Friday, January 22, 2021

RSU 14 families show support for remote learning

By Elizabeth Richards

Third-grader Kai Welch of Windham, left, is joined by his 
brother Harbor Welch, as they participate in remote learning
lessons at home offered by RSU 14 teachers. Kai's third-grade
classroom is taught by Jessica Melcher and has 27 students
from both Windham and Raymond.
Remote learning in RSU 14 is set up so that students have a teacher and a classroom community that they engage with daily. As the halfway mark approaches for the 2020-21 school year for the district, families from Jessica Melcher’s classroom shared their perspective on the experiences their children have had in the remote learning format.

Melcher teaches remote students in third grade with academic support from Wendy Bland.  The classroom has 27 students from both Windham and Raymond.

There were many factors that went into the decision to have their children learn remotely, families said.

Amber Carey, who has three school-aged children, said that they opted to go remote out of an abundance of caution and consideration for people in their lives in high-risk categories with whom they wanted to maintain contact.

Skylar Welch said her mother, who is a retired teacher, was providing after school care.

She’s high risk, so wouldn’t have been able to continue if the children were in school, Welch said. 

Now, her mother is helping Welch’s two children, who are in kindergarten and third grade, with their remote learning.

Consistency was another factor for families. Ashley Dorney said she remembered how hard it was to adjust last spring and felt like if her son got used to being at school again and they had to close, it would be harder than being home from the beginning.

“Especially now that there have been more and more cases at the schools, I’m no longer questioning if I made the right choice,” she said.

Jessica Dyer’s family had health considerations, and she also said they knew that there were many students with IEPs and learning differences who truly needed to be in person.

“We wanted to make sure that we left space for those children who did need the one on one,” she said.  “If I kept him home, that allowed one more space for another child to be there.”

Families and students from Melcher’s remote classroom say that the year has gone much better than many of them had anticipated.

Nicole Warner said she was worried after last spring, when her son didn’t do any schoolwork at all after March.  This year has been a much different experience, she said.

“It has been phenomenal,” she said.  “We have had nothing but a great experience thus far.”

Other parents of students who are remote learning agree.

“I have been surprised at how great it’s been going,” Welch said. “While of course I wish my kids were in school, I know that they’re home and they’re safe, they’re healthy. Having that peace of mind has been really important for me as a parent.”

Dyer also went into the year concerned after having issues last spring, including not having access to a computer.  This year, however, everyone was better prepared, and computers and supplies were distributed so they had everything they needed ahead of time, she said.

“It’s been much more organized and more of a steady flow,” she said.

Carey said that Windham Primary School, in particular, has provided a very effective model for remote learners.

“There is structure and consistency, online and offline assignments, comfort and competency with technology, support in every area, both engaging and activity-based options and enrichment opportunities across the board,” she said.

Students in Mrs. Melcher’s class agree. 

Moira Elder emphasized every syllable as she said, “It is a -ma – zing!”  Some of the things she enjoys about remote learning are the consistent schedule, being able to stay home, getting outside more, and being able to play with her cat whenever she wants.

Samantha Carey said remote learning works for her because she has everything she needs, can interact with others, knows what her assignments are, and “it’s really fun.”

Remote learning won’t work for every child and the experience will be different for each child.  And certainly, families said, the teacher can make all the difference. 

Families agreed that Mrs. Melcher is an excellent educator who gives each child the individual attention they need even with the large group.

“This teacher is amazing,” Warner said.  “She knows every single kiddo.  You can just tell she just knows so much about them.”

Dyer concurs.  Her son has faced some big struggles in previous years, she said, and distance learning has separated him from the negativity and allowed him to find his love for school again. Melcher, she said, took the time to get to know him, understand him, how he operates, and his learning style. 

Families said Melcher and other staff use breakout rooms efficiently to allow students to learn at an appropriate level.     

Moira’s mother, Jodi Elder, said that when things aren’t working, staff changes it. For instance, Moira was struggling in math a little, because she simply wasn’t enjoying it.  Now, Moira said, she works with another teacher one day each week, who “has these great, fun ways to do it.  My favorite was when we were doing multiplication in arrays and groups, she did it with angry cats.”

While families said children miss interacting with friends and peers, the remote team works hard to create experiences to allow for socializing. For Mrs. Melcher’s class, there is a Friday “Social Hour” with activities that change each week.

Remote learning, like all of the options this year, has challenges, but for some families, it’s truly the best option. 

“These teachers have had to completely overhaul, practically reinvent, their core practices,” Carey said.  “When we look at what they’ve done, it’s unbelievable to see the efforts that have been made. The kids are engaged, they’re enthusiastic, they’re happy and they’re doing good,” she said.

“Be it in-school or remote, there are educational challenges throughout,” Carey said. “My kiddos need support, and we aren’t acing it all, but we are doing our best. They won’t come away from this experience having not learned anything; they’ll come away having been enriched with new experiences we hope will foster more flexibility, patience, experience, and appreciation for what they have as it carries into the future of their personal educational journeys.”

Welch said, “It’s a great option for people and I think the school is doing an amazing job at adapting to each of the kids, adapting to the changes and still making it work with what they’re given.”

Perhaps the best endorsement comes from the students themselves.  Samantha Carey said she likes remote learning better than “real” school because she gets more support.

"Remote learning is the best choice for right now,” said Moira Elder.  “It’s a great experience for any child who loves home.” <

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