BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ -- Bernards Township students have started a more rigorous phase of school learning from home during the COVID-19 crisis.

The plan for “distance learning” using the computer and internet will involve two major changes, said Kristin Fox, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, at the Board of Education “virtual” meeting on Monday, March 30.

Teachers will be using new strategies to learning, Fox said, and students’ work will now be graded.

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In the first weeks, ungraded activities focused on reviewing previously learned content, reads a memo produced by Fox.

Since March 16, the schools have been closed as a way to minimize social contact in the community as a way to blunt the spread of the COVID-19, or coronavirus.

The governor is scheduled to re-evaluate his decision to close the state’s schools no later than April 17.

In the Phase 2 for Bernards students, time demands have been laid out. Kindergartners and first graders should be engaged in learning activities for 60 minutes per day,  the guidelines say. Time increases for each elementary school grade. 

Middle schoolers should be learning two and one-half hours per week per subject. High schoolers should study in each of their subjects for three hours per week; if a student has eight subjects, that would be 24 hours.

Students are expected to log in for attendance at 8:30 a.m. daily.

For the middle and high schools, there is a department-based A and B schedule rotation. William Annin Middle School students will study math, English, world language and their chosen elective on the ‘A’ day, and language arts, science, social studies and physical education/health on a ‘B’ day.

For Ridge High, math, English, world language and fine arts or a technology elective will convene on the ‘A’ day and business, study skills, science, social studies and physical education/health on the ‘B’ day.

Teachers will be involved in instruction and assign work that is expected to be accomplished on that A or B day, or the next such designated day. Teachers will use mini-lessons, answer student questions, have small-group meetings, monitor student participation and work and perhaps have “live” class meetings using Zoom or Google Hangout and other websites and apps.

Teachers will create videos of themselves and perhaps post them to the Internet for reference. “Others will post mini-lessons to their Google Classrooms,” reads her memo, but all teachers will be working to increase opportunities to listen and talk to students.

Some of the learning strategies may go beyond district policies on staff interaction with students and limits of public exposure of students. Students and parents were reminded of the possibility that recorded images of children may be accessible on the Web. The district is also seeking permission to go beyond school policies for one-on-one video conferences, chats and/or phone calls.

Athletes involved in the Option 2 to be dismissed from physical education must show they are involved in 150 minutes per week of physical activity supervised by a coach or certified teacher. Otherwise, the students are expected to enroll in the distance learning PE class at the school.

There will be no report card issued at the end of the third marking period, which ends this week. Instead the third and fourth marking periods will be merged and count as one-half of the final course grade of a full-year course.

Students were also instructed how to take a cellphone photo of assignments and send it to the teachers using school e-mail accounts.

The annual Ridge Gives Back day of community service, scheduled for June 4, has been canceled. More than 1,200 students have helped more than 50 community organizations on the day in past years.

“These fundamental challenges require us to approach teaching and learning in new ways. We cannot recreate what goes on in school, so we will not try to do so,” Fox wrote. “I am confident our amazing teaching staff can and will create meaningful learning activities, but we must all approach this new world with grace and flexibility as we work to adapt and make the best of an extremely challenging situation.”

The memo also includes links to a “virtual relaxation room” of nature scenes and relaxing music for students to use when they want to take a break.

Board members praised the distance learning program, using adjectives like amazing, phenomenal and impressive to discuss the work gone into creating the platform.

Superintendent Nick Markarian said the staff worked hard to be flexible and make “a fairly instantaneous pivot” in methods. At the same time, he said, everyone recognizes the everyone is open to stressors associated with the virus. He encouraged everyone to “take time to lift each other up.”