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Vermont schools' online offerings chart 'unknown territory'

(WCAX)
Published: Mar. 16, 2020 at 5:18 PM EDT
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The closing of schools starting Wednesday is forcing districts across Vermont to get creative in how they teach their students over the coming weeks.

"We are certainly charting new and unknown territory in our state," said Heather Bouchey with the Agency of Education.

State officials say the coronavirus is forcing Vermont schools to think outside the box to teach students. "Many of our communities, however, will likely be focusing on a combined online and paper -- if you will -- packet format," Bouchey said.

But it'll be up to the districts as to what those plans looks like. In Barre, fifth graders all the way to seniors will take a device home with them which they can use to access lesson plans and learning modules.

"Counting steps or counting things at home, rolling dice, playing with cards," said Jaime Guilmette, who along with fellow Barre City Elementary teacher, Allyson Healey, are organizing assignments.

They are already working on a penpal program to keep their students engaged over the next few weeks. "They're so used to a routine and coming to us every day that their brains are used to working and being on, and we want that to continue to grow during this time," Healey said.

Schools across the state are scrambling to build lesson plans and hash out the logistics of teaching outside of the classroom. Additionally, many homes in rural parts of the state lack high-speed broadband. But as they come up with workarounds, districts are also being realistic.

Burlington Superintendent Yaw Obeng says they're urging parents to use the information on their website that's designed to engage kids. But he says there will be challenges when kids run into questions with the material and can't ask teachers questions face-to-face.

"I don't think we can ensure anything, to be honest with you. I think we're limited in this capacity. And people have to realize that they're not going to get the same level of engagement that they're getting in the classroom," Obeng said.

But Healey and Guilmette stress that though the changes will be hard for students and teachers, the students' safety is the main priority. "At this time, we're just trying to continue to make them feel safe here and important -- that we care about them and their families too," Guilmette said.

The exact details of each district's plans to teach remotely are different. Several superintendents we spoke with say more detailed plans will emerge in the coming days.

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