NUTLEY, NJ - “Schools out for summer,” sang Alice Cooper, maybe somewhere, but not in Nutley. Thanks to technology the students are continuing their education from home during the novel Coronavirus pandemic.
No, it’s not your classic homeschooling, instead its distance learning, also known as remote learning. The children are still meeting with their teachers, just virtually through the learning management system Schoology and by Google Hangouts communication software.
Braden Somers, 13, an eighth grader at John H. Walker Middle School, tells of her experience with this new kind of school. “It was a little difficult at first because the website sometimes crashes with everyone on it, but now it’s easy and working for me,” she said.
When the students login to Schoology on their laptop or computer, each of their classrooms are located in folders where their teachers post the lessons. Through Google Hangouts teachers can hold a video conference to provide feedback to students “face to face.”
Nutley Schools made sure before this new method was implemented that every student in the system had access to a computer and the internet. Students that did not have both were given the tools they needed to continue their education.
“We are a little bit ahead of the curve in Nutley. The first week of March we started surveying the community to see who had devices in their home, with a paper and electronic survey. We followed up with every family we didn’t hear from with a phone call. We provided or confirmed that every student had a device and internet and provided wireless hotspots to those who didn’t,” said Nutley Superintendent of Schools Julie Glazer.
According to Glazer, nine families did not have internet access and were provided with it for free. On March 16 all the students and teachers were able to sign in to Schoology to test the system and by March 17, school started remotely. Glazer said that Nutley’s Board of Education already supplies Chromebooks to all students in grades 7 through 12, which are updated every three years.
At 9:30 a.m. the students log on to the program for their attendance. The students are required to complete 180 days of school, with this technology, all these distant learning days will count towards the academic school year.
When they log on the students have their instructions waiting for them to “meet” with the teacher virtually or an assignment will be in the folder ready for them to do. Teachers are available for their students at certain times each day to help the students.
Braden said she logs in by 9:30 a.m. to count herself present and completes all her assignments by 4 p.m. “My dad makes sure we keep on time with it and our work is done before 4. I work in my bedroom because it’s a quiet space to work. My [twin] brother, Ronan does his in the dining room or sometimes the bedroom and Brendan,  works in his bedroom,” she said.
Glazer clarified that although assignments should be submitted by 4 p.m. as long as it’s in by 9:30 a.m. its fine. “This kind of learning requires flexibility; adaptability. When you have three to four kids in a house sharing a device and parents are working, it may not be possible to follow a schedule. The teachers are very flexible and work with the family,” she said.
Patrick Somers, Braden’s father, thinks it’s working well for the family. “They sleep in a little later, but they get up at 8:30 and get into their routine,” he said.
Not only are the students still learning the core curriculum classes, but they are still getting lessons in the arts. “We get a [marching] band assignment and record ourselves and send it to our teacher,” said Braden.
Patrick Somers said on April 2, all the kids went outside at 2 p.m. and took their instruments out playing a few notes, part of the town wide instrumental program which was promoted on the Nutley Music Boosters Facebook page.
According to Braden, her and her classmates have less pressure when taking tests. “I like them more because they are online, it’s not as difficult,” she said.
Due to the stay-at-home order given by Gov. Phil Murphy, New Jersey schools have decided to cancel standardized testing for the remainder of the school year. This news did not upset Braden. “I like not taking so many tests,” she said.
Braden said she and her classmates are able to do more lessons, and she believes the virtual learning helps her manage time. “When we had school I would put it off until late at night but now with the time stamp it’s really helped with time management.”
Also, during this pandemic Nutley Schools opted to not give the children a full week of spring break but Glazer explained to instead give them a long weekend – Good Friday and Easter Monday and then the next four Mondays off to “allow people a chance to breathe.” “I think that was positive; people started their routine and instruction every day and give people a break to step away from the computer and take a walk,” said Glazer.
Patrick Somers said he liked the idea of five – four-day weeks with Mondays off, instead of one full week. “The middle school kids have a well-balanced work load, and they are getting used to [distance learning]. Overall we are getting used to it and its working. Luckily we have room at home to move around. Some people don’t have that,” he said.
As of this writing, Gov. Murphy has not declared that New Jersey schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic school year. However, as of May 1, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced their schools will remain closed through June.
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