Plea to Dr. Champ to Revamp Remote-Learning Plan

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Dear Dr. Champ:

We are deeply distressed by the plans you have presented for starting the school year amid the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, we believe strongly that your approach to virtual instruction is inadequate and lacking in imagination, and we implore you to reconsider.

In your Aug. 18 message to parents, you acknowledge that under the hybrid model you are developing, “students at home will not have the same level of interaction as those in the classroom.” Instead, students will “have the option” of asking questions of their teachers during “office hours” after class.

In the same message, you say that remote students will “have access to all lesson materials and activities through Google Classroom.” 

This description paints a disturbing picture of what school days will look like. Students, even the youngest ones, will have to rely on a C-Span-style livestream of teachers talking to other students. They can’t participate in the class discussion, and younger students must have an adult nearby to shuffle Google Classroom documents to match those being presented in the live classroom.

This model strikes us as even less effective than the one we used in the spring, which you have called deficient.

Upon hearing of your new plan, our rising third-grader asked, unprompted: “How am I going to do my work if I have a question?”

It doesn’t have to be this way. As you know, educational technology has experienced a renaissance over the last decade, allowing the virtual classroom to closely approximate the in-person one. Prestigious universities offer full degree programs online.

Short of investing in a soup-to-nuts virtual platform, why can’t we have a connected computer in each classroom that allows remote students to raise their virtual hands and ask questions over a speaker? Why can’t handout materials be presented simultaneously on the classroom smart board and over the web? 

In 2020, both methods could be achieved using free or nearly free online conferencing services and a little creativity. In this way, remote students could be fully engaged in the classroom discussion, and in-class students could benefit from the contributions of their peers at home.

We recognize that planning for this school year is a gargantuan task that has to take into account any number of possible scenarios. And the virtual component of the hybrid model is just one piece of a giant puzzle.

But frankly, we’ve had six months to prepare for this moment. It baffles us that there still isn’t a sophisticated plan in place for catering to remote learners.

No matter what happens with infection rates in the coming weeks, it seems clear that remote learning will be a central component of the learning experience for most or all of this academic year. So, to our thinking, it must also be among our top priorities.

You don’t even have to reinvent the wheel to be successful in this endeavor. There are countless models locally and nationally for how to provide a rich online learning experience. Yet we seem behind, prompting an alarming number of Pelham parents to consider unenrolling their kids for a year or paying private tutors to compensate for the lack of student-teacher interaction. 

All this in a town where property taxes are among the highest in the nation, 60 percent of which are devoted to education. Families move to Pelham for the schools. That some parents feel the need to fill in gaps left by the district is striking. It’s also unacceptable.

We expect more of our schools, and we ask you to re-evaluate your plans with an emphasis on providing as much parity between in-class and remote learning as possible. 

Please act while there’s still time. We mustn't let our children fall further behind. 

Respectfully,

David S. Joachim & Jade-Snow Joachim
Prospect Hill parents



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