Students and staff ‘virtually’ back to school in West Milford

West Milford. Township schools began full remote learning format on Sept. 3.

10 Sep 2020 | 01:52

Students of West Milford Township Public Schools (WMTPS) began the new school year from home on Thursday, September 3rd.

The district started the 2020-2021 school year with all remote learning, and plans to implement its “hybrid A/B plan” for combination in-person /remote instruction on October 1st.

The West Milford School District joins 237 other school districts throughout the State of New Jersey, in beginning this school year with all-remote learning.

Continuing statewide and school restrictions and safety regulations regarding Covid-19, and questions about whether schools could guarantee a safe environment for students and staff members, were primary reasons for some school districts to delay in-person instruction for the first few weeks of school. Many also faced staffing and equipment issues.

Nearly 400 school districts opened their school year with a hybrid in-person/remote learning plan. Only 69 school districts in the state offered full-day, in-person school; and 29 school districts are using a combination of other plans that were approved by the state.

Preparing for school - pandemic style

Instead of backpacks and pencils, West Milford families picked up district-supplied Chromebooks from their schools, and set up designated “learning areas” in their homes to prepare for the new school year.

Home offices, student desks, and kitchen and dining room tables, were some of the creative work spaces families and students put together to attend their first few weeks of virtual school.

Pre-first day support offered for families

West Milford High School (WMHS) Principal Matthew Strianse held a “High School Town Hall” informational meeting for parents via Google Meet on Wednesday evening, September 2nd.

He provided details about the district’s revamped remote learning plan and curriculum, and explained what the virtual school day would be like at WMHS:

● Regular full-day school schedule.

● Students sign onto their Chromebooks at the start of the school day, and then sign into each class period throughout the day as per their class schedules.

● Attendance will be taken in all credit-earning classes (only exceptions are lunch and study hall periods).

● Class periods are 46 minutes per class, and will consist of real-time, live classroom teacher /student /class interaction and classwork.

● Students will not be “staring at a screen” listening to lectures for 46 minutes per period; rather, they will have typical classroom activities - including “do- now” work, teacher-led class lesson instruction, questions and answers, independent and small group classwork time, etc.

● The “Virtual Classroom” will model in-person classroom instruction to the greatest degree possible.

● Students will have four minutes between each class (as they do in the school building) to “switch classes”; to use the bathroom, get a drink/snack, and move around a bit.

● Students that have a scheduled lunch period will also have either 23 or 46 minutes for lunch, depending on whether they requested a full period lunch or a half lunch/ half class period for their school year.

During first few days of school, Strianse said the teachers would be focusing with students on the Google Classroom format and setup; introducing themselves, the course, and expectations and procedures for the course; instructing students how to access online textbooks and other course materials; and participating in “getting to know you” types of activities.

These first few days would also provide the teachers, schools, families, and district administrators with valuable feedback - opportunities to evaluate technology systems and equipment performance, class presentation methods, individual student needs, etc.; and make any possible adjustments as needed.

Virtual learning models classroom learning

Strianse shared some “Helpful Hints” for parents to better prepare their children for the remote learning school day:

● Treat virtual school as you would in-person schooling.

● Set a workstation for your student.

● Set and keep a bedtime routine (WMHS starts each day at 7:18 a.m.)

● Have students get up, dressed and ready for period one.

● Do not allow students to take class from their beds, they should be up and moving each morning.

● Make sure they eat during the day (each student will get either 23 or 46 minutes for lunch each day).

● Check the portal for grade updates.

● Let the schools help- contact teachers, counselors, case managers, and administration with questions or concerns.

Parents were able to ask questions, which Strianse and other district administrators in attendance for the virtual meeting answered.