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A different kind of classroom for students, teachers

  • Alex Wilson, right, a history teacher at Four Rivers Charter Public School in Greenfield, teaches a senior civics class through Google Meetings. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/NOAH PITCOFF

For the Recorder
Published: 4/3/2020 4:55:03 PM
Modified: 4/3/2020 4:54:50 PM

Editor’s note: Noah Pitcoff, a senior at Four Rivers Charter Public School in Greenfield and a former Greenfield Recorder intern, interviewed fellow students about the distance learning that has replaced classroom learning.

GREENFIELD — Prior to the governor’s order to close schools statewide, many students at Four Rivers Charter Public School had not even considered that happening. But learning remotely from home is now a reality.

“Up until when school was canceled, I had no idea that it was even a possibility,” said Hjorids Aho, a senior at Four Rivers. “The closing felt very sudden.”

After closing Friday, March 13, teachers took the next Monday and Tuesday off to plan what online learning was going to be like. The next day, students were given a schedule and began learning from home. Like schools statewide, Four Rivers will be closed until May 4, per the governor’s order.

Online learning has largely consisted of teachers assigning work through Google Classroom at the beginning of the week, and offering online class meetings during the week to help with that work. In-class discussion of the work happens through various online meeting platforms.

Even before officially leaving the classroom, problems quickly revealed themselves. Access to technology, for one, is vital if a school is to be run entirely online. While many students have their own computer and fast, reliable internet, some have only one, or even neither.

On top of this, being unable to actually meet face-to-face with teachers or peers puts a lot of pressure on students to reach out directly. This has made it harder for teachers to connect with students as well.

“Connection is the biggest loss,” said Anneke Dunnington, Four Rivers’ seventh-grade humanities teacher. “It’s hard to be there for kids in all the ways they need when I’m here at my desk, even though I’m here all the time.”

These problems have been dealt with in a number of ways. First and foremost, the difficulty and quantity of work have both been scaled back across the board. As some students do not have consistent internet access, none of the class meetings are mandatory. Teachers have been more forgiving with due dates, and have made themselves available to any and all student questions.

“Talking to the teachers feels much more relaxing,” said Tara Brown, another Four Rivers senior. “I’m seeing them in their homes, oftentimes with their children or pets, and the atmosphere is calm.”

These changes to learning and communication are important, but they do not come without a price. Junior and senior history teacher Alex Wilson has had to significantly alter his world history and civics curriculums, which he says have maintained most of the actual content but have lost some of the skills building that is only possible in person.

“What we’re really trying to do here is develop something very flexible,” he said. “You’re going to get a lot of the content, but a lot of the skills are going to be different.”

Leah Plath, the junior and senior English teacher, said there have actually been some benefits to moving discussions online.

“I actually really like the online discussions,” she said. “I think its kind of neat how it has allowed students to participate text-wise and make little interjections in a way that they couldn’t in a whole group discussion.”

Reactions from the student body have been mixed. While some enjoy working from home, it does not allow everyone to be as productive as they could be in the classroom.

“At first when we started talking about the idea of distance learning I thought “Wow! I can finally do things at my own pace!” said 10th-grader Gus Rivers-McHugh. “Now, I feel overwhelmed by how much time I have to just not do anything and no one to keep me in check about it.”

Senior Evan Leaf has had a similar experience. He said he has a hard time getting into a working mindset, that “there is no time when I have class and I have no choice but to do the work,” which leads to school feeling like “a long weekend with a lot of homework.”

Rufus Seward, another senior, described how learning from home has given him the opportunity to have his own routine, and that it has worked well for him.

“If I can get up and have class literally in my bed, I don’t mind at all,” he said.

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