SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Students across Rhode Island will be sitting in front of computer screens, rather than behind desks for the next two weeks – at least.  

On Wednesday, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that all public schools will be conducting distance learning for the next two weeks. The decision to keep students out of school comes in light of new, additional COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Department of Health announced 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and then 11 additional cases Thursday, bringing the total number of cases to 44, according to Director Nicole Alexander-Scott.

“After two weeks we will evaluate how it’s going, and we will make a decision at that point as to what we will do for the remainder of the school year,” Raimondo said.

Based on current information, however, the governor said it’s unlikely schools will reopen after two weeks. 

“This is a tough decision, and this will be tough to execute,” Raimondo said. “Many other states have just thrown in the towel. … I’m not yet willing to throw in the towel because I think some learning is better than no learning.”

In South Kingstown, Superintendent Linda Savastano has been keeping the school community abreast of the recent decision and what to expect in the coming weeks. Though many of the district’s educators have used platforms like SeeSaw, Zoom, Google Classroom and Meet before, Savastano acknowledges that “the transition to a virtual environment will be uncomfortable.”

“We will have large learning curves,” Savastano wrote in a newsletter to families. “We are working to make sure that real-time face to face conversations are a significant piece of our virtual learning. We are also making sure that our virtual learning will take place in front of a computer AND away from the computer.”

For the district’s youngest learners, Pre-K to second grade, teachers will be using SeeSaw and Zoom. In recent days, in an effort to help provide remote learning to students, both digital learning platforms have been providing free webinars to teachers across the country.

Third grade and up will be using Google Classroom and Meet to keep in contact with the teachers. 

“These platforms will allow learning to be both synchronous and asynchronous,” according to Savastano. “This means that each day students will have some online face-to-face time with teachers and some time that will be interactive and require student-independent learning based upon the work provided.”

This virtual learning plan has been made possible thanks to the shared efforts of the district’s leadership team and the technology department, according to Savastano. The plan Includes virtual meetings, live chats or video tutorials daily to maintain a human connection, break learning down into smaller chunks, and providing “frequent feedback through online knowledge checks, comments on collaborative documents and chat to keep students motivated and moving forward.”

“This team has worked tirelessly in preparation for virtual learning,” Savastano wrote. “We want our plan to be the best it can be for our children. We do not want a mitigation plan but instead a plan that reflects the amazing learning community that we are....even in the most challenging of times.”

Because this is a major time of adjustment, teachers are being encouraged to set manageable and achievable goals for students. The first week should focus on rituals, routines and getting used to the platforms. 

Though all students from fifth-grade on are assigned student issued laptops, students at any grade level that need a laptop may fill out an online survey;

During the next two weeks of distance learning, families that qualify for free and reduced lunch will be able to pick up breakfast and lunch at South Kingstown High School. Breakfast pickup will extend from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., and lunch pickup will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

The governor stressed that these two weeks will not be an extended vacation. When “school” opens Monday, Raimondo said she needs everyone, both students and teachers, working just as hard as any other day.

Many teachers, Raimondo acknowledged, have never done this before.

“I know that you need and deserve additional professional training in order to get yourselves ready to do this, and I want you to know we’re going to be there,” she said, speaking to teachers. “We’re going to do everything we can, over time, to provide you with the support you need.”

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