ANDROSCOGGIN VALLEY — Approximately 1,700 students are now being educated remotely across the Androscoggin Valley and school officials report the transition has gone fairly smoothly.
“Students are moving ahead with their learning,” said SAU 3 Superintendent of Schools Julie King, who oversees the Berlin school system with an estimated 1,100 students.
“It’s been amazing to watch,” said SAU 20 Superintendent of Schools David Backler, who oversees the Gorham Randolph Shelburne Cooperative School District as well as the Milan Village School.
Both superintendents praised the effort and work of teachers, staff, students, school boards, and parents.
Gov. Sununu closed schools on March 16 and gave schools across the state a week to prepare to teach students remotely starting Monday, March 23. The school districts had to make sure technology was in place and everyone was up-to-date on how to use it. They also had to continue to provide free and reduced breakfast and lunch to the students.
King said the transition was helped by the fact the system already had one-on-one technology in place and students had individual Chromebooks. Students from kindergarten up, all had some familiarity with the educational software, Google Classroom, especially students in the higher grades.
The district spent the week before resuming classes holding training sessions on the software for new teachers and to update earlier training. The system also had to arrange for students to pick up their Chromebooks and other teaching materials at the schools without violating spacing orders. The superintendent praised the work of the technology department in getting the district ready to go remote.
She said there are a few students that are not participating and the district is working to address issues such as internet access to get them onto the remote learning system.
But otherwise students are attending classes from their home. King said the software allows the teacher real-time interface with the entire class. Assignments are getting posted and students are working. She said parents have been very supportive with many setting up special classroom areas for the students.
King also praised the cafeteria crew and Food Services Director Charlene Richard for preparing meals that are being delivered to the bus stops by the bus drivers with help from the district’s paraprofessionals. The meals have to meet nutrition standards and be boxed and delivered, making the preparation time longer. Because over half of the city’s students are eligible for free and reduced meals, King said the USDA is making the meals available free to any child under 18 years old even if they do not attend the public school. The meals are available free to any Berlin student regardless of age or income.
King said Wednesday the school delivered 550 breakfast/lunches, less than the 600 to 650 meals the school system usually serves.
Backler said last week was “insanely busy” as he worked with staff and teachers to get prepared to educate the 600 students in SAU 20 remotely. He said all the students from grade 4 up had one-on-one technology and the younger students had technology in the classroom. Arrangements were made and every student was provided with a computer.
Backler said they are trying to keep everything as normal as possible while providing the flexibility required by the situation. He said assignments are posted, students submit their work, and lessons are videoed so students can watch them later if they have a conflict. The superintendent said the lessons are thoughtful and engaging and the students have jumped right in and embraced the system.
The custodian staff at the GRS cooperative is helping to deliver meals. Overall, he said the SAU delivers about 100 meals a day. Milan also received a waiver from the USDA allowing any child under 18 in Dummer and Milan to receive free meals.
Both superintendents report that while the governor’s order called for closing schools until April 3, they believe the order will be extended and students will continue to be educated at home for some time.