Distance learning, meal delivery begin within GM school district

Transportation coordinator Todd Parah helps load meals on a bus bound for Cavendish. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Shortly after 7 a.m. on Thursday, buses rolled up in front of the Green Mountain High School in Chester as staff members pushed carts and sheet pan racks filled with boxes of bagged meals through the wet snow for students who are staying home until at least April 6.

Directed by transportation coordinator Todd Parah and food service director Michael Kennedy, paraeducators and other staff helped bus drivers load the boxes as the first day of distance learning — and feeding — began.

Food service director Michael Kennedy talks with one of the staff who will ride a bus to distribute the meals.

The bags being distributed contained banana bread and apple juice for breakfast and a ham and cheese wrap, Sunchips, fruit and condiments for lunch.

A few minutes later, the buses pulled into the Chester-Andover Elementary School to pick up bags for the K-6 students and the bright yellow delivery buses began their rounds.

“We know we made way too many meals for today,” said Parah. “But in a couple of days, we’ll have the demand figured out.” Others called the feeding effort a “work in progress” and while there was some (not unexpected) confusion, those participating seemed to be enthusiastic and in good spirits.

“It’s toughest on the teachers,” said one staff member who asked not to be identified. “They’re used to having their kids around and a lot of what they are doing is unfamiliar.”

CAES staff wait – with packages of food and supplies – to load buses. Photo provided

At Chester-Andover, Principal Katherine Fogg told The Telegraph that teachers, paras and others had put together supply packages for elementary students containing lessons, supplies and even familiar things from students’ desks like pencil boxes.

Older elementary students would be receiving the I-Pads they use while in school, but according to Fogg, one problem to get past was finding enough chargers for all of the devices. From 10 to 11 a.m. parents were arriving at the schools to pick the supply packages up.

“It may be different every day until we work out a routine that works for everyone,” Fogg told a parent who was loading bags into her car.

One day at a time

CAES principal Katherine Fogg hands bags to a parent on Thursday morning.

While the employees were generally happy to speak about the meal deliveries, no one would speak on the record about the roll out of distance learning, because they had been directed not to by the Two Rivers Supervisory Union.

The reason cited was that with six schools and 13 grades, there would be many variables and versions of distance learning discussed before and even after the first day. It was thought that too much information about schedules and methods would cause confusion.

An undated draft of a home learning guide obtained by The Telegraph says that the primary goal of distance learning during this shutdown is to provide students with a sense of stability, predictability, community and belonging. At Thursday night’s GM board meeting, members Kate Lamphere and Doug McBride, both of Cavendish, praised that aspect of the schools’ performance. Both told of their children’s positive reaction to participating in the traditional Pledge of Allegiance that the children at Cavendish Elementary School recite each school morning, but this time doing it together on ZOOM, a teleconferencing platform.

According to the guide, teachers should be planning on a two-week disruption and focusing on building skills or reviewing content rather than introducing new material. One source said that was especially true of elementary students, who may find online picking up online material difficult.

GM Principal Lauren Fierman noted that may be less true of high school classes – like Advance Placement subjects – where the content is key to the particular course.

Math teacher Julie Parah works with students online on Friday. Photo provided

Fierman said she thought it was going pretty well considering that the school systems are inventing new ways of doing education. The schedule for the day has been posted on the GM website and may be subject to change.

“The majority of teachers are working from home,” said Fierman. “We have a meeting where every teacher, paraeducator and support staff are signed in online every day at 10 a.m. and then the teachers have schedules for face time with students online with the length depending each teacher and each class.”

One of the challenges has been to find the students who do not have an internet connection.

“Online learning only works when students are online,” said Fierman who noted that there are efforts underway to close digital divide.

Employees at the high school have been emptying lockers and bagging up the contents for pickup. This is being done to avoid a host of individual requests for one or two things that a student might need from his or her locker. At this point, grades 7, 8 and 9 are done and ready for pickup with the remaining grades to be ready on Monday.

‘Particularly hard on seniors’

TRSU Superintendent Meg Powden prepares for an online GMUSD board meeting

During the public comment period in last night’s GMUSD board meeting, board recording secretary Amber Wilson asked that the school remember that this is emotionally difficult for seniors, members of the Class of 2020, of whom many would have been playing their last organized sports games this spring, going to prom, taking the senior trip and graduating in front of their friends and family.

Fierman acknowledged that this is “particularly hard on seniors” and said the school would do its best to make up events and other landmarks whenever it can.



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  1. Katherine Fogg says:

    I was not given a directive to not talk about on-line learning.
    Teachers at CAES are using a platform called SeeSaw that most parents were already connected to year. Teachers are holding morning meetings via Zoom that are recorded and available for students to view later in the day. Currently our goal is to connect with students and work on the things that they are familiar with. Reviewing academics so that nothing is lost. Students should be working on math and literacy each day. Teachers are doing some live teaching and then checking in with students. Should we go longer than two weeks with a home learning plan we will begin new learning.
    I am been very impressed with the innovation from my teachers around creating lessons and with how quickly they put things together.
    I am blessed to work with an amazing staff at CAES. Everyone pitched in to sanitize the building, make meals, prepare iPads, prepare materials, contact families and make deliveries happen. Parents have been very supportive through this unprecedented event as well. We are working on getting internet to the few families that we know are in need.We are reaching out to families who need special delivery for food. If anyone needs something , please call the school at 875-2108
    We will get through this one day at a time, because we are such a strong community!

  2. Michele Bargfrede says:

    As a parent of a middle and high school student at GMUHS I am nothing short of amazed by the efforts of the teachers and staff. I am so proud to be part of a community doing so much to help. Thank you does not say enough for the gratitude our families feels.