With New Hampshire schools now closed, teachers are facing an unprecedented challenge: how to teach their students remotely for at least three weeks. Schools are figuring out how to get meals and computers to students in need, and teachers are trying to figure out how to keep students engaged while isolated at home. NHPR’s Sarah Gibson has more.
As Governor Sununu announced public school closures Sunday in response to COVID-19, fourth-grade teachers Martha Dalrymple and Sue Laskowsky were in their classrooms at Deerfield Community School, sorting through piles of books and packets to send home to their students for remote learning this week.
Like many districts, SAU 53 had instructed teachers Friday to prepare for remote learning imminently, even before the emergency order.
“It won’t really be real until we start doing it and see what we have to tweak,” Laskowsky says, sitting amongst a pile of directions for science experiments and social studies lessons.
The N.H. Department of Education says there are a lot of ways remote learning can happen. Some schools will teach mostly online; others will send out paper assignments like the ones from this classroom.
Laskowsky and Dalrymple are both planning a hybrid - computer and paper - because they say digital-only doesn’t work for fourth graders.
“There are a fair amount of my kids who I really don’t want on a computer all day,” says Laskowsky. “That is what they do in their spare time so I was really adamant: I need to put together paper and pencil things, readings, and books.”
How to get them those materials is one of the many questions Deerfield Community School is figuring out in meetings Monday. Laskowsky says she’ll drop them off at students’ homes if need be.
Teachers across the state are also wrestling with how to give kids a sense of continuity in a time of upheaval.
Dalrymple plans to send videos of herself reading aloud "Matilda," by Roald Dahl, with all the accents and voices.
“I think that would be a good way for my face and my personality and tone to be still be present, that they can still look to and enjoy,” she says.
Dalrymple and Laskowsky are also taking advantage of free platforms like Mystery Science to get students interactive online classes that meet New Hampshire standards.
This remote learning experiment relies largely on adult supervision, especially for young kids. In his emergency order, Sununu says parents who miss work to care for their children will be eligible for state unemployment benefits.
But Dalrymple says some of her students’ families can’t leave their jobs.
“One family comes to mind. They have four kids. Mom is a nurse. Dad is a police officer in Manchester,” she says.
“They have to work!” chimes in Laskowsky.
“They’re the personnel that we need, you know?” says Dalrymple.
With so many questions still up in the air, teachers say these next few days of planning are critical.
When individual districts announced closures last Friday before the emergency order, some had built in a transition time to help students and teachers prep for remote learning together this week.
This was Kristy Cardin’s plan. She teaches second-graders in Londonderry. But yesterday, after the emergency order, she learned the kids aren’t coming back.
“Now I think I’m even more stressed just because we have no access to the kids except through the Internet,” she says.
That means no one-on-one, no helping second-grade students learn in person how to use a tablet or log into Google classroom. Cardin spent all day on the phone brainstorming with her colleagues, communicating with administration and answering questions from worried parents.
“Yesterday was the first time my battery has ever died on my phone because I can’t keep it charged,” she said. “Everybody is in a panic state, trying to get education across and get our job done and help families.”
And, like so many other teachers, when Cardin starts teaching from home, she’ll also be parenting. Her two sons, 9 and 13, will be learning remotely and need supervision. She says she has strict schedules - for them and her second graders - to take recess.
“I do a lot of movement breaks in my classroom and that’s incorporated into what I’ll be sending home: Go out, have recess, give mom and dad a break.”
But Cardin and many other teachers worry some students - especially those who rely on hands-on help for special needs - will fall behind. The state says during the closure, it may bring small groups of students with Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) back to school to get their special education services.
Cardin says the Londonderry School District is communicating well and doing its best in these extraordinary circumstances, but remote learning is far from ideal.
“Moving forward to next year, what is that going to look like for all of kids missing instruction?” she asks. “You can give instruction via the Internet but it’s not the same as face to face.”
And face to face may be a long way off. As of now, schools are closed for just three weeks, but some are preparing for it to last longer.