MaryAnn McKenney and her second grade class at St. Kevin's Catholic School in Warwick had been looking forward to Monday, March 23rd. Facing 14 days of prescribed quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus on March 10th, Monday
MaryAnn McKenney and her second grade class at St. Kevin’s Catholic School in Warwick had been looking forward to Monday, March 23rd. Facing 14 days of prescribed quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus on March 10th, Monday wouldn’t arrive soon enough.
Last November, when a pipe broke in the school’s heating system, flooding several classrooms, the teachers and students of St. Kevin’s packed it up, and with the help of Mayor Joe Solomon, moved to their new temporary home at Randall Holden Elementary, a recently shuttered school in the Hoxsie section of Warwick.
“There will be nothing like the flood again,” MaryAnn recalls the teachers assuring themselves afterwards. Whether this was in terms of a biblical flood, or lightning striking twice, no one could have anticipated this year’s move.
McKenney and her second graders were sent home before Governor Gina Raimondo closed Rhode Island schools, with remote learning to be implemented. However, because McKenney and her students were under quarantine, they were unable to retrieve their textbooks from their classroom.
“Thursday night at midnight, the Department of Health announced the schools would be closed on Friday the thirteenth,” McKenney said. “But I’m up for the challenge!” She smiles, grateful for the collaboration and willingness of her colleagues, characteristic of teachers everywhere, who generously share their ideas.
One of McKenney’s first assignments was an at-home experiment from the New England Aquarium; salt water vs. fresh water, why does one freeze? The students may submit their work through Google Docs, or may choose to write their observations and send a photograph to their teacher via email. “Opening a video takes up a lot of storage,” McKenney added, so she will rely on sending notices through ReadWorks where a student may access an assignment. The child may read or listen to the piece, based on their preferred learning modality. IXL is another instructional program with both language arts and math components, while ExtraMath aids in math fluency.
Although the Zoom video conferencing is her preferred tool for an entire group to meet, as the school faculty did for their March 12 meeting to discuss distance learning, McKenney explains she prefers using FaceTime to listen to each of her students read aloud individually. She also plans to use Google Sheets to encourage her students to be accountable by turning in their assignments electronically. However, as not every child has internet at home, she is prepared to send a packet of instructional materials home.
“But how much can you expect a child to learn at home,” she considers, “when the routine has changed and something new must be put in its place.” She anticipates reteaching material. “Everyone is doing what they can for the children. “You agonize over it,” she said, her voice growing even more thoughtful.
How is she faring so far? “This past week has been the hardest work since I was a new teacher 21 years ago,” she smiled, during a FaceTime interview.
This is not to say there hasn’t been a silver lining.
Around the world children are spending their days at home. In Italy, the slogan is “Andra tutto bene” — “Everything will be all right.” MaryAnn McKenney’s second graders are taking the baton and running with it. She proudly shared with me some of her students’ interpretations of this message of hope. Like their counterparts in Italy, their artistic visions include rainbows and clouds, hearts and flowers.