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District’s Administrators, Teachers and Students Taking the Next Step in Distance Learning

on May 15, 2020

Although they cannot be together in their classrooms, students and teachers are continuing to work through lessons, manage homework assignments, and get together for virtual office hours through Google Classroom and Google Meet, and other district-approved digital platforms. It’s all a part of the district’s distance learning plan.

“Everyone in the Warwick Valley Central School District understands how important it is to serve our students by maintaining our commitment to delivering excellence in education during this unique and challenging time,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Leach. “From our principals and teachers to our students and parents, I am glad to report that our efforts so far have been smoothly implemented, well-received, and are proving to be very effective.”

Many teachers have also provided email and even personal phone access for their students.

“Teachers are contacting their students at least twice a week,” said Sanfordville Elementary School Principal Johnna Maraia. “They’re doing read-aloud sessions, and even group lunchtimes and learning games on Fridays.”

The district approach to education is to target students’ individual needs, and that has been kept front and center in its distance learning efforts.  

“That’s our approach when we’re in our school buildings, and our teachers are upholding that remotely,” said Park Avenue Elementary School Principal Bill Biniaris. Staff meet with him twice weekly to share ideas and talk about progress and planning. “Each grade level meets with me twice a week to review the previous week and strategize for the week ahead.”

Mr. Biniaris points to the balance of live and recorded sessions as a big part of the program’s success. With teachers hosting, recording, and then posting multiple lessons per week, families that may have unusual or challenging circumstances can access the content any time that suits them.

“It is a big thing with distance learning – everyone’s schedules are different, and we have to accommodate that,” said Park Avenue third-grade teacher Diane Kilbride. “That’s where the video component is so helpful. For students who are unable to interact with us in real-time, the lessons are there for them to work on at any time.”

Following the district’s quick and efficient move to distance learning, the current model was rolled out more strategically, to avoid giving students and families too much to navigate too quickly. Online lessons began using Google Classroom and other resources the students had previously used in the classroom, and new technology has been introduced at a manageable pace.

“Part of the beauty of Google Classroom is that you can see what your students are doing and if they appear to be struggling,” said Ms. Kilbride. “If they’re not getting something, not understanding a particular skill, inviting them to a Google Meet or reaching out another way to help them can limit a lot of frustration on their part.”

Park Avenue parent Christine Retcho said she felt the challenges of distance learning at first, but that she and her daughters got their routine down quickly.

“The teachers have been amazing and super helpful,” said Mrs. Retcho. “Mrs. Kilbride even called the house to help Riley out one-on-one with math. It was above and beyond, and that’s how everyone in the district has been.”

Ryliegh Retcho, whose favorite subject is ELA, agrees.

Ryliegh Retcho, center

Ryliegh Retcho, center

“Mrs. Kilbride is doing amazing,” said the third-grade student. “We’re doing poetry right now, so I submit my poem online and then get directions back – I had to make mine more descriptive. We’re also doing a read-aloud of The Wild Robot Escapes, and the whole class loves it.”

Teachers in team teaching situations, such as Middle School fifth-grade teacher Diana Piascik who team teaches with Janine Mitchell, divide their classwork by subject.

“I teach ELA and social studies and Ms. Mitchell does math and science,” said Ms. Piascik. “We take turns posting assignments according to the district’s distance learning plan and try to be as responsive to parents as possible.”

Ms. Diana Piascik

Ms. Diana Piascik

Ms. Piascik is one of many teachers who sends her parents a weekly communication – hers goes out on Sunday nights – to let them know what to expect for the coming week, a practice she says has been very well received. Teachers are also having success reviewing Google Sheets in real-time with students and their parents and providing customized video content to help with adopting new technology.

“We’ve posted video tutorials for everybody,” said Ms. Piascik. “The technology curve has been a learning experience for all of us – teachers, students, and parents.”

Nicholas Vicciardo, a student in Ms. Piascik’s class, finds the video component of distance learning to be helpful. Similar to many of his fellow students, Nicholas attends Google Meets with groups of students from his classroom – four students on one day and a different four on another day, he said – so that the class can talk about what they’ve been learning and walkthrough lessons and specific problems.

Nicholas Vicchiaro

Nicholas Vicciardo

“We used to do a few assignments online at school, but we’ve never done this many online,” said Nicholas. “It’s something new and current, and it’s fun to try something different.”

Middle School Principal Georgianna Diopoulos shares that the schedule created for the Middle School looks a bit different from grades five and six to seven and eight. Grades five and six are set up like an elementary model, with only math and science taught on Mondays and Wednesdays, and ELA and Social Studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We chose to compartmentalize it that way because the typical workload can become a lot under these circumstances,” said Ms. Diopoulos.

Grades seven and eight operate on a rotating schedule of classroom periods. On Mondays and Wednesdays, students cover what would be periods one, two, three, and four during a typical school day, and periods six, seven, eight, and nine on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays are set aside for catch-up work and to accommodate anyone who wants extra help.

“Everyone is using our global platforms, and that’s working well,” said Ms. Diopoulos. “Teachers are following the district learning plan and providing students with three videos a week of new learning, and they’ve done a nice job of paring things down so that it’s more manageable for our families.”

Teachers and administrators are proud of, and extremely impressed with, the measure of responsibility being shown by students across the district to stay engaged and up to date with their work.

“We post feedback on students’ daily work, and it’s really impressive to see a third-grader take the initiative to not only log on and look at the feedback, but get back to me with revisions or questions,” said Ms. Kilbride. “These are young people truly rising to the occasion.”

As distance learning continues, the district’s Parent Guide to Distance Learning Plan will be updated. The outline and guidelines for understanding and making the most of the district’s ongoing distance-learning efforts will remain the district’s official source for best practices on day-to-day academics, and will also provide valuable information for coping with the emotional and mental strain of the current stay-at-home order.

“During this time, our administrators will continue to be proactive in monitoring every aspect of this evolving situation,” said Dr. Leach. “We will consult with state and federal officials to make the most informed decisions and set meaningful directions for our students and teachers. Thank you to every member of the Warwick Valley Central School District who has contributed to this incredible effort – your collective effort is a shining example of the care and dedication for which our district is known.”

Students, however, miss their friends.

“I miss playing sports with my friends, and just eating lunch with them,” said Nicholas Vicciardo, who true to the Warwick spirit of teamwork, added, “But, the Google Meets are fun!”

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