On March 12, all Wellesley public schools were closed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in local COVID-19 cases. Since the closing of non-essential businesses and schools, Superintendent David Lussier, his administrative team, building leaders, and teachers have worked to create an online learning program, commonly referred to as Remote Learning 2.0, that provides all students with academic enrichment from the safety of their homes.
This plan debuted on April 7, a date which was originally meant for a return to school, before both local and worldwide cases of COVID-19 increased.
Remote learning 2.0 at the high school relies on students’ ability to access programs like Canvas and Google Classroom, where teachers post weekly assignments and schedule face-to-face Zoom calls to teach live lessons.
“Right now our ability to participate is dependent on our access to technology, and that makes me wonder how people who don’t have access to updated technology or internet connection are dealing with this situation,” said high school student Megan Lester ’22. “Sometimes I can’t connect to the internet or my microphone won’t work, and I can’t control that, but that means that I can’t participate in my class that day which puts me at a disadvantage.”
Dr. Jamie Chisum, the principal of the high school, said that during the creation of Remote Learning 2.0, educators struggled with how to provide extra support for students who have difficulties with time management, need extra help in their classes, or have limited access to the internet, all while abiding by equity laws.
“The issues of equity are challenging by the very fact that they exist. Not everyone has strong internet connectivity. Not everyone has a parent at home during the day, so high schoolers have to watch younger siblings. Some students had to pick up hours at work to help out because parents lost jobs,” said Chisum.
Chisum said that the most important thing to consider during this pandemic is the welfare of students and their families, hence the decision to change the grade weighting of each term. The first two terms both count for 36 percent of students’ final grades, while term three counts for 18 percent, and term four is only 10 percent and is being graded as pass-fail.
“At the end of this, I’ll say the hardest thing of all was remembering that there are simply people who are sick and there are families who are scared for their loved ones and even themselves. It was never lost on us that some families were dealing with loss and that has to take precedence over whatever the remote learning plan was,” said Chisum.
Teachers are working hard to provide office hours and extended availability to any student who needs one-on-one attention in order to be successful, said high school Spanish teacher Señora Kimberly Kaufman.
Teachers are also doing their best to hold students accountable for completing assigned work. Kaufman said that it is essential for students to continue with the curriculum in order to maintain brain development and be prepared to build off of the material they learn next year.
According to Kaufman, in a time where students and teachers are separated and students don’t have as much opportunity to ask clarifying questions during class, it is important for students to avoid using the internet to look up answers for assignments.
“I think it’s really hard to ask students to do any interpretive activities or formal writing. It’s so easy for them to rely on Google translate. Even spell check, which is automatically programmed into most computers, makes it hard to identify what a student can really do on their own, and what they’re struggling with,” said Kaufman.
Kaufman said that teachers need authentic student work in order to ensure that their students are understanding new material and are benefitting from the structure of their remote learning plan. Otherwise, teachers need to be able to identify that this structure is not working in order to change it for the benefit of their students.
“It is very difficult to show connections to previously learned material while teaching the new material. That is easily done in classroom discussions, but almost impossible through online learning. The constant feedback in both directions between teacher and student during the learning process is cut off during online learning. In the classroom, I can see all of my students and know, even if nobody asks, if there are still questions. I cannot see that during the online learning process,” said high school chemistry teacher Sylvia Kaczmarek.
Another thing students are missing during this transition to online learning is the relationship between students and teachers.
“As much as I say that I hate school and I hate waking up early, I miss my teachers and the satisfaction of learning something new every day. With this new learning structure, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for me to interact with my teachers and get clarity on certain topics, which makes school less productive. I’m less motivated to wake up every day and open my laptop when I could easily just skip,” said Georgia Lasch ’22.
Similarly, Kaczmarek said that she struggles to engage her students and communicate her passion for teaching them.
“It is very difficult for me to convey my enthusiasm through online learning. It is much easier done in person. Online learning by yourself is for most people not as much fun as learning in a group setting. It is more difficult to be motivated, especially during a pandemic,” said Kaczmarek.
However, although remote learning does not live up to real school for many students and teachers, Kaczmarek said that this is a new experience for everyone involved, and all anyone can do is be patient, learn what works and what doesn’t, and modify the remote learning plan accordingly.
The community should take this newfound freedom to focus on what is really important in life, like family and self-care. This is not a time for academic rigor, whereas it is an opportunity for the high school community to step up for one another and to be there for each other during a difficult time.
“In making the plan we learned we needed to be generous with all the people affected by the plan because they weren’t any more ready for this sudden shift than we were. What we can learn from the situation is what matters the most. We should learn to stay connected to what is really important in life,” said Chisum.
To learn more about Remote Learning 2.0 click this link to the Wellesley Public Schools website.