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Adapting to remote learning in Oceanside, Island Park

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Families and school officials are adjusting to a new set of circumstances as students are at home, remote learning and social distancing, in response to the coronavirus.

Google Classroom and FaceTime have replaced in-person instruction and hanging out with friends for Island Park seventh-grader Marysol Alvarado. Each day, she and four other Lincoln Orens Middle School students video chat while completing online assignments from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., she said.

“We made a group [text] chat first,” Marysol, 12, explained, “and decided it’s easier [on FaceTime] because then we can all help each other with the answers. It’s better than doing it by yourself.”

The remote learning format can sometimes be disorganized and feel confusing, she acknowledged. “It’s a new thing,” she said, “but we’re getting by just fine.”

Marysol’s mother, Dawne Alvarado, described how the girls “go through a ‘school day’ together” and “laugh and dance as they do their work.”

For younger children, parents have had to take on the role of full-time schedule setter and homework helper.

Victoria Piscione, of Island Park, said being home with her 7-year-old son, Kaden, during these uncertain times has been “a huge adjustment.”

“It’s scary to not know what tomorrow will bring,” she said. “No school, no work, no sense of daily routine anymore has left my family quite anxious and stressed.”

To mitigate some of that stress, Piscione created a chore chart for Kaden to color in each day, which includes completing remote learning assignments. She said the online lessons went “better than expected,” and since talking more to Kaden about what’s happening, they’ve been able to adapt together. “I’ve learned to take it day by day, turn off the news and really listen to my 7-year-old,” Piscione said.

Island Park Public Schools have implemented a class directory for both the middle school and Francis X. Hegarty Elementary School on its website, where teachers post virtual assignments.

In addition, Superintendent Dr. Rosmarie Bovino has been regularly posting updates to parents about remote learning. In one update on March 19, she encouraged students and parents to email teachers with any “technical issues or confusion around concepts or instructions.” She suggested typing “virtual hand raise” in the subject line so that teachers will prioritize those emails. “They know ‘virtual hand raise’ means a student cannot move forward with learning without assistance,” she explained.

“Our goal is to provide continuity of instruction through the many tools that we currently have.  In the next few days, we will be expanding these,” she wrote in the update. “We want to ensure the highest quality instruction possible.”

The Oceanside School District has also been rolling out its online learning plan. While some parents of elementary school children were frustrated with a lack of work in the first week, Diane Provvido, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and research, said there would be more to come in “phase two.”

“This all happened very quickly,” Provvido said. “We’re shifting now. I know it’s hard for parents to do homeschooling with their kids. We’re very soon moving to more regular assignments and communication from our teachers at the elementary level.”

She noted that all teachers would be establishing Google Classrooms for more regimented tasks and learning plans.

In the first week, Suzanne Wright explained that her 9-year-old daughter, a third-grader at School 9E, had already finished the homework packet in two days and needed more material for the rest of the week. Luckily, her daughter’s teacher has been responsive over email and sends online educational resources to keep students busy.

“This is unprecedented, it’s never happened before,” Wright said, “so I get there’s not a contingency plan for what happens if there’s a virus and school closes.”

Sandra Cimino, mother of a preschool student at Oceanside School No. 6, said she has been in close contact with the school principal and her daughter’s teacher to set up lessons for her daughter.

“I think teachers have a very important job,” she said, “and we should honestly give them more credit now that we have literally been put in their shoes.”

The school district’s “OSD Learning at Home” website has resources for online learning in all grades, as well as a “Talking to Kids About Coronavirus” section. The website can also direct students to access free Wi-Fi from Altice.

In addition, the schools are offering live, virtual online book readings for younger children and career talks with professionals for high schoolers on a daily basis.

“Our kids’ lives have shifted dramatically,” Provvido said. “They spend so many hours in school, it’s the heartbeat of the community and so much a part of everybody’s days … They need to hear from their teachers and feel connected.”