ITHACA, N.Y. –– Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on May 1 that that schools and colleges across the state will stay closed for the remainder of the academic year.

Schools will  be required to continue meal programs and child care services for essential workers. The state will make a decision about summer school programming by the end of May.

In the wake of the global pandemic and social distancing directives given by Gov. Cuomo back in March students and educators have been tasked with adapting to new ways of learning and teaching remotely. Throughout the county, school districts have been continuously evaluating best practices, including providing students with Chromebooks and delivering educational materials door to door.

“I think our districts are doing well. (But) it was a tough start,” said Nicole Eschler, Executive Director of Regional School Success for TST BOCES. “We were all at a different level of technological expertise to start with –– And there’s a lot of reasons for that, whether it’s geography or the curriculum or local priorities or finances. Now they really seem to be getting into a groove –– the teachers are able to meet with the families and the students and to support them.”

Eschler said that while many are successfully adapting to the new way of learning, there are some who aren’t.

“There are subsets of kids that are not regularly engaging with the work or not completing the work. But the reverse of that has been true as well. Some kids that were disengaged when they were in school actually now have a newfound freedom and motivation to engage. But we don’t have 100% participation by students,” she said. 

The Ithaca City School District has been operating under their “Distance Learning 2.0” plan since mid-April, which includes the use of Chromebooks for many students, who have had the laptops delivered to their homes. Teachers have been contacting students weekly through phone, email and if possible –– through virtual meetings or office hours.

“Thank you to our entire Ithaca City School District community for the outpouring of support and kindness as we navigate the effects of COVID-19 on our world,” ICSD said in a statement on their website. “Please feel free to reach out to us via email, phone 607-274-2101, or Let’s Talk! with any questions or concerns.”

The Dryden Central School District said in a statement on their website from mid-April, that their students working online will continue to receive updated lessons and assignments through the length of the closure.

The district is coordinating with families who are working offline, a schedule for pick-up of devices and USB Drives so that they can be uploaded with new assignments and videos and then returned to their students. Students in Pre-K and Kindergarten as well as students who are working primarily with paper-based materials are provided enough work and assignments for two weeks at a time.

Students in the Newfield School district have also been getting work delivered to their homes in addition to online learning –– the next delivery scheduled for Friday, May 8.

The online platform Google Classroom has been the primary platform to facilitate remote learning for Lansing students. The district has also made the decision to have their teachers not record specific scores for their students –– as would happen in a traditional classroom setting. However, they will be tracking and documenting student participation and submission of assigned work on the basis of “evidence of learning.”

The Trumansburg School District and Groton Central School District have distributed Chromebooks to their students as well, and are distributing lessons through the Google Classroom.

According to Eschler, the priority for BOCES and educators across the county is to make sure students health and well being are supported and that the base curriculum is taught through that lens. 

“The priority these first seven weeks has been about ensuring that kids are okay, that we’re caring for them and we’re culturally engaging them in an equitable way,” she said. 

When and how schools will come back to in-person learning is still unclear. Gov. Cuomo is directing all schools and colleges to create re-opening plans that re-imagine school facilities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. All plans will be reviewed and approved by the state.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com