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Mount Abe aims to keep remote learning ‘manageable’

We’re trying to be mindful that everything isn’t computer based. We’re using the actual telephone in ways we haven’t done in a long time.
— Assistant Superintendent Catrina DiNapoli

BRISTOL — After focusing for a couple of weeks on “maintenance of skills,” the Mount Abraham Unified School District transitioned to a new phase of remote learning just before this week’s spring break. The new phase is the “continuation of learning,” and district officials are pleased with how it’s going so far.
“We are intentionally not trying to replicate a typical student day,” MAUSD Superintendent Patrick Reen said last week. “We’re really looking for families to focus on something that’s manageable, both from the parent perspective and from the student perspective.”
Where curriculum is concerned, MAUSD educators are focusing on literacy and math as their top (though not exclusive) priorities.
Even more important than that, however, is student support.
“Our job is really just to make sure that our families, at a very individual level, are feeling supported and not too overwhelmed, and have access to what we’re providing — and that we’re hearing them and getting their feedback so that we can adjust as we go,” said MAUSD Assistant Superintendent Catrina DiNapoli. “That has to be our first priority.”
MAUSD already had several tools and systems in place to help with the transition to remote learning.
For instance, many courses at Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School — such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses — already included remote learning components such as Google Classrooms, so they were able to make the transition almost seamlessly.
The district’s network of coordinators, instructional coaches and interventionists, which has evolved over the past few years, has been another key component of the transition.
“We’ve been able to lean on those systems of support to help with the planning and preparation of remote learning, both for the ‘maintenance of learning’ phase and for the ‘continuation of learning’ phase we just entered (April 13),” Reen said.
It was the learning coaches who basically created the curricular template for the district’s transition to remote learning, for both K-6 and at Mount Abe, DiNapoli said.

CONNECTIVITY
When Gov. Phil Scott ordered the closure of Vermont’s K-12 schools last month, MAUSD immediately set about ensuring that its students could get (and stay) connected remotely.
“We worked really hard to make sure that all of our families had devices from our schools, like Chromebooks, and then we worked really hard to help families who didn’t have internet access to be able to access some of the free provider information that’s out there,” DiNapoli said. “We’re fairly confident (now) that everyone has access.”
On the MAUSD side, building principals have taken the lead, along with counselors, in keeping track of communication with students and families.
“They’re doing it in different ways but in general teams are keeping communication ‘logs,’” DiNapoli said. “If they see that a student didn’t participate in a class meeting yesterday, the teacher might reach out first. If they don’t get contact, then the school counselor will try.”
Educators aren’t just relying on Google tools or Zoom, however.
“We’re trying to be mindful that everything isn’t computer based,” DiNapoli said. “We’re using the actual telephone in ways we haven’t done in a long time.”
Or a teacher might volunteer to ride along on the meals-delivery bus, so they can make eye contact with students and say, Hey, I’m going to reach out later.
“Anything we have to do,” DiNapoli said.
Each district school has its own way of taking attendance, but the basic goal is to track contact with kids.
“So if we have contact with a student that suggests that they were engaged in work that day, then we’re tracking that and recording it as a day that they were in attendance,” Reen said. “And we’re pretty loose in terms of what constitutes ‘contact.’ It could be a phone call from a support staff member. It could be a Zoom meeting with their class and their teacher. It could be that they were engaged in an assignment on Google Docs. There are a lot of different ways that people are engaged in communication with kids and these are all considered acceptable methods of being in contact.”

‘SILVER LININGS’
“I would definitely say there are still things that need to be ironed out, and there probably will be for some time,” Reen said. “But there were things that needed to be ironed out when we were all at school together. Flipping that on its head and doing all this remotely has created some obstacles.”
But it has also created what MAUSD educators like to call “silver linings.”
“There are things that people thought were impossible six weeks ago, but now they’re just a part of daily practice,” Reen said. For instance, “we’ve had some struggles in the past as we’ve had shared personnel across buildings — challenges with logistics and travel, etc. These things felt like pretty significant obstacles before, but now the notion of distance between people means nothing.”
The “tech savviness” of district educators has increased dramatically, DiNapoli said, “without (our) necessarily attending some workshop or conference. We’re just figuring it out by trial and error. We’re sharing tips and tricks with one another, and some staff are creating tutorials.
“And our meetings have never been more efficient, quite frankly,” she added with a laugh.

BOTTOM LINE
In terms of transition to remote learning, most of the heavy lifting has already happened, and what is left is “a lot of refinement” the administrators said.
Reen and DiNapoli feel an immense amount of gratitude and pride for all the work that educators have done to get MAUSD to this point.
“Classroom teachers and support staff are doing things that they’ve never really had to do — or at least not in the way they’re having to do it right now — and they’re figuring it out,” Reen said. “There’s a lot of that going on.”
Educators’ responses to all the planning and logistics that went into the transition have been “overwhelmingly positive,” Reen said.
But the focus remains on families.
“We’re here to help,” Reen said. “That has been our message from the beginning. Whatever we’re doing, we want it to be helpful. We don’t want it to be burdensome. Keeping that in perspective and keeping those lines of communication open when it’s feeling more burdensome than helpful will be really important.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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