Recreating school out of ether

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“A lot has happened in a month,” says Marie Wiles, superintendent of the Guilderland schools.

ALBANY COUNTY — On Friday, March 13, the world changed immediately for Guilderland’s superintendent of schools, Marie Wiles.

She vividly remembers her phone ringing at 4 a.m., receiving the call that a Guilderland student had tested positive for COVID-19.

“We closed school on that day and spent the day gathering the names of students and faculty and staff who may have come in contact with that individual so that the department of health could do the mapping and the tracing of the contacts for the individual …,” Wiles said at the county’s press briefing on Tuesday morning.

The Guilderland schools were the first schools in the Capital District to be shut down.

“A lot has happened in a month,” said Wiles.

At first, like other area school district, Guilderland transitioned to remote learning, to keep students engaged. The thought, early on, was that students would be returning to school soon so the emphasis was on review.

“Clearly that has changed,” said Wiles. Guilderland and neighboring districts have now transitioned to new learning, she said, as teachers each day engage their students in new curriculum.

“It is a challenge. I have said many times to my colleagues … that we have recreated school out of the ether,” said Wiles. “Every single system, every single way that we operate, we had to rethink in the last month.”

She went on to praise the “tremendous leadership” across the region in having school districts work together to solve some of these unanswered problems and to coordinate curriculum, and to share teaching resources. The Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services has coordinated work among 23 different districts, and the University at Albany has put together a repository of resources.

While these efforts have been engaging for students, Wiles said, it is still “not the same as being at school.”

Wiles also lauded parents who are “juggling all kinds of things at home — some of them working their own jobs from home while caring for children, others of them, essential employees who are going off to work .

The Guilderland district has delivered 42,000 meals to needy families, Wiles said, and speculated millions of meals had been delivered by schools countywide.

Teaching students with special needs remotely has been a challenge, said Wiles. This includes students who are learning English as a new language as well as students who regularly receive physical or occupational therapy, which typically involves hands-on learning — “being with another human being,” said Wiles.

She also said, there is “an equity challenge in making sure that every single one of our 5,000 students has equal access to the activities that are provided by our faculty and staff and that comes down to having ample devices in the home, having ample access to wifi, having parents who are able to monitor their students’ work.”

Albany County Executive Daniel Mccpy said that parents know how challenging the work is for teachers and school staff and administrators.

“Welcome to their world,” he said.

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