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Norwalk Public Schools’ staff reach out to home-bound students, online and in cars

Jefferson Elementary School staff members parade through the intersection of Truman Street and Glenwood Avenue during Thursday’s “outdoor assembly.” (Harold F. Cobin)

NORWALK, Conn. — The distance between Jefferson Elementary School teachers and their students shrank considerably Thursday as the teachers rode in a caravan through the kids’ neighborhood.

The morning teacher parade wasn’t the first vehicle-driven outreach to students: Marvin was first to organize a caravan, Fox Run Elementary School as done it and Wolfpit has “Wolfie” out waving to families. Other strategies for closing the gap while the kids are “distance learning” under the threat posed by a pandemic include YouTube story hours, closed Facebook page chats and spirit weeks.

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story

“Teachers and schools are doing an amazing job at finding creative ways to stay connected with students. This is a stressful time for all students, as they’ve been suddenly torn away from school routines, as well as the in-person daily relationships with teachers, administrators, paraeducators and other staff. Our schools recognize how important it is that students still get to see their teachers and other familiar faces, especially for the younger grades,” Norwalk Public Schools Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams said in an email.

School closed March 16 as part of a statewide effort to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19. Although this was originally characterized as a two-week venture into distance learning, Gov. Ned Lamont has since declared that school will be out until April 30. It may well be out through the school year, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.

Adamowski recently informed families that the April break is cancelled, and distance learning will continue through what had been planned as a vacation. He wrote:

“While safety of students, staff and their families is our number one concern at this time, keeping students learning and prepared for the next grade or college is the second important priority. The continuation of Distance Learning through April vacation will help maintain instructional momentum and progress for all students. However, it also serves another purpose for our families and community.

“With the current restrictions in place to reduce the coronavirus spread, we have heard that many families would not be travelling. A break right now would leave many students without any structure or activities in their day. The City of Norwalk has also expressed concern that students not congregate together outdoors or at fields or on streets. More than ever, children need to be occupied with learning at home, particularly if parent(s) must work outside the home. The April break decision was therefore made with that bigger picture also in mind.”

 

While there’s no end in sight, teachers and school staff are making sure their students get to see them through the absence.

“We at Jefferson want to let you guys know we are so proud of you guys, you are working so hard, getting all of your work done and doing your very best to get through this very confusing time,” Darnelly D’Erario, Jefferson’s social worker, said to students in a Wednesday “Mystery Reader” edition, which – April Fools – didn’t include reading but plenty of photos of teachers and administration saying hello.

Some more samples:

  • Naramake Elementary is still broadcasting morning announcements, but on YouTube. Silvermine Elementary has a series of storytime videos online and the Tracey staff can be seen in a split screen moving along with Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry About a Thing.”
  • Rowayton and Brookside also do read alouds and The Norwalk Early Childhood Center holds private Facebook chats. The pets participate in West Rocks Middle School’s “Happy” video, which punctuates repeated “Miss You” messages with #weareallinthistogether.
  • Norwalk High School broadcast and journalism students’ first episode of “Distance Learning Bear Country News” highlights the positive improvements to a dog’s life made by “quarantine,” and suggest Netflix Parties as a way of easing the isolation.
  • Ponus Ridge Middle School teacher Brian DeBoer has supplemented Google Classroom instruction with Google Hangouts (Google Meet) and reports that 95 percent of his students join, Wilcox Williams said. School Resource Officer Christopher Holms made a video of himself reading a book to the kids.

 

That’s “by no means an exhaustive list,” Wilcox Williams said. “Every school has examples of innovative approaches to staying connected and supporting students.”

Bear Country News Episode 1 Distance Learning from Norwalk DMCA on Vimeo.

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