Children and their parents adjusted to a new reality this week, as schools closed in North and South Kingstown and Narragansett, along with the rest of the state, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Acting from direction by the state, the local districts all moved their April 20-24 vacations up to March 16-20, giving educators a small window of time to plan remote learning courses that will begin next week, the state announced Wednesday.
Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday that all public K-12 schools will undertake distance learning from March 23 through April 3.
After that, the state will evaluate how to proceed, Raimondo said.
“This is a tough decision and it will be tough to execute,” Raimondo said, noting that some other states have decided to cancel the remainder of the school year.
“I’m not yet willing to throw in the towel, because I think some learning is better than no learning,” she said. “But this is difficult. It’s never been done before in America, not to mention Rhode Island.”
Speaking to students, the governor said it would not be two weeks of “vacation.”
“This is learning from home, spending as much effort as you would if you were in school,” she said.
Thursday was the deadline for districts in the state to submit their distance learning plans to the education commissioner, Raimondo said.
Raimondo also spoke to educators and reassured them they have the full support of the state.
“We want you to know we’re going to be there to provide all the support you need,” she said.
Local schools got word last week that Raimondo’s remote learning plan might come to fruition. They’ve been preparing since then.
“Schools have been asked to prepare virtual learning plans should the time out of school be extended beyond next week,” Narragansett Superintendent of Schools Peter Cummings said last week. “The Narragansett School System has plans in place, and we have asked teachers to ensure that students are sent home today with the computers, books and other materials necessary to continue instruction in a virtual setting.”
Cummings said the school department will send information in the coming days to outline when, how, and to what extent students will engage in virtual learning should an extended closure be necessary.
“Teachers, administrators, and other staff are using the vacation time to complete the preparation needed to successfully transition to a fully virtual environment,” he said. “We are also using this time to deeply clean our schools, offices, and vehicles.”
Narragansett canceled its school sports and activities such as a an elementary school Pizza Pig Out (moved to June), a high school variety show and a college fair. A March 18 School Committee meeting was canceled as well.
Narragansett High School was designated as a “Grab and Go” free meal site for children by the state.
South Kingstown Superintendent Linda Savastano said to parents last week that the town is readying for the state’s remote instruction plans.
“Our leadership team is working on our virtual learning plan,” Savastano said. “We will be rolling this out to our staff and families in the coming week.”
This week, some local parents were taking the adjustment in stride.
“It’s only day one but it’s going pretty good so far,” South Kingstown parent Beth Violette said Monday. “My kids like the idea of trying to structure the day like school. They’re coming up with some really creative lesson plans.”
Parent Jennifer Mathieu said she involved her children in a St. Patrick’s Day activity on Monday. The community is uniting to share information, she said.
“I’ve noticed that families are sharing tons of resources about keeping kids engaged and on track during the surprise break,” Mathieu said. “We are also going to try and keep a semblance of school structure. This morning we spent three hours making leprechaun traps so I think the boys enjoyed extra time for a project like that.”
Mathieu also noted that the Jonnycake Center “has really pulled together an amazing amount of donations to provide school lunches to kids while we are out of session. I keep seeing restaurants offer free kids meals as well, drive-up and pick-up, no questions asked.”
In North Kingstown, educators are preparing to implement a remote learning plan and make sure all students have the tools they need.
“If you have a child at home who does not have access to a computer, laptop or Chromebook we are here to help,” Superintendent Phil Auger said. “Our goal is to provide every student in grades 1-12 with a device.”
Also, Cox Communications is offering free internet service with remote support for 30 days to families who receive free or reduced lunch from the district.
“The district has worked with Cox Communications to expedite NK families who qualify for these services,” Auger said.
The school department has prepared academic materials to allow students to continue to be engaged with learning activities The materials will be posted online and made available on each school’s website, Auger said.
The district also is offering free lunch pickups at the North Kingstown High School and Davisville Middle School.