Distance Learning Webinar Gives Resources to Parents, Students, Educators

Addelita Cancryn Junior High School Principal Lisa Hassell-Forde (File photo from V.I. Department of Education)
Addelita Cancryn Junior High School Principal Lisa Hassell-Forde (File photo from V.I. Department of Education)

“Parents, you got this!’”

Principal Lisa Hassell-Forde from Addelita Cancryn Jr. High School called out those words of encouragement during a one-hour webinar on distance learning for parents, teachers and students.

The session was hosted Tuesday by Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett.

“Parents, you were their first teacher. You taught them their colors, you taught them potty training. It’s just a matter of figuring out what’s working and what’s not,” Hassell-Forde continued.

Hassell-Forde was one of five educators invited to share their ideas and resources for continuing the school year through distance learning. The one-hour webinar was packed with information for teachers and parents of students ranging from in age from tots to college.

At the beginning and end of the session, Plaskett outlined the federal financial assistance available to the territory and its residents through the CARES Act – which stands for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The measure was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 26. (Information from the webinar on the act’s features for education appears below.)

Hassell-Forde focused her presentation on what parents can do now that the Department of Education has announced that schools will remain closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year.

She began with a pep talk, reminding parents that according to Education Week, 55 million school children throughout the United States are affected by school closings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hassell-Forde said she wanted to avoid the word “crisis” because that word “makes it sound that the situation is out of control,” but acknowledged that “the weight of student learning is now on parents.”

She urged parents not to simply leave their children free to play, but to create a dedicated space for children to engage in schoolwork, whether a separate room or just a place a kitchen table, and set up a schedule so that they won’t be interrupted.

She suggested putting kids together for some assignments, and giving children breaks – if it’s only time to “jump up and down on the porch” to find a balance between work and play.

Hassell-Forde reminded parents that not all learning has to be done on the computer. Children can practice their times tables by reciting them to an older sibling or quietly read to themselves or to a younger member of the family. Parents can set an example by setting up a time when the family can quietly read together.

She urged parents to keep in touch with other parents though school Facebook pages or other means as a way of keeping tabs on the kids’ assignments and maintaining their own positive attitudes.

Michaelrose Ravalier, a science teacher at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and the 2020 Teacher of the Year for the St. Thomas-St. John District, asked listeners to imagine themselves as a teenager.

“You’re thinking you’re invincible. Life is just bubbly. You’re curious, adventurous, full of energy – and quarantined. It’s definitely a challenge.”

As she held up a pair of leopard-spotted pajamas to the camera, Ravalier said teenagers should not be allowed to hang out in their pajamas all day.

“Tell them to be intentional about planning [their] work and working [their] plan.”

She asked parents to help their children schedule time for “sleep, productive learning, physicality, and privacy,” and allow them space to feel their disappointments and losses at this time.

“Treat them as problem-solvers, and season your interactions with humor,” she said

Being isolated with family members is the perfect time to learn about one’s family, Ravalier said.

“Let’s be patient with each other; have faith, not fear. We will get through this together V.I Strong,” she said.

Valrica Bryson, a music educator and the director of Cultural Education for the V.I. Department of Education, picked up on Ravalier’s recommendation to share family stories and cultural knowledge.

“Find out about your family tree. Zoom with your grandparents. Learn how to crochet, jump rope, tell stories, play jacks – all it takes is a ball and some small rockstones.”

Bryson said with parental guidance, youngsters “will come out of the pandemic knowing who they are.”

Zarah O’Reilly Bates, an elementary teacher at Ricardo Richards Elementary School and the 2020 Teacher of the Year for the St. Croix District, had advice for teachers as they navigate the complexities as distance learning facilitators.

She urged teachers to take advantage of Microsoft 365 Class notebook which allows students to upload their work privately into a class notebook and communicate with students without having their personal email accounts bombarded with student messages.