Wednesday, March 18, was the first day of public school closures in the U.S. Virgin Islands and, since then, both students and educators have been learning their way around the world of online education.
“Students in both school districts have received packets of work for the three-week period while schools are closed,” said Cynthia Graham, director of Public Relations and Communications. “Additionally, some teachers are connecting with their students via online platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Office 365 TEAMS. The three-week packages of work will generally satisfy classwork while students are away from school. Learning continues,” Graham said.
Edmodo, ClassDojo and I-Ready are online platforms students were introduced to before the onset of the closures.
St. Croix Educational Complex English teacher Regina Keels and art teacher Danica David use Edmodo with their students.
Keels teaches three English classes each semester at SCEC, one Grade 10 honors class and two Grade 11 classes. She taught stateside for several years and has the online system under her belt, she admits. “I use email and Twitter as back up. Using technology is one of the goals of the department.”
Keels gave her students an orientation about their work.
“Monday, Wednesday and Thursday I upload their work and tell students what to expect. They have the time between those days to do the work. There are two YouTube videos attached to Edmodo for a 10-minute lesson acquainting students on how they will get their work,” Keels explained. Students use Google docs for writing papers.
Keels is on her cellphone all day checking students’ emails, questions, comments and platform issues. Students also use Twitter to send quick messages to their classmates. Students advocate for each other, Keels said.
When there are issues, Keels calls parents to help resolve them. Where there is no computer in the home, Keels requests more contact with the parents. Teachers listen for daily information coming from the V.I. government, Keels said. She does most of her work on her cellphone.
Keels allows time for students to do their work between the days she uploads work for them.
“I don’t want to overwhelm them, yet I don’t want them to have too much of a lag,” Keels said. Keels regularly orchestrates with parents who have younger children at home.
“I like it,” Keels said of the remote online teaching. “It allows me to manage my time,” she added.
Darshania Domingo, a parent of four with two children at Ricardo Richards Elementary School, works with her second and fourth grade children on ClassDojo.
“We have one computer at home,” she said. “My two older children are using it regularly with ClassDojo and by Monday, my four-year-old will be online everyday with I-Ready,” she said.
“It’s a lot of work keeping their different remote learning schedules intact, but they are always excited about learning,” Domingo said of her four children. “The two older children opted for school lunches. Now that they’re home, they’re all constantly eating, and no plans have been made yet by the department for providing lunches.”
According to Graham, the Department of Education will distribute nutritious breakfast and lunch meals to students during school closures.
“Coordination efforts are underway with other government agencies. An announcement of distribution sites and times is forthcoming,” Graham said.
Domingo’s 10-year-old daughter Isis is a fourth grader and the most expressive. She talks more about missing her friends and the social structure school gave her. She is also very creative and has built learning stations in their home for social studies and other subjects for her and brothers – Wadi, eight, King, four, and Shree, two. The dining room table is now the reading center. They are always willing to help each other, their mother said.
Domingo home-schooled her older children until they were four years old.
“I crafted my lifestyle to accommodate their learning structure,” she said.
With the new challenges of remote learning, she reminisces about the ease with which she worked their home-schooling into her former lifestyle.
“Our family is using this opportunity to create some projects,” Domingo said. “We will create a prototype and go from there,” she added.
This is also an opportunity for parents to connect deeper with themselves and their children, Domingo said. There are precautionary measures that must be put in place if something like this ever happens again, she said.
In an interview with the Source, Graham shared V.I. Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin’s public remarks at a press briefing last week. The commissioner said, that closing schools is never an easy decision, as schools “serve as hubs for communities and provide a safe place for students to have their academic, social, emotional and nutritional needs met. However, the novel coronavirus [COVID-19] has proven to be very contagious and is rapidly moving across the globe, affecting more and more communities, including our own. The safety and security of our students and employees are of the highest priority.”
The Gifft Hill School on St. John and World Central Kitchen will partner to provide snacks to all school age children 17 and younger on St. John, according to a news release. The program will distribute snacks in both Cruz Bay and Coral Bay. Volunteers for Gifft Hill School and World Central Kitchen plan to hand out nutritious snacks every Tuesday while schools remain closed.
The Gifft School was already arranging to provide snacks for children on St. John when Chef Christina Arriola, who heads the culinary program at the school contacted WCK. The partnership with WCK will expand the scope of the initiative, the release said.
Chef Arriola has volunteered with World Central Kitchen most recently with the earthquakes in Puerto Rico. World Central Kitchen has done work all over the world to provide food for those in need during times of crisis.
World Central Kitchen is online here.
SCEC art teacher David plans to continue with basic and advanced art classes that were already in session with her grade nine through 12 students. David will create a digital classroom showing images of noted artists’ works. Students will write research papers after reading the referenced material. They will also create personal artwork and show different steps of their production in Edmodo.
David will not change the syllabus and will continue with “Celebrating People of Color in Art” as their ongoing curriculum. A continued conversation of African American contemporary painter Kara Walker’s exhibit, a move into art in the Harlem Renaissance, and a look at the works of Nigerian American portrait painter Kehinde Wiley, will be explored, studied and discussed.
This is an unsettling time, David said. “It will take time for all of us to adapt to this new system of learning, but I am sure my students and I will continue to work together in harmony,” she said. “I’ll do my best.”
John H. Woodson Jr. High School music teacher Stanford Joines is ready for the switch to the remote learning system and feels the outcome will be positive for all concerned.
Joines’ seventh and eighth grade students are beginner and advanced musicians who are given instructions in music history and styles. The students’ assignments will reflect the curriculum outlined through the end of this school year.
Self-discipline is expected of Joines’ students throughout the remote learning, he said.
“I will submit questions for students, and I expect the answers to tell a story; there will not be one-word answers. Their papers will be submitted during the week. Fridays they get to perform with their instruments over the phone. “I will listen and grade them on their performance,” Joines said.
It’s important that the students read their assignments, Joines said. They can get their work done on a cellphone. Their work will not require a laptop or an iPad, so they should have no problem completing their assignments, he added.
Google and YouTube have developed platforms for parents and teachers in an effort to lighten the burden of learning remotely. Google’s newest feature, Teach From Home, and YouTube’s Learn@Home were launched Friday.