Wilton e-learning picks up steam

Cider Mill School reports a new COVID-positive member of its community on Nov. 8. That brings to four since Nov. 4.

Cider Mill School reports a new COVID-positive member of its community on Nov. 8. That brings to four since Nov. 4.

Bob Luckey / ST

WILTON — Talk about a steep learning curve.

Teachers and administrators at Wilton’s public schools have spent the time since schools closed working on an e-learning program that will serve all students until things can get back to normal. That could be a while, with Gov. Ned Lamont announcing Monday his school closing order will be extended to at least April 20.

Superintendent Kevin Smith last week said while it was likely they all had some experience taking online courses, “in terms of using distance at scale for K-12, no on has that type of experience. We are taking the best expert advice and working with teachers and adapting as we go along.”

Since the governor waived the 180-day school requirement — as well as what Smith said was a “near impossible standard” of meeting all state and federal regulations — he and his team “kicked into high gear working morning, noon and night with staff.”

Beginning this Monday, he said, they would have “a much richer, robust experience for our students.”

Fran Kompar said coaches, coordinators and interventionists worked on creating lessons for the next two weeks or next four weeks. Last week was about “getting resources up and teachers and students comfortable” as teachers engaged with students about twice. “It has been a lot of people doing a lot of work going into it.”

This week, teachers will meet with their classes so there will be “engagement in real time and participation and discussion in real time,” she said.

She said one thing to keep in mind is that when students go to college, they often engage in distrance learning. “They they have these types of classes they have to navigate,” she said, and while this is not an ideal time, “in terms of skills that everyone is going to have at the end of this, it is really very good for our students.”

“We’ve been ramping up the use of digital tools and resources,” she said, “adding e-books and audio books students can access at home.”

Younger students

The youngest students — those in kindergarten through second grade at Miller-Driscoll — will receive a daily schedule, principal Kathryn Coon said. Teachers will be available from 9 to noon and students will work on reading, writing and math by grade level. In the afternoon teachers will plan for the next week.

“We have three main goals: to be physically and emotionally healthy, developmentally appropriate, and keeping things the same for kids,” she said.

Cider Mill Principal Jennifer Falcone said their goal is to make sure ther is balanced learning and a continuing emphasis on wellness.

“We will have a schedule that is similar to what the kids are used to,” she said. “Every day will start off with a meeting to build connection.” Students will read aloud, work on reading, writing and math, with time for gym, art, and movement breaks.

Middle and high school

At Middlebrook Middle School, Principal Lauren Feltz said students will have opportunities to access direct instruction online.

“In the first week we did review and maintenance, now we are shifting to providing new instruction,” she said. “The kids will have a daily schedule of 9:50 to 2 each day with a 30-minute lunch break.

“They can feel confident their teachers and peers will all be online and able to collaborate at the same time.” There will be 25-minute classes and students will have an opportunity to work independently.

“Teachers will make every effort to be responsive and there can be feedback through Google, online meet ups or via email,” she said. “The responses students get will be personalized. There will also be check-ins on how kids are feeling as well as keeping up personal relationships.”

High school students will be able to sleep in a little later as classes will run from 9:20 to 1:50 with 55-minute periods in the block schedule. The later start time “will give teachers time to prepare and ensure having consistent experiences for the students,” Principal Robert O’Donnell said.

Teachers, he said, are working collaboratively to priortize and there will be daily checkins with students who will mostly work independently.

One area that might seem to not lend itself to distance learning is science, but O’Donnell said teachers are working on virtual science labs. “We have talented teachers with instructional technology. They’ll be ready.”

Special education and Genesis

Andrea Leonardi, assistant superintendent... said “we have a number of different avenues for Genesis.where teachers are working with students remotely. “They continue to meet regularly with students virtually, they know avoe all that connecting is cricital,: she said.

There is a morning meeting every day with students who have individual learning activities they can work on at their own pace and then report back what they’ve accomplished.

“Kids have been connecting with each other remotely. … kids are talking about how much they want to be back at school but they are adapting.”

Students with disabilities, she said, are engaged with their general education peers. To provide accommodations, there is small group direction and support. The district is also working with a tele-therapy platform for more direct instruction, speech and language and behavioral health. That should be up by March 30, she said.

“We should be able to provide very close if not all the services for a student’s IEP, “ she said. “We’re working with families to get feedback, to understand their support needs.”

What else?

Smith said the district has been reaching out to and delivering electronic devices to famiilies that need them. They have also reached out to families eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

“Chartwells is in process and are making lunches,” he said. “We have a plan to deliver them to families.”

In a letter to families and the community on March 23, Board of Education Chair Deborah Low said school counselors and support staff are planning outreach and availability to students.

“This is a brand new paradigm for us,” Smith said. “Our staff is more than up to the challenge and as each hour of each day goes by they demonstrate that in spades. We want to recognize for parents and families this is incredibly challenging. They are doing a fine job of responding. Hats off to entire community, they are responding really, really well.”

When asked if this can be sustained for weeks or moths, if children will not be up to speed at the end of the year, he said, “We’ll get the job done. We’ll do what we need to do. We’re doing some curriculum compacting. Teachers will have to make choices about what is important. We’ll do this for as long as we need.”