BY EMMETT GARTNER | COMMUNITY NEWS SERVICE | APRIL 15, 2020
Although Vermont PreK-12 schools are closed for the remainder of the school year, students across the state have shifted to learning at home as part of the effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Gov. Phil Scott issued the closure order on March 26 and teachers, students and families have since established new routines around the state and in the Champlain Valley School District. While adapting to the new learning environment, they have not let distance diminish their presence in one another’s lives.
“Most operations have moved completely online,” said Champlain Valley Union High School Principal Adam Bunting. “We have remote schedules, remote learning, remote daily announcements…but the remote relationships are still strong!”
In addition to remote learning, school districts around the state are offering food programs to provide nutritional support to families with school-age children.
Since mid-March, the Champlain Valley district has been providing free meals to anyone age 18 and younger who resides in Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne, St George or Williston.
Meals are prepared and packed for distribution at schools in each community on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Families may pick up two breakfast meals and two lunches per child on each distribution day. Details on how to sign up for the program are on the district website cvsdvt.org under the CVSD Foodservice heading.
Building on Bunting’s spirit of staying strong under these unusual and challenging circumstances, the school district launched a video series called “#CVSDStrong” that is posted on the district’s website and social media channels. Each installment is created by combining clips that students record at home and submit.
In the first video, Megan Roy, acting superintendent for CVSD, starts with a message of solace for students: “We will miss you, but we’re here, and we will get through this.” Since then, five additional videos have been added, each depicting the lives of students and faculty as they transition to a world of virtual education. Each one is a bit more interactive than the previous installment.
In the clip titled “Redhawks at Home,” CVU high school students talk while tossing a roll of toilet paper virtually from screen to screen. Along the way, they share what they miss most about school and how they are spending their time at home.
The video activities have been a way to build community and stay connected — something even more significant since the order shuttering schools for the rest of the school year. Students and teachers initially received a closure plan until early April with remote learning aimed at what educators called “maintenance.” The updated plan for Vermont’s online learning efforts through the end of the school year now emphasizes new lessons and a “Continuity of Learning Plan.”
The Vermont Agency of Education describes it as a means to “support the well-being of our students and continue their learning over this extended period.”
Everyone learns by adapting
Teachers and students from each school will work through the new system in the remaining weeks of the school year.
Over email, Bunting recognized the blistering pace at which CVU staff have adapted their strategy, saying “Our faculty, staff, and learning coordinators have stepped up big time. Quite frankly, we’ve done a year’s worth of professional development in just under two weeks. I’m so proud of our whole team!”
In many ways, teachers are experimenting with new, fun ways to engage students scattered around the community at home. Coming up with ways to collaborate requires creativity.
Hinesburg Community School fifth grade teacher Paul Lasher was successful in keeping his students’ attention from afar recently. He started by sending students a daily trivia question each day by video. They needed to research and submit their answers.
Lasher promised to shave his hair into a mohawk if 80% of the students had correct answers throughout the week.
The last video in the series shared by the school district’s blog shows Lasher getting the extreme haircut.
Keeping some routines
Despite the upheaval, the state Agency of Education has told school districts to stick with their school calendars. That means that next week, April 20-24, will still be school break week. Teachers may offer some enrichment ideas for families who are interested, but remote learning will have a week off.
Meanwhile, athletics remains one aspect of high school life that has not been officially called off for this school year. The Vermont Principals Association announced Tuesday that it will wait until April 30 to make its final decision on whether to completely cancel spring sports for this season.
In March as concern about COVID-19 heightened, the VPA cut short the winter sports season before final championship games were played. The association later set April 30 as the date by which it would make a decision regarding the spring season.
Despite the cancellation of in-school instruction for the remainder of the year, the VPA this week said it would still wait until the end of the month to make the final call regarding spring sports.
“The VPA and the Activity Standards Committee recognize that it remains unlikely we will be able to reconvene in-person school and activities this spring. However, given the rapidly changing health concern notifications, we will gather any relevant information and review any possible changes between now and April 30th before making a final decision on a spring sports season,” the VPA said in its news release on April 14. Despite the drastic departure from normal in-class instruction and routine this spring, Bunting said that schools like CVU remain committed to their students having meaningful experiences for the remainder of this school year.
He mentioned the graduating class of 2020 in particular, noting that it is important to ensure that their hard work at CVU is rewarded. Just how that will happen — like so much else unfolding right now — remains to be seen.
“We are committed to honoring and celebrating our seniors. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, but I will reach out to our students to get their ideas soon!” Bunting promised.
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.