District moves to Distance Learning model amid coronavirus pandemic

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Photo by Claire Redmer '21

Students began Distance Learning on Tuesday March 17. Teachers assign work through platforms such as Google Classroom and Schoology. Students must complete the assignments and submit online for a grade.

Claire Redmer ’21, Social Media Director

Westport Public Schools began Distance Learning on Tuesday March 17 in order to continue teaching students while schools are closed due to COVID-19. 

The district’s Distance Learning model at the high-school level requires students to complete daily assignments which are published through online platforms such as Schoology, Google Classroom and Khan Academy. There is no set time of day when students must be online and completing schoolwork, though teachers must be available from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. via email or Google Hangout in order to communicate with students, provide assistance and answer any questions. 

“As we transition to distance learning, daily assignments will be posted by teachers and assignments will be required work for students,” Assistant Superintendent Anthony Buono wrote in an email to Westport families. “Teachers will be communicating with students daily, providing assignments, guidance and support. Ongoing feedback will be shared with students and will contribute to their class or course grades.”

The lessons taught online are designed to provide students with at least four hours of classwork per day, according to Principal Stafford W. Thomas Jr. in a video sent to Staples students and parents. The assignments allow teachers to introduce new concepts and content in order to further student learning. 

“Distance Learning assignments are intended to: keep students academically active; reinforce and sustain current learning; and introduce new curricular content and concepts,” the district Distance Learning Guidelines stated.

Together, I am confident we will be able to ensure the safety of our students, staff and community.”

— Assistant Superintendent Anthony Buono

Individual teachers have the freedom to determine what to assign their students, though it has been advised by the district to post smaller assignments rather than large, extended tasks. Special Education teachers are working in conjunction with classroom teachers to provide adjustments and support to students who receive extra help and learning accommodations. 

Prior to Tuesday March 17, teachers could post supplemental assignments, which focused on reinforcing past material and previewing upcoming content, rather than teaching new lessons. Distance Learning differs from the previous model, as that practice was optional; however, with the new learning path, assignments are required, collected and graded for all Staples students. 

Middle school students are also expected to complete daily assignments, which are posted through Schoology. Elementary schoolers have physical packets called learning modules to complete. Stepping Stones Preschool Distance Learning plans are still being finalized.   

Since students are now continuing to learn online, the days that Westport Public Schools will be closed up until April 1 are not required to be made up at the end of the year. 

 The district acknowledged in the Distance Learning Guidelines that the Distance Learning model and plan are subject to change, as students, teachers and administrators navigate online learning. 

Student safety is the top priority for the district and the online model will remain in place until the COVID-19 outbreak no longer threatens public health.  

“Together, I am confident we will be able to ensure the safety of our students, staff and community,” Buono wrote, “as well as provide our students with a strong distance learning program while schools are closed.”