Transitioning to Online Learning due to the closing of Harbor School during COVID-19
Anne Gunteski, principal of the Harbor School of Eatontown, New Jersey describes the process of transitioning to the virtual home learning model in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
A Monumental Task
On February 28, we sent the first letter to parents and staff regarding the virus outbreak. At that point, we were monitoring the situation, increasing our school cleaning, and stressing good health practices and heightened awareness of a potential outbreak. Our school staff was already aware of the need for good hygiene and glove use due to established health protocols for a number of our medically fragile students. For us, this was the start of keeping everyone informed as the situation seemed to be changing and evolving rapidly.
After the Department of Education in conjunction with the Department of Health announced preparations for a possible school health-related closure, we began development of a virtual home learning plan, and we cancelled all upcoming trips and events for the next two weeks.
On March 11, our virtual home learning plan was compiled and sent to the Department of Education. The plan assured equitable access to instruction for all Harbor School students, and addressed the provision of appropriate special education and related services. Parents and staff were provided a basic outline of the virtual home learning plan guided by the individual student's IEP goals and objectives.
That week, the entire staff was working on gathering materials to be sent home with students on March 13 in anticipation of the possible school closure. Every student received a packet of information including: a sample daily schedule, a packet of materials, lists of resources, websites, and login information.
On March 15, the decision to close school for students was announced. Harbor School began to implement the virtual home learning plan, recognizing and making accommodations for the challenge of internet access and capability for students and some staff. All staff were instructed to put together additional packets for students to include music, art, phys ed, health, and related services (OT, PT, Speech, counseling).
Making It Work: March 18 and Beyond
?This whole situation evolved very quickly, changing by the minute. Many layers of communication were needed between staff, parents, students, child study teams, and the department of education. We decided to implement a weekly checklist highlighting how we are gathering information from teachers, paraprofessionals, the behaviorist, therapists, and counselors to help students and parents connect to the IEP in this model.
As time goes on, we continue to hear of the many challenges our families are having in implementing these activities and using the suggested materials and resources. Parents who are working have told us they cannot possibly add "teaching" to their plates! Their children need support in all areas of life--feeding, toileting, and basic life skills. To better support parents, we are thinking about life skill activities they could implement at home.
We are also using Zoom meetings to stay virtually connected to staff, students, and families. These have been very positive as they give us a glimpse into what our families are facing every day. And they provide a way for our staff to stay connected with one another, share ideas, challenges, and their own personal struggles battling COVID-19.
For our evaluation process this year, we will ask each staff member to provide a reflection of this virtual home learning model, their greatest challenge, greatest success, and how it has affected their instruction. We are inviting them to take this moment and document it!
For me personally, I continue to be inspired by our students and their families for their continued resilience and perseverance through this extreme challenge. I am also so proud of how our staff has taken on this challenge with a positive and proactive spirit. I see not only their support and help to our students and families, but also a heightened sense of collegial support as they embrace this unique model of learning.
We are all learning differently!
A message from Harbor School
We want our Harbor School families to know that we are here for you and want to support you during these challenging days. We cannot begin to imagine how difficult this situation must be for your child and your family. We will continue to post monthly school articles which we hope will provide useful information to assist you as you navigate this new reality and its impact on your daily life.
Please know that we are here if you need us. Take care!
From all of us at the Harbor School
Principal-Harbor School, Eatontown, NJ