Baxter: Distance learning isn’t working

Baxter: Distance learning isn’t working

To the Pawtucket School Committee and administration, distance learning isn’t working, it’s not going to work, and the long term damage you will inflict on the educational welfare of our students could be irreparable. As a parent of a Pawtucket student, spouse of a Pawtucket teacher, former member of the Pawtucket School Committee and a front line state employee, I cannot help but question the actions of the Pawtucket School Department in light of what we are witnessing statewide.

It’s not possible to replicate the classroom experience on a virtual level. The virtual experience renders devoid the creative dynamics teachers employ to engage their students. I have heard experiences of students who won’t turn on their camera or audio for their teacher to engage them due to their discomfort in revealing at home living conditions. In situations where video and audio are operating, teachers and students have been subjected to foul language, abusive behavior and questionable activity coming from the homes of fellow students. Any of these situations would cause a student to “check out” from the experience. Not to mention the emotional toll separation takes on children who cannot engage with classmates, collaborate on projects, or participate in performance activities. As was the case in the spring, what appeared as a safe and reasonable alternative to in-person learning was not sustainable and students began to fall away. This happened, it’s incontrovertible and it will happen again. What is especially concerning is our school system lacks any measure to track and evaluate performance throughout the virtual learning process, only to review results at the end of a semester. This is too late in the process, you won’t have the time to correct it and you will lose students. As it stands today, teachers are powerless to get non-participating students to participate. Parents have jobs to report to to support their families. How can one reasonably expect an unsupervised, unengaged child to participate? This is a fool’s errand.

Rhode Island General Law delegates school committees and superintendents with the care, control and management of their respective schools and school departments. Their first two enumerated responsibilities being, (1) To identify educational needs in the community, and (2) To implement educational plans, policies, and programs to meet the needs of the district.

Distance learning in a purported healthy environment will not meet the educational needs of the district. Rather, creating and maintaining a safe and healthy environment to resume in-person learning accomplishes this objective to a far greater degree. After a rash of school shootings nationwide, we didn’t shut down our schools and resort to virtual learning. Rather we made our schools safer and carried on with the traditional in person experience. After having months to prepare, opting to resort to full virtual learning should not be the final outcome. We had a hybrid model in place. We had a virtual academy to provide an alternative to teachers, parents and students who had concerns about returning to an in-person setting. Throwing up your hands and resolving that you simply “can’t do it” is unacceptable. You were elected to do better. To do better by the students whose educational welfare you took an oath to protect. When every school district that touches your borders has resumed in person learning, what is your reasoning? Please do better by our kids.

John Baxter