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Smoking, Vaping & COVID-19

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COVID Update #9 April 1, 2020

Hello Georgetown Community!

Happy April Fool’s Day! Today is a special day for me as it is my oldest son’s birthday but it is bittersweet because our celebration will have to wait until we can be together. I am sure that all of you have stories about how this virus is impacting your lives and I am hoping and praying that you are all staying well! As we continue in the third week of learning at home, we realize this is not easy and we want you to know that we are here to help you! Don’t hesitate to reach out to any of us. I want to thank all of you for abiding by the state and local recommendations for safety because we all want to get back into a “normal routine” as soon as possible. As I listen to the scientists, it seems that the key to mitigating and slowing the contagion of this virus IS isolating and staying home as much as possible. Personally, I am finding this very hard but, like you, I am finding ways to stay connected to my family, colleagues and friends although it certainly a different way of life!

As I stated in my last update, we will begin Phase 2 of our Georgetown Connect Remote Learning Plan on Monday April 6, 2020. We will continue to focus most importantly on the physical, social, emotional and mental wellbeing of our students as well as their continued engagement in meaningful learning. We have been working very hard this week to scale up our model in order to provide students with more structure, routine, academic engagement and meaningful connections with their teachers and schools. I am sure you can image the extraordinary amount of planning, meeting, coordinating, negotiating, collaborating and fine tuning that is required to reinvent the way we “do school” in a period of a few short weeks. I can tell you for sure that countless hours of time has been spent by our staff setting up and learning to use a consistent platform ( Google Classroom at PB and Schoology at MHS), attending zoom meetings with different groups, coordinating classes , schedules, special education services and using communication tools that are new to us. To say people have stepped up to the plate would be an understatement! There is no roadmap for this and every district is engaged in the process of designing their own system that will work for them and their families regardless of how long this closure lasts. The one thing we have in common is that we are working with the recommendations from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. There is a lot to do in a short period of time but I sincerely appreciate your patience, positive words of encouragement and belief in our schools and our educators. They are our greatest assets! If you could see what I am seeing, you would be so impressed and so proud of the people who work with your children! As I have said to them, we are Georgetown Strong and have Royal’s Pride and together we will do what is best for our students! I will be posting our completed Georgetown Connect Remote Learning Plan on Friday, April 4th. We expect that there will be a learning curve and some adjustments that will be needed in first couple of weeks but before you know it we will be a well-oiled remote teaching and learning machine!

Here are a couple of other bits of information for you.

1. Meal Program Date Change

Beginning next week on Monday April 6th, breakfast and lunch can be picked up on Mondays and Wednesdays for the week. We will still provide five days of meals but pick up will be on this reduced schedule from 10 am -11 am. The primary reason for this change is to lessen the exposure of our staff and to limit the amount of days families have to leave their homes to pick up meals, especially as this situation is expected to escalate in the next few weeks. Thank you for your understanding and we look forward to continuing to provide this important service.

2. Commissioner’s Letter

The Commissioner of Education Jeff Riley has asked districts to send out the attached letter to families so I have attached it for your information.

3. Opportunity to Spread the Word

The Massachusetts of Public Health is running a video contest for Middle and High School students. The challenge is to create a 20-60 second video on the importance of following the MA Department of Public Health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID 19. They can use any apps to send a file or link but check out the website for more information. There is a $500 prize for the winner. This might be a nice opportunity for some creative and tech savvy young people. Please share this information along to your middle high school students.

https://mahealthcouncil.org/page/VideoContest

4. No Extended Day Payments Due for April

As with preschool tuition, families who pay monthly installments will not be expected to make an April payment. We have also asked the Treasurer to turn off UniPay for the month of April so that automatic payments will not process.

5. MIAA Not Giving Up on Spring Sports – YET

For those families who are wondering if spring sports have been cancelled, the answer is NOT YET. While it is not clear when schools will be able to reopen, the MIAA has revised their schedule assuming schools can reopen on May 4th. to run sports from May 4- June 27 extending the spring season an extra week to accommodate sectional and state tournaments. I am sure there are many athletes hoping this happens.

6. April Vacation

Today the Commissioner advised districts that the handling of April vacation is a local decision. Since it is a calendar issue, reps from the leadership team, teacher’s union and School Committee are meeting tomorrow to discuss the options and there will be a decision early next week when

the School Committee can take a vote. I have received many questions about this so I want you to know it is being discussed. Stay tuned!

7. Zoom Videoconferencing Hacks

One of the remote learning tools we are using extensively now and are planning to use it as a key tool in our Remote Learning Plan starting next week is Zoom conferencing. You may have seen on the news recently that there have been a couple of situations where hackers interrupted meetings in schools. The good news is that there are safeguards that we will put in place to avoid this happening in our district and allow us to use this valuable tool. We have informed our staff not to make the meeting invitation public. When people sign in to the meeting, they should be required to type in the meeting password or they can use the waiting room feature so

the host can admit people in from the waiting room. Meeting invitations will never be posted on social networks or in public forums. I just want to reassure you that we are taking precautions while we use this important communication tool.

Stay safe and well!

Keeping our Priorities Focused

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7 Ways to maintain Relationships During Your School Closure

Suddenly, you’re not in the same physical space as your students. We asked teachers to share strategies for maintaining relationships—both peer-to-peer and student-teacher—when everything’s gone remote.

March 25, 2020

 

On any given day in schools across America, many students exchange warm greetings with a smiling teacher, then perhaps move on to a morning check-in, followed by a quick mindfulness exercise to start the day grounded and mentally focused. Surrounded by peers they’ve known for months, or perhaps even years—and a teacher they see daily—kids feel connected.

In spite of some critics who downplay the importance of social and emotional learning and the value of belonging—the numbers of such skeptics is falling, to be sure—the research is clear and has been for some time: when kids spend their daytime hours in safe, supportive schools where adults work every day to build strong relationships with every student, they are simply better, more engaged learners.

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But how should educators foster that sense of belonging in this new, decentralized world—with teachers and students tethered loosely together via Wi-Fi and cellular networks?

“Right now, it’s all about the technology—the mechanics of how to teach remotely. But when I speak to my colleagues who are high school teachers, it’s about: ‘how are we going to hold our students’ hearts?’,” says Mays Imad, a professor of pathophysiology and biomedical ethics at Pima Community College.

So we asked dozens of teachers, and peeked in on Instagram and Twitter threads, to find some of the best ideas teachers are experimenting with to maintain the relationships that drive engagement and learning.

1. TRY TO SAY HELLO FREQUENTLY, IF YOU CAN

Try to make sure your kids know you are thinking of them, care for them, and miss them. For kids with access to technology, simple daily hellos via video might be the only time the student sees the teacher on some days—and that sense of connection is important to sustain.

First and second grade teacher John Thomas’ masterful, fun hello video to his students is a great example.

For students without internet connectivity, try calling by phone—consider rotating through small groups of students each day to make this a more manageable task. “Taking the time to reach out and call each kid takes forever,” says sixth and eighth grade English teacher Cathleen Beachboard, but she’s seeing a big impact: “The first few days, I had only a few kids logging on, but now I have almost 98 percent attendance,” she said.

2. HOW TO MAINTAIN MORNING MEETINGS

Routines that foster connection are a core part of classroom life, and finding ways for students to experience these at home will go a long way toward easing students’ transition to home-based learning. “If you do morning meeting, reflect on the elements you have in your meeting and what could be completed virtually at home,” writes Thomas. “If technology allows, record and share daily video announcements and read-alouds.”

Margaret Shafer, a third grade teacher, has kids respond to daily prompts during her morning meetings. Kids can see each other’s responses and react if they want to. “My relationships with my students are part of my instruction and their relationships with each other are critical to their enjoyment of school,” she says, underscoring that maintaining relationships is not an afterthought. “So when I planned (very quickly!) to start distance learning, the first thing I wanted to start daily was a way to comfort the kids and let them know that I still care about them and their friends are still out there.”

3. REIMAGINE TEMPERATURE CHECKS

Routine, everyday check-ins—roses and thorns or selecting an emoji to match your mood, for example—shouldn’t fall by the wayside. Keep it quick and simple: “I posted on Schoology to give me a thumbs up, thumbs sideways (meh), or thumbs down to describe their day…. I encourage them to take selfies of their thumbs,” says high school teacher Javier Rivera via Twitter.

Along with checking in with her students herself, Imad is making connecting with peers part of her students’ homework: each student is assigned the task of connecting with one classmate. “Then, I’m asking them to write to me and tell me how, say, Jackie is doing today. They can decide how they want to check in—email, text, Skype,” she says, adding that she’ll set up guidelines and model the practice for her students first. “This exercise might work even better with K-12—’my homework is to check on Allie’.”

Finally, some teachers are using forms, like this one created by the Association for Middle Level Education, as a quick, asynchronous way to get kids to tell you how they’re feeling that day.

4. TRY SNAIL-MAIL PEN PALS, PHONE PALS, OR VIRTUAL TURN AND TALK

We learn better in social contexts. For many students, transitioning to learning from home is complicated by the impact of being cut off from peers—even though many older students might communicate with friends via social media and texting.

“If technology doesn’t allow, create pen pals or other paper-and-pen activities by sending home envelopes, paper, and stamps if your school is able,” says Thomas. “Or mimic ‘turn and talk’ by setting up phone pals where students call each other on the phone several times a week to discuss specific topics or prompts.”

Third grade teacher Michael Dunlea follows his whole-group instruction via Zoom with ‘breakout rooms’ so peers can reflect on the learned material together. Then he seeks deeper connections with students individually: “I keep one student on for a one-on-one conference, and ask them to read out loud for a few minutes. This time also provides an opportunity to check on their emotional well-being and see if they need clarification on assignments.”

5. CREATE VIRTUAL TABLES (BUT DON’T JUST GROUP FRIENDS)

For older kids, says Kasey Short, an eighth grade English teacher at Charlotte Country Day School in Charlotte, N.C., teachers can set up virtual table groups. Short uses Google Classroom for this because her students are already familiar with the platform. “I will set up discussion threads with four to five students so they can discuss assignments, ask each other questions, and stay connected,” she says.

Though many kids will stay in touch with their circle of friends, she says it’s important to think about pairing kids with peers who aren’t in their immediate social circle—and then mix up the groups weekly. “There will also be spaces for whole class discussions but I know many students will feel more comfortable sharing ideas in a smaller group setting,” she says.

6. CONSIDER INCLUDING PARENTS

Dunlea, the third grade teacher, asks students to invite a parent online too, giving the adults an opportunity to ask questions, express concerns, or request advice.

Beachboard, the sixth and eighth grade English teacher, connects with parents each day—she uses the messaging platform Remind, or a dedicated Google Voice phone line for parents who don’t have text messaging. She also connects with families by email. “I check in with them once a day with a ‘how are you?’ and ‘do you need anything?’,” she says. “It’s important at this time, more than any other, that we are looking out for the mental health of our families and students.”

7. GET KIDS TO NAME—AND PROCESS—THEIR OWN EMOTIONS

Writing assignments, says Short, the English teacher, offer valuable opportunities for students to process the complex mix of emotions they may be experiencing as a result of their upended routines and schedules, social isolation, and the challenges of being cooped up at home.

“I am going to use some writing opportunities for students to get their thoughts, feelings, fears, and questions down in a creative format of their choice,” she says. “I will give them an option to share with the class, or only share with me. This will not only allow them to share out their feelings but also give me a place to check on them and follow up if I see any of them expressing sadness, fear, etc., that their parents may need to know about.”

Most importantly, says Short, “I am going to be honest and as understanding as possible to let students know we are all in this together and will likely all need a little grace.”