WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — On the first weekday since the state’s schools were closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket was nearly as empty as every other schoolhouse.
The hallways of the private school were filled with echoes instead of students, and only teachers were in the classrooms. But school was in session with students listening to lectures, asking teachers questions and even taking tests — from their homes.
It offered a view of what the state’s public schools and their 143,000 students will experience starting next week.
John Geuvremont, who’s taught for 40 years at the Mount, instructed his 11th grade advanced placement English class, including a few students who are far from campus after going home when school closed last Friday.
“I’m home,” one student told Geuvremont through his laptop speaker. “I’m in St. Louis.”
On Geuvremont’s screen, there were icons representing each student.
“I started the day by taking attendance,” Geuvremont said. “It’s recorded electronically.”
The students can hear him and he can hear them when they have a question, prompting a click that trasmits them live onto their teacher’s screen.
The Mount is using Google Hangouts to allow teachers and students to communicate, and various paperwork is uploaded to a portal for the students to download at home.
“They had a quiz today, which was posted on the portal,” Geuvremont said. “It’s kind of gone without a hitch. The kids are very good with technology. It’s the teachers who had to learn.”
After working from their respective classrooms on Monday, the Mount’s teachers started instructing from their homes the rest of the week.
Administrators at the school said their remote learning plan was developed weeks ago, giving everyone plenty of oppotunity to practice the logistics and technology.
Public school district remote learning plans were due Thursday, and laptops have been delivered to central locations in several communities for students who don’t have them.
Barrington Superintendent Michael Messore said his district submitted its plan last week and he’s confident it will go well when it’s live.
The district director of technology and assistant superintendent will be standing by to help handle any glitches.
“The two of them will be able to troubleshoot together with our educators as we go through this and leave an opportunity for parents and teachers to communicate with us if there’s difficulties,” Messore said.
Another concern from Barrington to Woonsocket and beyond is providing structure to ease student anxiety about the reason remote learning is necessary.
Mount St. Charles President Alan Tenreiro said the education piece is only part of plan.
“For us, providing structure and continuity for them is really important,” Tenreiro said. “School culture, prayer, counseling is all part of that.”
Vice President Jessie Butash echoed that, saying it was important to get everyone on board, including teachers, students and parents.
“It’s not just about the learning,” Butash said. “It’s about routine. It’s about keeping any anxiety at bay.”
Distance learning in Rhode Island public schools is slated to last at least two weeks, starting Monday in most districts.