WEST ORANGE, NJ — After more than a week of remote learning due to the outbreak of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), West Orange’s public school students are beginning to adjust to their "new normal." With the exception of minor issues, the rollout of the online platform has been met with a generally positive response, according to parents and students.
According to Superintendent Dr. J. Scott Cascone, the rollout of the West Orange Public Schools e-learning platform "has been largely successful."
"Minor issues were remedied as our families and staff adjusted to this new form of pedagogy," he said in a letter to parents over the weekend. "I am confident that our faculty will continue to educate our students.”
As a personal message to the school community, Cascone shared a rendition of "You've Got a Friend" by James Taylor on Facebook on Friday in order to celebrate the culmination of a successful first week.
West Orange mother Jennifer Cerruto agreed that the district has done "a fantastic job not only in setting it up, but also in how the individual teachers communicate on GC, distribute info and assignments, set expectations, etc.”
“I don’t have a lot to compare it to directly right now, but I want to express how impressed I am with our district’s technology at the moment,” said fellow parent Kevin Brady.
Unlike most of the surrounding towns that jumped into e-learning in mid-March, West Orange designated the week of the March 16 as spring break, which allowed the staff to finalize the new platform for students.
Sara Elwell of West Orange said she was glad the township waited a week to roll out the platform, stating that it sounded like it was the right decision in order to ensure that "it was done correctly."
As they began their first official day of e-learning on March 23, students were eased into the platform with instructions on its use.
After their regular classes began on Tuesday, working mother Tez Roro said she found e-earning to be a challenge for parents who need to find a balance between managing their own responsibilities and trying to help their children with the distance-learning process.
“I have two boys: a second-grader and a three-and-a-half year old," said Roro. "We try to divide and conquer the best we can with my husband.
"We are following the district e-learning model for my second-grader, [who] has a designated place to do his schoolwork with a computer. Some subjects he can do fairly independently. Others, he needs a good amount of direction, attention and support. It is not easy to have to break my concentration from whatever I may be working on when he has questions often.”
On the other hand, the flexible schedule for e-learning took West Orange mother Michelle Gabriel-Caldwell by surprise.
Gabriel-Caldwell shared that she woke up her daughter at the regular time for classes, not realizing students had until 11:59 a.m. each day to hand in assignments.
“I don’t know why I thought they had to have the same schedule as school," she said. "She was upset with me for waking her up at 6 a.m."
Many parents took to social media to discuss the positive impact of online learning on their households.
“First day has gone really well for us,” said Ryan Stanley. “We had one technical issue, I reached out to the teacher, and she sent me the solution within minutes. I can’t even fathom how much work went into setting this up.”
Brady, whose three children had all started online learning, posted that Google Classroom "seems to be working well.”
“Assignments are posted for each kid," he said. "Teachers have been easily accessible.”
In sharing about her child's first-day experience, Taz Grayson said her daughter "took all of the recommended breaks until she felt she was in school mode and didn’t want to stop.”
Ces Pulmano echoed her fellow residents’ sentiments, stating that the program has been "easy to navigate."
"I’m just thinking how much work our teachers and the entire school district had to do in one week to get us all ready," said Pulmano. "They did an amazing job.”
Online learning has been a unique adjustment for students. Such is the case for Joey Palumbo, who is a sixth-grader at Edison Middle School.
“It’s a lot to manage, because if you move onto another subject and forget to submit what you were working on, you can get a zero,” said Joey.
Tanner Joroff, an eighth-grader at Liberty Middle School, said his experience with e-learning thus far "has been overall very positive."
"The program has no glitches and I find it easy to log in," he said. "The workload is manageable, and my teachers respond to questions extremely quickly. Because it is Google Classroom that we are using the majority of the time, it is easy to find and submit the work. The only downside of this is not being able to see friends, but other than that e-learning has been good.”
His brother, Fraine, a junior at West Orange High School, said that e-learning "has not been as difficult as people made [him] anticipate."
"The work itself hasn’t been overly demanding, and my teachers have been clear about expectations and responsive to emails," he said. "Obviously, I miss being with my friends, and it’s been a big adjustment having to set my own schedule for when I get up and accomplish my work.
“I think this is good practice for when I go to college. The circumstances that have forced us into e-learning are very unfortunate, but I think the actual process has been successful so far.”
Due to the challenges of social distancing, Roosevelt Middle School eighth grader Sofia Rowan's friends celebrated her March birthday by driving by her house with birthday signs rather than having a party as planned.
Rowan has kept in overall good spirits, however, stating that she has found e-learning to be favorable and was even inspired to write a song about being in quarantine that was featured on “Good Morning America” (GMA).
“E-learning is going great for me so far," said Rowan, adding that the program has been well-organized. "I didn’t run into any problems signing in, and there is enough material to keep me busy and keep on learning.
"I especially appreciate my teachers who sent little videos of themselves to prepare us for the day! I miss my school friends and my teachers! I’m hoping we will be able to go back before the end of the school year.”
Rowan's quarantine song, which has nearly 70,000 views on the GMA YouTube channel, can be seen below.