Originally published March 23, 2020 in the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

By Victor Barbosa

With schools statewide closed through mid-April, parents are scurrying to make sure their children get a proper education.

Numerous school districts in Oneida and Herkimer counties have been forced to drastically modify how their students are learning from home due to the coronavirus outbreak, but they are ensuring families that every subject — from math and science to art and physical education — is covered.

The Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School District is one of many that have had students take home technology they typically use in the classroom.

“We enabled our Chromebooks to link to home Wi-Fi networks, so our students in grades two through 12 could take them home,” VVS Director of Student Program and Communications Sondra Whalen said. “We have been working with Spectrum, AT&T, and our technology department to provide internet to those families who do not have internet. We sent out a Family Resource Survey to identify families in need of internet, and as of right now, we have the capability of getting 98-100 percent of our families online.”

Whalen said for those families unable to access Wi-Fi, paper copies of materials will be provided.

Both Whalen and New York Mills School District Superintendent Joanne Shelmidine said they are making sure that some of the more specialized subjects in school aren’t forgotten.

“New York Mills is using a variety of tools to assist students, from online learning systems — such as Google Classroom — to study guides and printed materials. Many of our teachers are using a combination of review materials and online resources,” Shelmidine said. “All of our teachers, including art, music and P.E., have included information for students and parents. Students and parents have come into school to pick up materials. Anyone who cannot come into school will have their materials delivered to their home.

“Our music department allowed students to take home instruments, and will provide instruction and possibly lesson opportunities. Our physical education teachers have worked on videos, and activity guidance sheets, and art teachers sent home students with supplies and project outlines,” Whalen added.

The VVS school official also said services “beyond” the classroom — such as those provided by school counselors, social workers and special education teachers — are hopefully going to be available to students soon.

‘A super-easy transition’

Gabrielle Janes has three children in the VVS Central School District: sixth-grader Jeremy, third-grader Juliette, and Autumn, who is in kindergarten.

The trio of students, who all attend W.A. Wettel Elementary School in Vernon, have been doing their learning from home all week.

“It was a super-easy transition with all of the help from the teachers and the staff, and they made it super easy to get the kids started,” Janes said of the collection of materials earlier in the week. “With VVS and W.A. Wettel especially, the teachers have been amazing and it’s all available online. They’ve been so helpful during this time to help us all get through this together.”

Janes said Autumn was having some difficulty with the recent adjustments, missing her friends and teacher. But overall, her children have done well with the changes.

Clinton Central School District Superintendent Stephen Grimm credited teachers, administrators and office staff for the time they spent preparing materials this week for delivery to high school students. He said they were using buses to deliver packets and computers Thursday morning.

All retrieval of school materials at VVS happened Tuesday and Wednesday, with the district abiding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines of gatherings of no more than 50 people.

“Teachers brought all of their materials, neatly packaged and labeled, to cafeterias and gyms so families could find their child’s name, pick up their stuff, and leave. Many of our families were able to retrieve their items in minutes,” Whalen said. “The preparation of our faculty and staff in organizing these events was instrumental to our success.”

In the New York Mills Central School District, Jennifer Faustino’s family includes twin third-graders named Michael and Morgann, and as a teacher herself, she has been in a unique situation. Faustino works in the Utica City School District as a math facilitator for grades K-6, while her husband is an elementary school principal in Canastota.

“The word I would use is ‘challenging.’ We started the week waking up and thinking that we were going to follow is an hour-to-hour schedule, but we have to be realistic,” she said. “I’m working on balancing the academic side of things and the creative and active stuff, while trying to keep it stress-free as well. It’s definitely been a learning experience, as a teacher having my kids doing their work, while working on mine as well. … I have to be flexible.”

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