Overall, Superintendent Jon Sills explained, the school district’s plan is framed by several priorities, chosen in concert with several neighboring towns:
- “Paying primary attention to the social and emotional needs of our students and their families during this time of crisis;
- Rekindling a sense of community and connectedness for our isolated students;
- Deepening and reinforcing prior learning and key critical-thinking skills;
- Mitigating regression, particularly in core skill areas for younger students, such as reading;
- Ensuring, to the best of our ability, equity, and preventing the widening of learning gaps that already exist.”
He outlined some experiences in the four Bedford schools:
Davis School ~ Grades K-2
“In the elementary grades, each student is virtually greeted daily by their principal or their classroom teacher. Often the day begins with a daily question,” Sills said. “Teachers hold Zoom (videoconference) meetings with their classes or with small groups at least once per week so that all students can connect visually with their teachers and their peers.” Assignments are given either daily or twice a week, covering all subjects, but with emphasis on reading, writing and math.
“At Davis School, teachers use a platform called SeeSaw, with which the students are familiar. Teachers have agreed upon common assignments and have created a division of labor that works to engage all of the children,” Sills said. “Opening SeeSaw, for example, the students will click on a video of their teacher introducing the day and explaining what they will be working on.
Subsequently, students post videos of themselves reading their “hopes and goals” for remote learning and sharing the pictures they’ve drawn. “Then, they might watch a video from their librarian, teaching them a new code term and symbol. Their math ‘thinking’ problem of the day may be a ’which-one-doesn’t- belong’ challenge, to which they may respond in writing, word processing or by video.
Lane School ~ Grades 3-5
Lane School students and teachers use Google Classroom to assign and receive work, communicate about it, and share it with each other, the superintendent said In English language arts, for example, “fifth graders are working on close reading to identify character traits in fiction. The whole fifth-grade teacher team, which includes the classroom teachers, the reading teachers, the special education teachers and teaching assistants are all involved. Lessons are clearly laid out and the students post their work and receive feedback when appropriate.”
He provided a couple of other examples: “In math they had a real-world challenge where they had to access a grocery store online and calculate the cost of different items. A session with their counselor this week included a video on flexible thinking – strategies for dealing with frustration during this challenging time.”
Sills said that in addition to their whole-class assignments, students with challenges in a particular learning area receive additional support. This takes many forms. “Each teacher, in addition to a whole-class Zoom meeting, holds at least daily ‘office hours’ and ‘snack chat,’ small-group check-in sessions. Specialists hold their own sessions and also check in with individual students during the day, he added.
“All schools’ counselors are similarly engaged, both in terms of checking in and holding sessions with their students, running lunch bunch groups, sharing videos about mindfulness and other ways to cope, striving to support families as well as students,” Sills said.
John Glenn Middle School and Bedford High School
All middle and high school students “are engaged in learning in all subject areas,” the superintendent reported. “using team coordination at the middle school and a clear learning block weekly schedule at the high school.”
“Using Google Classroom, Zoom, and their own YouTube videos, subject area teachers are recording lectures, providing assignments, holding full-class Zoom sessions, holding office hours for students to check-in and ask questions, and reaching out to connect with individual students,” he continued. “Wherever possible, lessons link to real-life learning.”
Friday, the superintendent noted, “I sat in on two classes today, a high school chemistry class and a Lane School class — very cool to see them in action.”
Some of the instruction is especially timely. A grade 10 chemistry exercise, for example, creates a chemical analogy with flattening the Covid-19 curve. In a grade 8 social studies lesson, videos and questions concerning Congress were followed by learning extension opportunities, and recommendations on where to turn for help, whether through teachers, classmates or the Internet.
Remote learning extends beyond core subjects, the superintendent reported. Music, technology education and physical education and health teachers “are all providing learning opportunities for their students. Air Force ROTC assigned a Memorial Day essay.”
At the middle school, the three art teachers have created a website called the “JGMS Museum of Art”. Every student can upload either his or her own art or art that exists in their home, and add a prompt for a written response. “Students can see their peers’ work, which allows for conversation and helps mitigate some of the isolation the students are feeling,” Sills said.
Learning opportunities involve some creative interaction with the community. BHS students in Jim Byrnes’s healthy behavior class, which focuses on character education, wrote letters to elderly residents who are alone, as suggested by the Council on Aging, working through Chamber of Commerce Director Peter Bagley. “The letters were heartfelt and the students put a sincere effort into them,” said Byrnes’s colleague Ashley Martell, who delivered them to Bagley for distribution.
Click this link to read Bedford Schools and Distance Learning ~ Part 1 ~ A Conversation with Superintendent Jon Sills