Sherman school develops virtual learning plan for quarantined students: 'Destined to be a success'

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
Schools Superintendent-Principal Jeff Melendez

Schools Superintendent-Principal Jeff Melendez

/ Jeff Melendez

SHERMAN — Students in the Sherman school district who must quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 can now participate in school remotely, right along with their in-person classmates.

The program is called Knight School and is named after the Sherman Knight, which is the school’s mascot. It was developed by Sherman Schools Superintendent-Principal Jeff Melendez, in collaboration with staff and administration.

Students participating in Knight School meet remotely at the same time as their peers do in the classroom. Using age appropriate technology, they take part in their classroom virtually, in whatever activity or lesson the rest of their class is doing.

For example, the preschool “will be heavily parent organized and dictated where both parents and students have specific roles and responsibilities,” Melendez said. “We want them to eat breakfast, establish a morning routine, be prepared for school.”

In the primary grades, there’ll be opportunities for interaction such as a read aloud.

“So the teacher will turn the camera on so the kids can see their peers and students at home can see his or her classmates and they can maintain that connection.

Additionally, there will also be special events Knight School Students can watch, such as an upcoming math competition where teachers will “battle it out,” Melendez said.

“In grade two, the students are going to review on their own and as they get to middle school, it will be much more asynchronous as opposed to synchronous work,” Melendez said.

Melendez added the goal is for students to take as much action and ownership of their education as they can. As they get older, there’ll be a lot more independent work.

Why Knight School?

Knight School is based on guidelines and requirements issued by the state Department of Education and the current input of local entities and public health officials. The plan is being developed because the State of Connecticut has not approved remote learning as an option available to families.

Students can be part of Knight School if they’re physically well and able to participate, and have been required by the district or a physician to quarantine due to an exposure to COVID-19, and are therefore not able to physically attend school.

“If a kid is not well, they need to be at home, resting,” Melendez said.

Most quarantine periods run for about eight days, Melendez said.

To put the plan together, administration met with teachers in all grade levels and received feedback about what they think would be the most ideal way to teach remotely.

Through Knight School, quarantined students will be part of the academic work, get opportunities to engage with peers, and receive live feedback.

“It was very collaborative. The teachers are the experts in the classroom so we wanted this to be reflective of what they felt the work involves,” Melendez said.

He said the idea behind Knight School is students and teachers both feel personal interaction is best.

“The feedback that we received from 15 months of online and hybrid learning is that students and teachers value personal interactions,” Melendez said. “Because our students’ educational needs vary, our plan is different for each grade level.”

Additionally, he said because the quarantining period is temporary, the Sherman School worked to make the exit and reentry from Knight School “to be very smooth and seamless.”

“Thirdly, we wanted to make sure that it is manageable for parents and provides students with as much independence as possible,” he added.

How it works

The Sherman School will use three primary technology tools to make Knight School possible: Google Meet for Preschool to eighth grade; Seesaw for Kindergarten to third grade; and Google Classroom for fourth to eighth grade, which is used to distribute assignments, send feedback, and see everything in one place. In Google Classroom, students can use Google tools such as docs, slides, sheets, drawings, and more to create their responses.

Depending upon their grade level, students in Knight School will either receive an iPad, Chromebook or Jamboard. Jamboard allows teachers and students to share a whiteboard in real time.

Those who receive special education services would get that service remotely at their normally scheduled time.

“So the teachers don’t need to modify their schedule, and the kids can just slide right in and do it remotely,” he said.

Melendez added speech therapists have told him speech and language skills are easy to teach over Google Meet or Zoom “because you get to see the face better — you can zoom in,” he said, adding that is especially the case in current times since in person, teachers now wear a mask and it may be harder for them to emulate mouth movements and orientations.

Melendez said he thinks Knight School will be more effective than what some neighboring districts he heard are doing in regard to quarantined students — which is hiring outside staff to work with students.

“The concern that I had and the reason we didn’t go in that direction was because what’s most important is the relationship between the teacher and their student. What (hiring an outside educator) does is it puts them in a situation where they have to now forge a relationship with a separate person for a very short period of time.”

Knight School can change according to changes that may develop over time.

“Plans are meant to be flexible and responsible to need,” he said. “We had three versions of our reopening plan last year.”

Should the entire school should have to quarantine at once, the Sherman School District is ready for that, too.

“Over the last year and a half, we planned to have the resources we need, to have the equipment we need, to have the technology we need. The teachers have been trained, the students have been acclimated to these different platforms, Google Meet, Google Classroom, Seesaw — so I feel confident that we could do this seamlessly.”

Additionally, Melendez said perhaps in the future, Knight School could be utilized for students in “extenuating circumstances” — such as if a child has an extensive recovery period due to a surgery. He added, however, this would be evaluated on a case by case basis.

To date this school year, “very few” students have been quarantined, Melendez said.

Should the pandemic get fully under control, Knight School won’t be needed, which, Melendez said, he hopes will happen.

Sherman Board of Education Chairman James Neunzig said Knight School “is destined to be a success.”

“It was developed collaboratively between our school's administration and faculty,” he said, adding it is that collaboration that proved successful in the first year of the pandemic.

“Our district was able to remain open for full-day, in-person learning for all but 14 days of the year,” Neunzig said. “This was the result of both the development of a very thoughtful plan and cooperation among the faculty, parents, and students in our community.”

sfox@milfordmirror.com