Second grader Helen DeMaio working on an assignment from the comfort of her home. submitted photo

BETHEL — The outbreak of COVID-19 has forced everyone to make adjustments to their everyday lives. Perhaps one of the more challenging transitions has been for our local teachers, who are now practicing remote learning as a way to continue to educate area youth. With everything being online for the time being, teachers have explored new ways to keep their students focused during these trying times. Following are how some MSAD 44 teachers are dealing with the new setup.

“Teachers in our district have done an amazing job of transitioning to an online platform.  I have had close to full attendance at many of my Zoom sessions.  Families and students are working hard from home.  I am impressed with their dedication to working with teachers to support their child’s learning,” Second Grade Teacher at Crescent Park School, Alice Lee, said.

With keeping students focused a primary concern of many teachers, Lee starts off a “Zoom session” by allowing her students to talk with other friends through the app before class starts. Lee has used websites like BrainPOP Jr., Scholastic News, Mystery Doug and Go2Science as tools to help teach her class.

To see if her students have a strong grasp on the concept, students have been using Kahoot, an online learning site where students can take multiple choice quizzes. IXL is another learning platform students have used, which can teach students an array of subjects. Lee has also been using Flipgrid, which gives teachers the opportunity to set up online discussion boards with students.

“The only other thing you should know is that teachers are working around the clock to support their students and families,” Lee said. The teachers I have talked with are putting in more hours than ever to make this work. We are a dedicated and hard-working group of educators.  In addition, families are stepping up to the challenge of juggling things on the home front. Our community is amazing.”

Teacher and Librarian Kelley Fraser said one of the biggest challenges of working around the COVID-19 pandemic is that she has not been able to meet with her students in person, so they do not have an understanding of her expectations and routines.

Fraser never had the opportunity to meet with the new group of students before the new trimester started (school closed right before the start).

She noted that all of her students have checked in with her since the start of the trimester, though.

Fraser has provided free online resources for her students through the SAD 44 website, including databases, online non-fiction books, newspapers, and the Digital Download Library.

She has been using Google Classroom to reach her students, a service she has used in the past and has found to be helpful. Google Classroom allows Fraser to monitor all of her students’ work, and she can also do her grading there too.

She said it’s also been helpful to email her students and their parents. With the number of emails students receive increasing at a high rate due to the remote learning set up, Fraser is planning on teaching the students more about emailing and Gmail soon.

This week her students did a project on, which gives students the chance to learn more about computer science.

Last Wednesday, Fraser had a Zoom meeting with her students to see how they’re doing and to hear of any problems. Students have access to their teachers from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., except on Wednesdays when the schedule is a bit different to accommodate parent schedules, according to Fraser.

“My colleagues are doing a great job responding to the whole student and not just their academic needs. I am proud to be working with such an amazing bunch,” she said.

“There are so many levels to the impact of school closures (emotionally, technologically, meeting basic needs, finding best ways to collaborate with colleagues, contact with students and parents). The adjustment is ongoing and it’s pretty exhausting, quite frankly,” Dean of Telstar Middle School, Lindsay Luetje said. Luetje also teaches an eighth grade public speaking course.

The school is in its fourth week of distance learning.

“I think the biggest challenges that remote learning presents is that as teachers, we rely on the contact with our kids in order to drive our instruction. Being able to read their body language, respond to questions in real time and convey our enthusiasm for our subject areas and for their learning is nearly impossible to do remotely,” Luetje said.

Luetje explained that the other challenge is that remote learning has created a barrier between the bond teachers feel with students and other staff.

“This is the time of year when we should be capitalizing on our investments and when kids really start to turn corners, open up, show vulnerability and take risks. As a result of feeling so supported, we usually see impressive growth–light bulbs turn on, things start to click and kids share a real sense of change when they reflect about their learning,” Luetje said.

Perhaps another concern with remote learning has been student attendance. Luetje said that a “solid” 50 percent of students have been active participants in online classes, completing their work and making contact with their teachers on a weekly basis. Another 20 percent of students have been doing some of the work, and participating when they can. Luetje said the school has compiled a list of students who they have had trouble getting responses from. They have reached by phone, email and other forms of messaging, but have not gotten any answers.

“Myself and the our amazing staff of social workers and other support staff are double down our efforts with these families to first and foremost, make sure that their basic needs are met: food, safety, health,  as well as helping with wifi connectivity, and helping them makes sense of all the digital content,” Luetje said. “It’s all rather overwhelming and can be tricky to navigate, and that’s without having the stressors of loss of income, feeling isolated from friends and family. So we understand why it’s difficult for many students and families right now.”

“Our teachers are working so hard to meet the needs of their students. Everything we are doing truly has the best interest of kids in mind,” she added. “Whatever our students can work on and accomplish is something to be celebrated. We know that kids are in all different places right now (physically, mentally and emotionally). We want them to ask for help, and parents too, just give it their best shot.”


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