RI teachers, students embark on remote learning experiment

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WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — It was a very different sort of Monday morning in the Hayes household.

Instead of bringing 8-year-old Rose to Pothier Elementary School, the 2nd-grader was at her kitchen table, working on her spelling and sounding out words with her mom, Rebecca Hayes.

“She needs step-by-step directions on what to do,” explained her dad, Robert Hayes.

Rose has physical and developmental disabilities, so her parents have to be even more hands-on than others as remote learning begins in Rhode Island. Monday was the first day of a two-week experiment to teach students from a distance, as school buildings are closed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re pretty much parents, teachers, therapists,” Hayes explained. “A little bit of everything.” His daughter normally receives physical, occupational and speech therapy at school as part of her individualized education plan, or IEP. He and Rebecca are working opposite shifts at work so they can be with Rose and her younger sister at home.

“Our teacher is phenomenal,” Hayes added. “She’s working with everyone. And she’s not tech-savvy. She’s making it work for everybody.”

Every district is handling remote learning a little differently; Woonsocket, for example, provided Chromebooks to middle school students, while high school students already had the devices. But elementary school students are sticking with paper packets and worksheets. Rose’s teacher checked in with her in the morning before she started working on the assignment with her mom.

Other districts, like Providence, doled out Chromebooks to all students. Class started promptly for all 24,000 Providence students at 8 a.m. Monday. In Warwick, attendance is being taken via email between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Parents and teachers on social media shared photos and videos of their group video chats, or their kids working on Chromebooks at the kitchen table. They also shared photos with WPRI 12, which can be seen in the gallery below.

“I am inspired by the passion, motivation and creativity of our teachers and leaders,” R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said in a tweet on Monday. “It hasn’t been an easy day, but you have risen to the occasion. This is my proudest day in education –when our state showed the rest of the country what we can do together.”

RIDE spokesperson Pete Janhunen said there were a lot of “positive stories” coming out of the first day, and also some “growing pains.”

“The technology is going to continue to be a priority for us,” he said, referring to getting devices and WiFi to all families in the state. He said there wasn’t a complete inventory on how many devices are still needed, but RIDE has received donations and is seeking more.

At her daily press briefing, Gov. Gina Raimondo acknowledged that students with disabilities, English learners and families without computers or internet were at a disadvantage for remote learning.

“All of that is being worked on,” Raimondo said. She said the federal Department of Education was seeking plans in the next 10 days to educate the vulnerable populations.

“We don’t have a perfect solution right now,” Raimondo added. “We’re hard at work working with partners in the community around how to make sure these children are educated. I can say we’re on it.”

Hayes said he’s improvising when it comes to his daughter’s physical therapy that she normally receives at school; he’s a Special Olympics coach and is able to lead Rose in some exercise, and is holding virtual workouts for his athletes that he can’t see in person.

“My wife and I are looking at it as a blessing in disguise,” Hayes said. “A lot of parents are always, ‘go, go, go,’ us included. And now we get to spend more time as a family.”

SHARE WITH US: We’re all in this together. How are you doing with the remote learning so far with your kids or students? Send us your experiences, positive ideas, concerns, photos and video of your efforts during this new endeavor: Use ReportIt@wpri.com, share on the WPRI 12 Facebook page or submit here »

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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