McGuire’s Bianco honored as distance learning hero

McGuire’s Bianco honored as distance learning hero

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Gov. Gina Raimondo congratulated McGuire Elementary School’s Marissa Bianco this month for winning a $1,000 Cox Heroes of Distance Learning grant.

The grants were awarded to teachers who “emerged as heroes to students and families depending on them to keep their school work on track,” according to a release from the company.

Cox asked members of the community and school departments which teachers were truly excelling at distance learning, rewarding educators with $1,000 awards to make over their virtual classrooms.

Bianco, a teacher of 1st-graders, said distance learning went better than expected. It began slowly, with lessons on how to sign into their computers for the day. She used programs such as Google Classroom to post links to resources, stories for students to listen to, pre-recorded lessons and other activities.

“It becomes easier every year because kindergarteners are now using more Chromebooks, and come into 1st grade with some knowledge of computers,” she said. “When teaching them things like how to place your fingers on the keyboard, computer lessons starting in kindergarten makes things easier.”

When her classroom transitioned to online, Bianco said, “We had to really scale back due to the new environment they were in. You don’t really know how many distractions there are at home, even for myself. The tiniest little disruption can make it difficult for them to learn.”

With students used to their routines in school, Bianco said she tried to maintain as much normalcy in her home classroom as possible.

“I was extremely blessed with my students and their families, who jumped right into distance learning,” she said, also thanking McGuire principal Bruce Butler for “being there for everything I needed. If I wanted to give something a shot he’d let me.”

Butler said Bianco managed her home classroom as closely to school scheduling as she could.

“She engages her students, even online. We did have some kids at McGuire not participate, and sometimes kids check out, but Marissa’s kids stayed on until the very end,” he said.

If needed, Bianco met in small groups or one-on-one with students or their parents.

“I still had parents working from five to five every day, trying to get the school work going early in the morning,” she said. “If needed, I’d jump on the video one-on-one to play a game or read a book. Whatever the parents needed, really.”

She recorded give-minute “brain breaks for students,” giving them a chance to stretch during the day to a workout video related to their current lesson.

Butler said Bianco became known for using her cat or other objects around the house during lessons.

Often, she conferenced with students during lunch to chat and connect.

“I tried to bring my own life into it,” she said. “They want to know their teacher is a normal person and has a normal life. We just talked a lot of the time, shared things, brought things like pets or siblings to the morning meeting.”

Bianco said distance learning during the pandemic helped her become closer to her students despite physical distancing.

“Families and teachers had no option but to get to know each other really quickly,” she said.

Bianco said distance learning changed her thought process on teaching in the classroom, focusing more on the quality of the content versus the quantity.

When teaching about 3D shapes, she asked her students to find objects around their house. When teaching about land formations, students built rivers in their homes using blue towels and clothes, and mountains out of pillows and other items.

Bianco said she looks forward to bringing that element back next year, and “better helping prepare my students with real-world skills.”

Bianco, who received her Cox grant at the end of the school year, said she plans to put the money next year toward classroom technology.