Schools in Orange may be closed as a result of the COVID 19 coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean learning has stopped. With no clear plan in place for an abrupt and indefinite closure, administrators and educators were left to come up with a strategy – and fast.
If it weren’t challenging enough for one district to make decisions and put a plan into place for distance learning, the effort involved four districts. Superintendent of Orange Schools Vince Scarpetti is no stranger to collaboration, as the leaders from the BOWA schools work together on a regular basis. When preparing for the implications of this pandemic, the frequency of their meetings increased and they relied on input from their district leadership team, state and local officials and the town health director/consultants.
“Our primary concern was and has always been the safety and health of all our students, families and staff. Once we make a decision that requires a unified decision such as this one, we work together to draft up a BOWA communication which is then shared at the district levels to all stakeholders,” Scarpetti says.
Remote learning experiences needed to be quickly designed to accommodate specific phases and stages. “This plan is designed to provide an intentional gradual transition into this process. I want to stress the word gradual due to these unprecedented times. This is important to keep in mind as each family has unique situations” he says, adding, “There are different student learning needs, challenges for families working from home, and different levels of expertise regarding technology.”
The first phase of the three-phase plan was rolled the next day after schools suddenly shut down. Students were provided with familiar resources to support previously taught skills.
In Phase 2, students were provided differentiated grade-specific learning opportunities and staff worked on collaborating and preparing resources in parent and student friendly learning target language that is aligned to the Common Core. In Phase 3, teachers launched the Google classroom as well as other communication platforms where teachers can support learning through office hours in an effort to reconnect with children and families.
“It is important to know, special education students’ needs, as is the case during a traditional school day, are being addressed at each phase first and foremost based on core instruction,” Scarpetti says. “We must ensure equal access to the same opportunities as typical peers. Staff is working collaboratively to address modification and accommodations needs based on instruction provided through general education.”
Simultaneously, special education staff are working to support goals and objectives as outlined in the IEP to the greatest extent possible based on the family situation and the current state of education.
Phase 3, Scarpetti says, is a work in progress as teachers (as of 3/27) had just wrapped up their first full week of online teaching. “Despite the challenges we are faced with, staff have without a doubt, risen to the occasion of thinking creatively and using our resources to engage children outside the traditional school setting,” he says. “They are developing and beginning to implement interim learning plans to facilitate the work of providing remote instruction and learning opportunities outside of our school buildings.”
He says that without the community’s support, we may be in a different situation. “We are fortunate that the town and Board of Education support our school district every year including providing technology which has now positioned us to support our students under these current situations,” he says. The district had already begun to engage in curriculum mapping experiences that included organizing resources that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. These resources are located on an electronic platform that can be accessed remotely and work so far in this area has greatly assisted staff in developing their remote learning plans.
“I cannot say enough about the dedication of the entire staff during these difficult times,” Scarpetti says.
And as for parents who may be struggling with the notion of home-schooling their children while trying to balance work, Scarpetti acknowledges that this is challenging time for everyone. “The safety and well-being of our students, families and staff is our primary concern. Our goal is to do our part, as best as we can, to create a sense of normalcy for our children and families,” he says. “My advice is to establish a routine, take time to have fun with your children, and find day-to-day methods to engage your child in experiencing life.”
As a more comprehensive district plan is rolled out, he recommends parents take it slow, breathe, and know that administrators and staff here for support. “Communicate with your child’s teachers, school psychologist, social worker, special education teacher, speech and language pathologist, and principals if you or your child are feeling overwhelmed or even if you just have a question. Also, the Orange Public Schools Information Technology (IT) team is here to support you if you need assistance. IT support can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,” Scarpetti says.
All correspondence to families, including that about meal services, is being posted to the district website (oess.org).
The superintendent anticipates that many more families than usual may be in need of general community resources. Information about services, which include utility assistance, food for families, housing support, crisis intervention resources and more are available. Dial 2-1-1, search online or dial 1-800-203-1234. In addition to the district-provided lunches, the Orange Community Center Food bank is located at High Plains Community Center.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent