COVENTRY — As teachers statewide prepare to educate their students remotely beginning Monday, Superintendent Craig Levis is proud to see that Coventry Public Schools staff members are taking the situation in stride.
“When you’re facing such adversity there’s two ways to go,” Levis said Thursday. “You can throw in the towel, or you can say, ‘let’s do this.’ The one piece you need to bring to the table is willingness.”
And in Coventry, he continued, each educator “has been willing to do whatever it takes to make this happen.”
Coventry staff had already been working for weeks on a distance learning plan when on Wednesday Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Rhode Island schools would be operating remotely through at least April 3.
“Let’s face it, our day-to-day life has been turned upside down completely. We have no idea just how disruptive this is going to be to our existence,” Levis said. “But I think we’re in a good position.”
Districts last Thursday were called on by Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green to submit emergency distance learning plans to be used if the decision were made to close schools beyond this week, which was considered April vacation week.
The Coventry school district submitted its plan to the state Department of Education on Tuesday, Levis said, and over the coming weeks will use an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to ensure students get the most out of their remote schooling.
“All of our support staff, teaching assistants, guidance, social workers, psychologists, school nurse teachers — everybody has been part of the preparation,” he added.
Students in grades six and up will use the Chromebooks provided through the middle- and high schools’ 1-to-1 programs. And each teacher has established his or her own method for interacting with students, Levis said.
For students in pre-kindergarten through grade five, teachers have arranged packets for remote learning. Levis said parents will also receive guidance on how they can facilitate their children’s education.
A recent survey indicated that there are around 12 elementary students who don’t have internet access, Levis said, and some 80 who don’t have devices to work from. The district is working on a solution to that, he said.
It’s expected that students will take their lessons seriously, said Levis, who added that he hopes families will do their best to provide as much support and oversight as possible.
Still, though lessons will include a variety of learning activities, Levis said students won’t be asked to put in the same number of hours they would during a typical school day.
“I don’t expect a child to sit in front of a computer for six and a half hours,” he said. “But they’ll still have the same learning objectives. We’re going to make sure that their learning continues at home.”
He added, however, that he understands students will be working from a range of environments and it may be tricky for some to adapt. He’s also sympathetic, he said, to the unique stresses that the district’s teachers may currently be facing.
“That’s the challenge here,” Levis said, adding that many teachers have their own children home with them, and they may be worried about how their parents and relatives are faring during the pandemic.
The distance learning plan includes daily contact with families by teachers, social workers, psychologists, therapists and teaching assistants, Levis said. Teachers will also be available to students for assistance.
The same services that students and employees receive normally will be available virtually.
“We’re going to provide wrap-around supports for families to make sure that every day, somebody reaches out to every single family and student,” he said. “We want to make sure that they’re OK and to see how we can support them as a community.”
Levis has asked teachers to check in with their principals by Tuesday of the second week away, and administrators will meet the following day.
“We’ll talk about our successes, and what are our heavy lifts,” he said, adding that he anticipates the schools will be closed for longer than two weeks. “We’ll reflect on it and we’ll make adjustments.”
Levis praised the district’s teachers for their passion and constant dedication to Coventry students.
“Our teachers are very competent professionals,” he said. “They don’t just like our kids, they love our kids and they love our families.”
He also lauded town employees for offering to “do whatever they can to make sure” Coventry residents are taken care of.
“I’m just very humbled by what’s happening in our community,” Levis said. “Everybody has said ‘we’ll do what we can do to take care of our families and our students.’”
Despite the uncertainty of the current situation, Levis is choosing to look on the bright side.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of take-aways from this,” he said. “I think this is going to make people really appreciate what they have. I always say that school should be the hub of the community, and I think this is an opportunity for us to demonstrate that we truly are.”