Moving from analog to virtual in Hudson schools

Tech kept education going during shutdown

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
From left, Max Dooley, Isa Dooley, and Mia Dooley, all age 9, do their schoolwork at home after schools shut down March 16.

HUDSON — Teachers and school administrators found themselves facing challenging tasks in March after Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the closing of all of the state’s public and private schools to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

However, educators within a short time found ways to put their curriculum and teaching tools online and found ways for students to access the new lesson plan, using a combination of online resources such as Google Classroom for lessons and Zoom for virtual classroom meetings.

Doreen Osmun, assistant superintendent of Hudson City Schools, said that one challenge was adapting to the rapidly changing information and guidelines after the school buildings were closed.

“We have worked hard to create a framework/guidelines that are flexible enough to accommodate extended timelines and changing restrictions,” Osmun said. “Schools are about students. We are in the people business/relationship business. While remote lessons and meetings are a way to connect, nothing can replace the face-to-face contact.”

One advantage the Hudson schools had was that the district already had iPads and Chromebooks “across all grade levels,” Osmun said.

Osmun said the district was able to contact 99.9% of the district’s students.

“Our building administrators, school counselors, our social worker, and teachers have been instrumental in making personal connections,” Osmun said. “Some of our students are working or taking care of younger siblings while their parents are working. We all have to understand every student has a different home environment and how they interact with learning may look different.”

At-home learning

Kristina Dooley, who has an independent educational consulting firm in Hudson, Estrela Consulting, said she has been working from home as well as working with her triplets Max, Isa and Mia through their schoolwork. 

“Our family still wakes up at the same time as we did before the stay-at-home order,” Dooley said. “We thought this was good for all of us in terms of some consistency in our lives. The kids have breakfast, get dressed — most days — and start their school day by watching recorded video messages from their teachers at 9 a.m. This is what time their school day began pre-pandemic and, again, this is one piece of consistency for them.”

She said her children have a schedule covering the subject areas but added “some days they are done with their assigned work by lunch, and other days they are doing their reading in the hammock in the late afternoon. We have lunch together as a family most days and have enjoyed being able to take a midday walk with our Siberian Husky, Kai.”

Dooley said that the family has tried to incorporate special events and projects as well, such as arts and crafts, and listening to live performances online.

Still, there have been obstacles for the family, Dooley said, especially with both parents working from home.

“It's been a challenge to make sure the kids are all doing what they're supposed to be doing,” Dooley said. “Because we are working, too, we can't sit with them all day to be sure they're actually doing what's been assigned. It's also challenging because our kids have a hard time understanding that even though my husband I are ‘here,’ we aren't available 24/7. They don't realize that we're still working even though we're home with them and that sometimes we have work calls or meetings that are our priority for that moment.”

Remote classroom

Lauren Gutschmidt, a seventh-grade math teacher at Hudson Middle School, said that her “teaching routine has drastically changed” to include recorded video lessons and Zoom meetings with students and other teachers.

“Adapting to this new normal is increasingly difficult for working parents like myself,” she said. “I am not only a teacher to my seventh graders, but also my 6- and 8-year-old children, who need attention and guidance with their learning. It hasn't been easy, but I strive to achieve the right balance in this work from home lifestyle to accommodate the needs of everyone.”

Gutschmidt said she missed being with her students every day.

“I love to see their faces at our Zoom conferences, but it's not the same,” she said. “I miss hearing about their weekends, listening to new jokes, and making connections.”

Technology also has posed a challenge, Gutschmidt said.

“One day, Google Classroom would not open on several students' iPads,” she said. “Our wonderful tech support team quickly identified the issue and shared steps for the students to fix, but it was a stressful way to start a Monday.”

However, technology also has presented opportunities for learning as well, Gutschmidt added.

She said students have created videos and taken photos “to find real life math at home and in nature.

“I've also used the math app Desmos to host a live lesson for students to play a ‘Guess Who’ style game with a partner. This allowed students to ask questions with each other and match a linear inequality to a corresponding graph in real time.”

One challenge Gutschmidt said is finding balance between working and incorporating breaks, for both herself and her students.

“In the first few weeks, I made the mistake of not taking enough breaks and scheduling my day properly,” Gutschmidt said. “I've found it essential to strike a balance between work and life to reduce my stress and improve the quality of my lessons and student interactions.”

Gutschmidt said that the seventh grade team sends emails weekly to parents and students outlining assignments for that week. She reached out via email or through a one-on-one Zoom session to struggling students.

Virtual voices

Jacob Moore, the director of choral activities, said that “with choir being such a hands on subject, it’s been difficult for me to keep my students singing on their own, as well as engaging in music they would not normally engage in.”

“First, to get our online learning started back in March, I had students share a song/video/tiktok/etc., that described their mood about this whole thing,” Moore said. “While it took a while to get through all of them, it was awesome to see all the different personalities and taste in music each individual student has.”

Moore said that he even had a virtual choir performance, which was streamed May 6 on Facebook.

Moore said that the usual day with online learning started with “answering a lot of emails in the morning to make sure that students understand what is expected, followed by class meetings in the afternoon.”

“The meetings are the same in the sense that I still check in on my students’ mental health, something I take very seriously in class. I’ve even programmed pieces about it,” Moore said. “We go around the Zoom conference call and everyone shares a ‘happy and crappy’ of the day. It’s different in the sense that we aren’t able to sing due to a variety of different internet speeds. When we try, it’s a cacophony of sound. Still brings a smile to my face, but for a different reason. It’s always funny to see or hear my students’ pets in the background of their videos. In some cases, they come right up to the screen and join the conversation.”

The youngest class

Andrea M. Stuart, who teaches kindergarten, said she strives to teacher her students “to love learning for life.”

“Given the remote learning that has taken place due to COVID-19, we, as teachers, have thought creatively and outside of the box to recreate the magic that happens in the classroom with as much authenticity as possible,” Stuart said. “In kindergarten, our daily practice in the classroom is experiential, exploratory, and hands on, as teachers work side-by-side with our beloved students.”

The Zoom meetings are lively, Stuart said.

“It has brought me so much laughter and joy to witness a family’s dog barking, receive a tour of a student’s backyard, greet a sibling, or meet a favorite stuffed animal all while teaching writing,” Stuart said. “We have connected our home and school partnership with more openness, as teachers and students are learning more about one another, than ever before. Show and Tell has never been more authentic.”

April Helms can be reached at ahelms@recordpub.com