How long will all-virtual learning continue in district?

December 16, 2020


This fourth-grade classroom at Patrick M. Villano School remains empty. District administrators are waiting for the latest state health reports before deciding when students and staff can return to the building.

The Emerson Public School district’s three schools went all virtual in December due to COVID-19, and a decision to return to school has not yet been made.

“Right now, I don’t know the answer to if we are going to go virtual for more than two weeks,”  said Dr. Brian Gatens, the superintendent of Emerson Public Schools. Gatens explained that many factors played a role in the decision to move to a remote learning model.

“The largest factor was the increasing identification of Covid-19 cases in the larger community,” Gatens explained. “The schools have been, thankfully, pretty much free from cases and unchecked spread but our role as a community center and the place in which different groups mix pointed out that we needed to go remote.”

Gatens reads weekly reports from the state Department of Health. Specifically, there is a COVID-19 Activity Level Index report that divides New Jersey into six regions and measures how active the coronavirus is within each of those regions. The latest report dated December 19, 2020, rates the activity level in the northeast, which is where Emerson is located, as “high”. Gatens is waiting to see the newest health reports before deciding whether the district will remain all-remote.

“I have mixed emotions about going virtual,” Gatens explained. “On one hand, I am grateful that we have dedicated teachers, caring parents, great students, and the technology to move to remote learning. That’s a good thing when we need to move to the remote. The other side of the coin is that we can all agree that schools are at their very best – educationally, socially, and emotionally – when we are all together whether that be in the classroom, the cafeteria, or outside at recess. In other words, I’m happy to have the option, but not happy that we have to exercise it.”

Kristen Vitale, a fourth grade teacher at Patrick M. Villano School, is looking forward to return to her classroom.

“When teaching in person, it is so much easier to see when a student understands what they are learning or if they need some help. Virtually it’s tricky to get that feedback,” Vitale explained. “Plus there are so many other distractions at home than there would be in the classroom.”

Molly McDermott, a fifth-grade student, said while virtual learning gives her a chance to catch up on some sleep, she’d rather be in school.

“The difference between learning from home and learning from school and going virtual is that you don’t get to see your friends and classmates in person, and you have to stare at a computer screen all day and that’s not fun,” McDermott said.

Whether a student, teacher, or administrator, safety is the priority.

“Even though teaching virtually has its challenges, I think if it is a solution to help keep the staff and students safe and healthy, then that’s the most important thing,” Vitale added.

Students and staff are looking to return to school January 4, 2021, depending on the most current reports from the state Department of Health.

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    Dominick ArgenziaFeb 26, 2021 at 11:24 am

    Wow! That’s cool.