desert Island Regional School System’s director of curriculum, assessment and instruction. 

“We’re not trying to replicate the school day because that would mean a kid sitting in front of a screen for too many hours. We’re trying to provide educational activities and promote kids’ connection to classmates and to school. We’re trying to engage kids so they’re learning and growing and at least maintaining skills.” 

Meltzer said one goal of remote learning is to help compensate for the sudden loss of structure and routine that students have in school. For example, students in grades K-4 take part in a virtual morning circle, followed by a half-hour of reading aloud. 

“That helps the kids feel like they are part of a community, and they are getting some literacy and language and getting to see their teacher,” Meltzer said. 

Teachers also have web pages on which they list activities their students “must do” and some they “may do.” 

For grades 5-8, there are two one-hour academic periods a day. Outside of those times, students can choose from activity options provided by art, music, physical education and world language teachers. 

High school students have 90 minutes of “class time” a day. The rest of the time they can study on their ownwork on papers or projects or “meet” with their teachers individually. 

Teachers stressed 

“It’s important to realize that some teachers are doing this with their own babies or other children at home,” Meltzer said. “They are trying to take care of their children and oversee their remote learning while also teaching their students.” 

She said the preparation required for teaching remotely can take two or three times as long as usual. 

When kids are physically in school, they can choose to engage or disengage 

“But when they are remote, it’s even harder to engage,” Meltzer said. “So far, we’ve been getting pretty good engagement. The way we are approaching it seems to be working for a lot of kids, but not for all kids. 

No testing 

“Teachers are trying to give kids a lot of feedback, but we’re not doing a lot of assessing,” Meltzer said.  

A big reason for that, she said, is that the playing field for remote learning isn’t level. 

“No matter how hard we try, we know this is inequitable because some students don’t have good places to work or the same quality of internet connection,” she said. “Some kids are taking care of their younger siblings. Some parents are working, and some are not. There’s a lot of stress on some families right now. 

“So, it wouldn’t be fair to think students were being assessed under anything like the same conditions. Also, we don’t know how much help a student is getting with anything. 

Grade progression 

If students are in fifth grade now, will they be in sixth grade when schools reopen, presumably in the fall? 

The simple answer for most students is yes. 

“Unless a discussion about a different placement happened before we went out of school in March, we’re assuming you’re going to be with your peers because we think that’s really critical,” Meltzer said. “However, we know there are going to be gaps, and we may need to think about delivering instruction differently in the fall.” 

She noted that in some schools, there were already some combined classes – fifth and sixth grade, for example. 

We may be doing more blending or providing more support where it seems a class might need that,” she said. 

Praise for principals 

Meltzer said the local school principals should be considered among the heroes of the response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“They have been unbelievable,” she said. “I don’t think anybody understands what it’s like to all of a sudden be feeding families, communicating with families, securing buildings, reassuring all of your staff, having all these virtual meetings with teachers and trying to figure out how to do everything.” 

So, for principals, as well as for teachers, Meltzer said, spring vacation week has come just in time. 

“They really need a breakThey are really, seriously tired. 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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