NORWALK, Conn. — Attendance at Norwalk Public Schools – well, not at the schools – is sky high.
NPS students are reportedly attending their online classes at a 96 to 98 percent rate. If they don’t show up, their teachers call them to check in, according to Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon.
And, unlike other areas, they’re not running out of materials.
“I think we may look back at this and, and feel it was our finest hour,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said recently, of the scramble to create a distance learning program on short notice because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was really, really impressed by the quality of what the teachers put together in the amount of time that they had to put it together,” Board of Education Chairwoman Sarah LeMieux said Tuesday.
Her child’s second grade teacher did a Zoom lesson with her class Tuesday and all the pupils were there in a grid on the screen, adorably, she said, calling the teacher “amazing” and a “hero.”
“I think all the teachers and administrators did an awesome job,” LeMieux said.
Social media posts on Wednesday supported the glowing report from NPS.
“I have been very impressed with the way Norwalk has handled the distance learning situation,” wrote a man who identified himself as the father of a Norwalk fifth grader. “My daughter checks in for attendance each day, gets daily assignments, and has scheduled video conferences with her teachers. She even had a virtual band lesson. They’ve been really on top of things. In contrast, we have friends in other towns that have told us their kids are doing ‘pretend home school’ days, where the kids have nothing or very little to do, and the parents are largely left to fend for themselves. It casts NPS in a whole new light.”
A ‘solid 10 days’
In dealing with the sudden need to close the schools, the first goal was to have teachers connect with students daily, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Brenda Myers said on March 17. Middle and high schoolers were set up to use Google Classroom and Google Handout and emails are sent daily to elementary school students. Social workers and school counselors follow up and work was done to ensure WiFi access.
“The second thing that we wanted to do is to build a learning schedule,” an 8- to noon instructional block, which includes elementary teachers sending emails and then being available to take questions.
Those teachers “worked amazingly” to put together 10-day packets, that included scissors and crayons, she said. There are also virtual resources and even if the only online access is a cell phone, the parent can work with the child.
The middle and high school “always have an assignment,” sign into class, access their materials and interact with their teachers, according to Myers.
“We were trying to say, ‘how do we maximize the equity of the system and make sure that we have the solid 10 days? The participation has been amazing. … we’re feeling really good about the support we’re providing our community,” Myers said.
As far as special education goes, the most important thing is to stick to a schedule so the students don’t feel isolated, Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch said.
The instructional block is like a master schedule and afterwards, there’s “increased common planning time and increased delivery of supports for students that have supplemental or related or additional services, she said.
Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings are being done by telephone or video and there are daily Zoom conferences, according to Goorevitch. A bilingual ombudsperson works with the teams to assist those families who do not speak English.
“I was profoundly impressed by everything I saw at every level,” LeMieux said. “My own kids are doing good distance learning from home and the level of professionalism and amazingness that went into all of the materials that were prepared for my one-on-one and for the instruction that’s happening for my preschooler are amazing.”
“Our teachers are finding amazing ways to use technology to connect with our kids,” Board of Education member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell wrote Wednesday, posting a video of Nathan Hale Middle School teacher Angie Nida singing a reassuring tune to her kids.
Norwalk Police Officer Christopher Holmes, a school resource officer, has also posted videos to reach the children.
NPS “teachers are doing an amazing job! It’s hard on us as parents but it’s really impressive. I work in Danbury and hearing what’s happening in surrounding towns, I’m even more impressed with norwalk!” one mom wrote.
“I’ve been impressed on the HS level as well. Kudos to the NPS teachers, staff and administrators that made this happen,” another parent wrote.
Some caveats include a warning that children need breaks for mental health’s sake. There’s also a desire to have the April break restored.
“Even though it is half day learning, students and teachers are putting in full days and everyone needs time to mentally detox and process what is going on. Standardized testing is being waived so there is no urgency to complete the learning as quickly as in prior years,” the writer said.
The 10 days are nearly up; school may be out for the rest of the year, Adamowski said on March 17.
How will NPS get new supplies to the students? By mail, LeMieux said.
NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams explained:
“For elementary, the Curriculum & Instruction department under Dr. Myers has been working on developing additional materials since the decision was made that Distance Learning would need to continue.
“Packets for Phase 2 distance learning for K-3 were copied at Central Office and put in the mail today, so that all families will have them by next week. They have been emailed to principals and teachers so that they have them ahead of time. Packets for beginning English Learners and special ed students were also prepped and mailed today.
“We’re transitioning to Chromebooks for grades 4 & 5 starting next week. Hundreds of teachers participated in a webinar on Monday afternoon about using Google Classroom, so that they will be ready for next week. Our Technology Department prepared the Chrombebooks and delivered them to each school, and they are being picked up by families earlier today and tomorrow afternoon (with social distancing practices in mind at each building).
“The supplies that were sent home like crayons and scissors will last students for a while.”
Update, 8:54 p.m.: Video added.