Though it seems tame now, when the Eliot K-8 announced on March 11 it was closing for a week because of COVID-19 concerns, few could believe such a thing could happen – and even more, few could figure out what they would do with their children for a whole week.
That all seems like a distant memory as time has simply melted away and a one-week school closure is now nothing compared to school sessions now being done for the entire year. However, the drum continues to beat at the popular North End school that accommodates hundreds of Charlestown students.
“Parents have been great about wanting to share the bright spots, but we know we need to get better and kids need to be at the center,” said Principal Traci Griffith. “That’s been difficult as I’m used to having to watch over 730 kids going between three buildings every day and now I’m trying to work from home and continue doing this work.”
This week, Principal Griffith – a Charlestown resident – said they have continued to evolve and change over the past eight weeks to figure out a new way of learning, and to prepare for what is coming.
“We are now figuring out how to go deeper with online learning and we are preparing for Phase 2 now,” she said. “That will start for students on May 4. This week, we’re ramping up…We need to work at the content and figure out how to get students back where they need to be at the end of a grade. We want to make sure a first grader is where they need to be at the end of first grade.”
Griffith said the Eliot was the first school to begin virtual learning and they have ramped up quickly, but it was a huge learning curve. After closing suddenly on March 11, she said they had to clean the building and sanitize it. While they were doing that, teachers were preparing quickly for how to conduct Phase 1 of online learning, which they though would last one week, maybe a little longer. At the same time, they ramped up a quick food service program at a couple of locations in Charlestown and the North End.
Now, with all of the other schools closed for a long time with them, the pack has seemingly caught up and all of the energy of the district is focused on creating a quality online learning experience for the remainder of the year.
Griffith has installed a family feedback survey for each of the five weeks of virtual learning that has occurred at the school. By week five, participation was way up and most every respondent had rated the effort a 4 or 5 out of five. That has gone up significantly since the first week, she said.
The big thing is to be consistent, she said, because it can be scary to have so many unknowns as well as long-time routines broken
“The unknown is scary,” she said. “It’s scary for us as educators. We’re trying to see into the future, but none of us can really know. We have to provide consistency and routines.”
One thing they are preparing for right now in Phase 2 is to get to a point of synchronous learning – which in common terms would mean teachers instructing students live on the computer. So, a 10 a.m. math class would be done live at 10 a.m. and students would be expected to be present to participate in the class. Along with that, they are trying to figure out how to differentiate learning, so that teachers can focus more on some students that need help, and less on other students that understand the concepts.
That will happen, she said, by using the information teachers already know about their students.
“The teachers had their students from September to March,” she said. “Teachers have data on how students were doing up to March 11.”
And there have been other bright spots outside the classroom, she said, which has kept her positive.
Students were planning to put on the play ‘Julius Caesar’ this spring. When schools were closed at first, the students starting rehearsing online with the idea they would be able to come back to perform the play. Now, that’s off the table, but she said the students haven’t given up.
“They have been rehearsing every day at 10 a.m. online and are excited to start figuring out the choreography,” she said.