In two days time, local public schools distributed over 100 technology devices to students without them.

WESTFIELD, NJ — All students attending Westfield Public Schools converted to distance learning in the wake of state and nationwide closures due to COVID-19.  Distance learning is anticipated to continue indefinitely.

Elementary school students are following daily plans of activities varied between traditional and online learning while intermediate and high school students are using online platforms to access educational content and complete homework.

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Jordan Marks’ daughter Elli is a first-grader at Franklin Elementary School.

“The teachers have been emailing us, providing instruction and helping us navigate this,” said Marks. “Right now, Elli’s work is all on paper. We are submitting completed daily progress reports via e-mail, and keeping a folder of completed assignments here at home.”

Marks’ third-grader Zoe is able to work more independently, and the family is doing what they can to continue keep things routine-oriented.

“Zoe was up, dressed and on the computer doing her assignments this morning,” Jordan Marks said on Tuesday. “As a family, we do well with a schedule, so this is working for us so far.”

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Families are finding ways to supplement schoolwork with additional activities.

Elli and Zoe Marks took advantage of Tuesday's temperate weather to ride bikes during “recess,” and their mother Jordan had them do a St. Patrick’s Day art project during school hours. The sisters are staying in touch with friends after school via FaceTime, so they can maintain friendships while still social distancing.

Cindy Linsen, a certified special education teacher with a master’s degree in reading, has three children in the Westfield schools — ninth-grader Jack, seventh-grader, Alex, and sixth-grader, Hannah. Linsen created a detailed daily schedule, which includes structured time for schoolwork and other activities.

“The schools were great,” Linsen said. “They gave us the schedule of when teachers would be available, so I started with that. I filled in the rest with a daily STEM activity, outdoor activities, household chores and meals. I’m trying to keep things as structured as possible, while still giving them the down time we all need.”

Linsen has found project and science experiment ideas on Pinterest and elsewhere online to include. Tuesday's agenda included baking and on Wednesday the Linsens anticipate building an at-home volcano.

Last week, the Westfield School District had sent home an online survey to determine which families might need assistance with technology for their students to complete distance learning. On Tuesday, the district’s technology team set up a drive-through pickup station to provide devices to families which had indicated on the survey they need them, school officials said. By that evening, the district's technology department had provided over 100 devices to Westfield families in the course of two days, one official told TAPinto Westfield.

“Our staff has worked above and beyond to prepare for remote learning and I think our first day, as a whole, went well,” said Superintendent Margaret Dolan. “This is new to all of us — students, educators, parents — so, of course, we will learn together and make adjustments as needed. I am grateful for the positive ways in which our school community has approached this unique challenge. Together, we will make this work.”

Westfield High School students are adapting to the changes in a variety of ways.

“I don’t think [distance learning] takes away from the experience of real school learning because you are still being taught things and you can still reach out to year teacher,” said Westfield High School sophomore Celia Frank. “However, I think I’ll definitely have less motivation to do my work.”

Some intermediate and high school teachers have chosen to use video elements with platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts. Others have provided written assignments for their students in Google Classroom.

Just one day into distance learning, Westfield High School freshman Connor Loggie found himself enjoying some of the flexibility home learning offers, but also longing for more face-to-face interaction.

“I like that it’s on my own time,” Loggie said. “But it’s harder to schedule when to do things and how much time I should spend. I don’t like that I can’t see friends, but I’m getting work done, and just passing the time with reading and watching TV.”

Fellow freshman Leo Schwartz said he has been biking in his neighborhood and shooting hoops at home in between classwork until he’s able to spend time with friends.

“It’s great that having school online is giving me more free time, but it can be more difficult to understand the work that our teachers are assigning.”

Shreya Jyotishi and Michael Siroty are Westfield High School students participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.

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