When the inevitable announcement came on May 5 that Connecticut schools would be closed through the school year, there wasn’t jubilation, there was sadness and frustration around the milestones that would not be happening. Kindergartners and sixth graders wouldn’t be able to celebrate their promotion with their friends. There would be no spring plays, no last field day for the sixth graders and certainly no goodbye hugs to teachers as summer vacation began.
Instead, students, teachers and parents prepared for five more weeks of doing classwork online. “I don’t think anyone could have imagined we’d be in the environment we’re in right now. I know I didn’t. I think we truly believe that the challenges that we face, we’re dealing with each day and we need to do our best to continue to meet the needs of our students and parents,” says Orange Superintendent Vince Scarpetti.
He says there is no question that this pandemic has been a surreal moment in all of our lives. “I had no idea that I was going to be closing schools when I got up on March 12. If we had kept the district open just one day longer, not to mention two days, the impact would have been severe,” he says.
Now 10 weeks into distance learning, things are still changing – sometimes daily – as students, teachers and parents continue to adjust. “It can be an overwhelmingly challenging time, though we continue to learn and grow on this unpaved road we are traveling together. Districts and families are forced to face many challenges that are ever-changing,” he says. “These challenges are unique to each family due to the variety of ways the virus has and may impact our families. This causes our schools to be creative and flexible in how we can meet our families’ and students’ individual needs, not only instructionally but emotionally.”
To help ease some of the emotional burden and create an environment where parents can come for advice, tips and most of all, support, Woodbridge mom Melissa Federico organized a Facebook group called BOWA Distance Learning Group that now has over 400 members. She says that when schools closed and the announcement came that parents would be launching children into distance learning, she saw a lot of parents asking questions in various BOWA Facebook Groups.
“I started reading the comments and I saw some less-than-nice answers from members. I had questions myself, and I was afraid to ask them,” she says. “I realized there was a need for a safe space for parents to go, ask questions of other parents, vent their frustrations, share the crazy moments that happen, because no matter how much our district tries to make things easy for everyone, we are in new uncharted territories. Many parents are working from home full-time while also trying to help multiple children distance learn.”
She hopes that parents or anyone in the BOWA district who is going through this new uncharted territory of distance learning gets support, camaraderie, and some laughter at the funnier moments of this Distance Learning from the Facebook group.
Meanwhile, Scarpetti remains hopeful and positive and says we will get through this together, no matter how many bumps are in the road. He encourages feedback, positive or negative, and says it’s how administrators learn what is working and what is not.
“As a community we value the feedback we receive. It is imperative to have stakeholders share their experiences as we continue to provide instruction and social and emotional support related to the well-being of students, families, and staff during this crisis,” he says.
He says the district will continue to provide support related to the academic needs such as technical support, professional learning regarding distance learning, and curriculum and instruction, all aligned to Connecticut Core Standard as well as meeting emotional needs. In addition to educational and emotional support, the district is also making sure students receive lunch daily. Three hundred lunches are distributed to Orange families six days each week.
“Despite the challenges, this time has provided us an opportunity to learn and grow in ways we did not know were possible. Everyone has learned and adapted to new instructional strategies and technologies that will assist staff, students and families even when schools reopen,” he says.
As Orange Schools move into summer and consider Extended School Year (ESY) for students with special needs and/or other learning opportunities, administrators will continue to be challenged by the unknown. Decisions will continue to be made based on guidance from the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), the local health department and what the district believes is in the best interest of all involved.
“Information will be shared with our families when we have a better understanding of our position,” Scarpetti says. “There is no question, we miss our kids and families and look forward to the day we return to the school buildings.”
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent