Schools closed for the rest of the academic year
Teacher advice about distance learning
May 6, 2020
Schools across New Jersey will remain closed for the rest of this academic year to protect students and staff from coronavirus, according to Governor Phil Murphy.
“This is a difficult decision and I know that many students, parents, and staff would like to be able to return to school,” said Governor Murphy stated on Monday in a press conference. “However, I have been unwavering on the message that we need to make decisions based on science, not emotion. And while New Jersey is making great strides in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, science tells us that at this point, we can’t safely reopen our schools.”
Murphy’s decision means that neither students nor teachers can enter the Patrick M. Villano School building anytime soon. Murphy closed all schools on March 13 as a precaution. Now, virtual learning will continue through June for Emerson children, as well as the rest of the state’s 1.6 million private and public students. Some teachers at Villano say what they miss most are their students and coworkers.
“Other than missing spending the day with my students and colleagues, I don’t mind online learning,” Elisabeth Hill, fifth-grade teacher, said. “It is a lot of work, but I’ve been wanting to implement videos into my teaching, so I am glad that the work I am doing now for our remote learning is something I will absolutely utilize when we return to the building.”
Hill, like other teachers in the Emerson Public School District, speak throughout the week with students using Google Meet. This is the video chat feature of the Google platform. Instructors can teach new skills, answer students’ questions, and check students’ understanding in real time. Google Meet also gives students a chance to socialize with their peers.
“Although students will not be able to go back to their school building and see each other this year, they will continue to face online learning and see their friends from Facetime and Google Meet,” Hill explained.
Students are learning not just content, but work habits at home, according to Hill.
“Students have learned the importance of being self-motivated and creating a schedule. They have expressed they’ve learned the importance of slowing down and reading directions carefully, and they are relying on themselves to problem solve before being able to ask questions, but similarly, are reaching out to speak up for themselves if they need help,” Hill explained.
There are benefits to working at home for teachers, too.
“I can get up and do some stretches or exercises when I am feeling antsy, but the best part is that having no commute has won me back precious hours every day. I am having time to cook dinners each night and have been doing a pretty good job keeping up with laundry! Most importantly, I’ve gained precious hours with my children! ” Hill states.
Hill has a son, Sebastian, who is a sophomore in high school, and a daughter, Maddie, who is in eighth grade.
“Although my children are older and independent, I love being able to make a proper breakfast for them (homemade waffles have been a favorite request) and just give them a random hug whenever I feel like – of course confirming they are not on a Google Meet before throwing my arms around them!” Hill said.
Hill acknowledges that it can be difficult to sit in front of a computer all day, so she finds moving around and taking breaks are helpful.
“You have to be very conscious to stop [working], otherwise every free minute could be spent checking up on a student, returning an email, developing your plans, creating lessons, checking complete work, consulting with colleagues … the list goes on and on. I’ve found that taking a long walk in the evening has been a wonderful way for my eyes, brain and body to refresh, refocus and relax,” Hill said.
Hill has some advice for Villano students who are learning at home. It starts with setting a schedule of work to be completed for each subject. Then, slow down and really try to read directions carefully.
“Find a friend to work with over the phone or via another form of technology to maintain that social contact we have in school. Further, having conversations about what we are learning leans itself towards better understanding,” Hill said.
Hill also suggests attending the Google Meets offered by teachers.
“Ask when you need help or are confused! Ask a friend, ask a teacher – your teachers are happy to help you!” Hill said.
“I think that the teachers are doing an awesome job with virtual learning!” fifth-grader grader Cassidy Aquila said.