March 17, 2020
Welcome to Weston’s School from Home program! Teachers, administrators, and support staff have been working over the past week to put it together and we are excited to kick off online learning on Thursday, March 19th. The School from Home program allows Weston Public Schools to extend learning into the home while keeping staff and students safe during our extended period of school cancellation due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While online learning days do not replace days at school (per guidelines from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), they do provide students many varied opportunities to learn content, practice academic skills, and stay connected to their teachers. In short, School from Home will be where we teach and learn while our buildings are closed.
I am sharing a lot of information in this communication. Thank you in advance for carefully reading this document and I hope many of your questions will be answered.
Why School from Home?
We are proud to be one of the first districts in Massachusetts to launch a comprehensive online education program and we need to credit the hard work of our whole staff — particularly our teachers and our Tech. Department — for putting everything together in such a short amount of time. We know that we are building the plane as we fly it, and we anticipate that we will need to iron out some technological and educational issues that may arise. We thank you in advance for your patience and understanding.
With that being said, our School from Home program is vitally important both for the academic and social-emotional well-being of our students. In times of crisis, children and teens need structure, routine, and connections with people who care about them. Students also need to continue learning with as little disruption as possible. School is an important part of every child’s life, and although school will look and feel different online, continuing the educational process is what kids need and deserve.
How do students and families access School from Home?
Digital Classrooms are linked on our School From Home Program GK-G5 and our School From Home Program G6-G12 websites. You can find both sites on the Weston Public Schools website. We will be using learning platforms already familiar to our students: Seesaw for Grades K-3 and Google Classroom for Grades 3-12. (Some third grade classrooms use Seesaw and others use Google Classroom.) Additionally, there may be opportunities for students to connect with their teachers and classmates using video-conferencing software such as Google Hangouts, Google Meeting, and Zoom. When applicable, teachers may provide students with additional technical resources to complete their assigned work at home.
Students will need access to an Internet connected device. If using an iPad, iPhone, or Android device, Google Classroom and Seesaw both require downloading a free app from the App Store (iPad or iPhone) or the Google Play Store (Android device). If using a laptop or desktop, Seesaw and Google Classrooms are accessed from a web browser, preferably Chrome. Click here to get the Seesaw app and here to access a tutorial to help with setting Seesaw up. Click here to get the Google Classroom app and here to get help with Google Classroom set-up.
What can students expect with their online learning?
Expectations for students will vary by grade level. Students in grades K-2 will work no more than two hours online per day. The primary focus of K-2 online instruction is to have students practice and develop their literacy, numeracy, inquiry, and creative skills in the content areas and ensure that there is no regression in any skill. Understanding that students at this age have varying capacities for doing online work, teachers will be flexible and work closely with families to determine individualized student goals and an appropriate amount of work time for each student.
Upper elementary (grade 3-5) students will work online no more than 2 ½ hours each day. While skill development remains the primary focus, some new academic content will be introduced as well. As with lower elementary students, teachers will be flexible with their expectations for students and work closely with families to determine goals and the appropriate amount of work time for each student.
Middle Schools students will be expected to engage in their online classes no more than 3 hours each day. That translates to about a half hour for each academic subject and a half hour for specials. For the most part, students can choose when to do their work; however, they may need to follow scheduled times to virtually meet with their teachers individually or in groups. Middle school teachers will regularly introduce new curricular content for their students. Students are expected to complete assigned work; however, teachers will be very flexible with due dates and make appropriate accommodations as necessary.
High School students will be working online for approximately 3 ½ hours daily, no more than 40 minutes per class period on the 5-period, 8-day rotating cycle. AP classes may demand extra time from students. High School students can determine when to do the work for each class; however, they may need to meet with their teachers within the scheduled blocks of the school day. High School courses will remain content-focused and will cover the scope and sequence of the course with adjustments to account for a shorter learning block. Students are expected to complete assigned work; however, as with the middle school, teachers will be very flexible with due dates and make appropriate accommodations as necessary.
For all grade levels, there is no “homework” that goes beyond the class time maximums (except in AP courses). Furthermore, there is no traditional grading of assignments in the School from Home program. While students are online, our goals will be more focused on learning and less focused on measuring achievement. There will be no traditional grades when students are online. Teachers will assess student work and give individualized feedback as to whether students have met or not yet met learning goals. Assignments will be documented as complete or not yet complete. We hope to create a low-stakes online learning environment in this overall social climate filled with worry and anxiety. Middle and High School students will be formally assessed on their online learning when they return to school after a reasonable amount of lead time.
Communication between teachers and students and families
When students access their classes on Thursday, one of the first things they will see is their teacher’s welcome message. In this message, the teacher will describe how the online classroom will work for students and outline ways to communicate with students and families, including a regular schedule of office hours. In general, teachers will be available to answer your questions and address your concerns. Turnaround time for students will be within 24 hours during the school week; turnaround time for parents and guardians will be within 48 hours.
Supporting all students
We understand that it is much more difficult for faculty and staff members to accommodate the needs of all our learners when we teach online. We know that online education tends to widen achievement gaps and that it is particularly challenging for students with special needs, English learners, and students from low-income families to access the curriculum and make good progress. Finally, we understand that during this time, some families will be in much more stressful situations than others due to medical, family, and work-related issues. Fortunately, we have a number of student support personnel — guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, special education teachers, and ESL teachers — who will be connecting with students and families and supporting individual needs. Many of you will be contacted by these specialists. Today Jennifer Truslow, Director of Student Services, is sending a communication to families of students on IEPs that addresses student support and specialized instruction in more detail.
First, thank you for reading this long communication about our School from Home program. Even more information is coming soon. Teachers will be posting welcome letters on Thursday and principals will be following up with school-based communication next week. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your classroom teacher, school principal, or me (Dr. Kimo Carter) depending on whether your question has a classroom, school, or district-wide purview. For technology questions, please contact Dr. Lee McCanne. For questions about student services, please contact Ms. Jen Truslow. For health or COVID-19 questions, please contact your school nurse or our Director of Nursing, Ms. Laurie Melchionda.
Most importantly, thank you in advance for participating in online learning with your children. Please explore the “Resources from Home” sections on our School From Home Program GK-G5 and our School From Home Program G6-G12 websites, including the tutorials. Additionally, please know that we will be continuing to develop these websites so that you can learn more about tools, platforms, curriculum, and instructional practices. Finally, thank you for partnering with us as we work together to educate our children remotely during this difficult time. Together we will be making a big difference for children, providing them the education and the care that they need.
With warm regards,
J.Kimo Carter, Ed. D.
Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning