April 5, 2020
Dear PS 321 Families,
Thank you for all your support during these past couple of weeks of remote teaching and learning. I am in awe of what our teachers have been able to do, as I know many of you are. I am also in awe of the ways in which families have taken on your new and complex responsibilities. Never has it been more important to be part of a caring, collaborative community.
As I am sure most of you know by now, Governor Cuomo has mandated that schools no longer have spring vacation but rather continue remote teaching and learning during this time. Although for many staff and families this was disappointing, we do understand the rationale. This is an unprecedented crisis and we want to do our part to keep children engaged and inside to stop the spread of this virus. We as a staff are committed to this.
Originally we had been told that staff and students would have 4/9 and 4/10 off as these are religious holidays (Passover and Good Friday). However, on Friday we learned that these also will be school days with remote teaching and learning happening. This did come as a shock to many, and teachers still have the right to take off these days for religious observance, as do children. Teachers who take one or both of these days for religious observances will let you know and will post online activities for these days. A kind of virtual “substitute plans.”
Before I outline what you can expect from April 9-17, I want to mention another DOE decision. Because of privacy and security issues, we have been mandated to “cease using Zoom as soon as possible.” Note that in that same directive, we were told that the same applies to the other live streaming platform some of us were using, Google Meet and Google Hangout. In saying “as soon as possible” rather than “immediately,” I believe that the chancellor was acknowledging how challenging it is to change effective practices with no notice. Given this, our teachers who have been using Zoom or Google Hangout/Meet will continue to be able to use them for Monday-Wednesday of this coming week.
Beginning April 9 and through the end of “spring vacation” (April 17), to comply with the DOE mandate, our teaches will stop using the live streaming platforms. We certainly understand the need for privacy on line, but we are incredibly sad to do this as we know how important it was to so many children to be able to interact with their teachers and classmates. Many of you have let me and teachers know that this has been sa highlight of your children’s days. The DOE has noted that they will continue to monitor the steps that Zoom and Google are taking to ensure privacy in using those platforms and that it is possible we will be able to use those platforms in the future. The other features of Google Classroom that we are currently using are permissible.
The live streaming platform that the DOE is approving is one that is very different from the ones we have learned and requires a different kind of sign in both from teachers and students. If by April 17 it looks like the DOE decision to ban Zoom and Google Hangout/Meet remains, then we will train teachers how to use this new platform during the week of April 20. This is not going to be easy. As most of you recognize, it took a lot of time for teachers to learn how to use the platforms they are now using, and the idea that an important piece of that work was in vain is disheartening to say the least. But we will do the best we can to continue to provide rich learning opportunities for our students.
From April 9-17, our remote learning will continue but will look a bit different than it has for the previous weeks or will in the future. Both at PS 321 and district and citywide, we see this as a time when all of us—staff and families—can recharge a bit and have some different kinds of engaging activities that vary from the regular routine– while also maintaining enough of that routine to be helpful and supportive to students and families. We also know that some families have decided to have their children “take off” from school work for at least some of the time during spring break, and that decision is of course up to you. We have come up with the following guidelines for remote teaching and learning during spring break:
• Students will have an opportunity to “see” their teacher once a day (via prerecorded videos due to the new DOE mandate).
• Teachers will have one hour of office hours each day when they will be available to engage with students. Teachers will let you know how they will do that.
• Teachers will post a “vacation” learning schedule that includes remote learning options for the entire school day. Although we always want children to have time to play and do fun things, during this week there will be even more of an emphasis on this. We will offer many possible options for both online and offline activities.
• Although there will be suggestions for daily reading, writing, and math, we will consider this a review week and will not teach new content. Instead it will be a time to solidify concepts already taught. We’ll recommend some math apps as well as our amazing math website, ps321math.com, which is filled with resources for math games and activities for children in all grades. Also think about things that you have in your home that can serve as math practice. For young children, counting and organizing pennies; for older children, playing games such as Yahtzee or card games that reinforce math skills.
• There will be no “due dates” for work done during this week. Children will be able to work at their own pace this week.
• We will continue to make sure that some of the activities we propose are ones that children can do independently. We know this is a challenge, particularly for children in the younger grades.
• Remember to visit your children’s cluster teachers’ Google Classrooms for some great activities.
• These 7 days seem like an ideal time to get children involved in some “service” project, and we will have suggestions for doing things for others while at home. This might include writing letters thanking workers who are keeping our lives going during this time– police and fire fighters, delivery people, health care workers., people working in grocery stores and pharmacies. Or, it might include making a poster to celebrate Earth Day (which is in April and help others recognize the importance of protecting our environment.
• For support with social emotional learning and issues that are arising during this time, please visit our Guidance Google Classroom.
Many expect that the health crisis in New York State will peak during the next couple of weeks. Nothing is more important than everyone’s physical and mental health, and we hope that by providing a modified remote learning schedule for the time originally set aside for spring vacation, we can be a part of keeping our community engaged and as calm as possible during this stressful time.
Please be mindful of teachers’ need to pull back a bit from the intensity of the first couple of weeks of remote learning. Many were working longer hours than they generally work during the regular school year to learn and implement this new model of school. We hope that you will be thoughtful about how often you reach out to teachers via email and that you will understand that it might take them some time to get back to you.
The assistant principals and I and other support staff will continue to be available to support you. For technology issues, please contact Nuri Bey at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can always reach out to me at Lphilli@schools.nyc.gov. Other important contact information: parent coordinator Deb Orr, email@example.com; assistant principal Beth Handman, Bhandman@ps321.info; assistant principal Sara Despres, Sdespres@ps321.info; assistant principal Liz McCormack, Emcormack@schools.nyc.gov.
Hoping that you and your families are staying healthy. I know what a challenge this is for families who never thought you would have to support your children’s learning in such a hands-on way. We all very much appreciate the new ways you are all participating in your children’s education and in partnering with us. Thank you.
P.S. Some important DOE Resources for Families:
• If you continue to need a device for online learning, please call 718-935-5100 (option 5) to request a device from central DOE, You can also go to https://www.schools.nyc.gov/learn-at-home/ipad-distribution and complete a form. You will need the school address and your child’s OSIS number. You can also email me as it may be possible to get you a device from PS 321, but we are not yet sure we will be able to do this, so please also contact the DOE.
• If you believe you may be eligible to send your child to a Regional Enrichment Center, designated mainly for children of first responders, health care and other front-line workers, go to https://www.schools.nyc.gov/enrollment/enrollment-help/regional-enrichment-centers. The DOE has just expanded the categories of essential workers who qualify to have their child placed at an REC.
• Adults as well as children are now able to pick up three grab and go meals per day from various sites from 7:30-1:30. To find the site nearest you, go to www.schools.nyc.gov/school-life/food/free-meals.
• For parents who would like more resources for their children, in addition to the many that teachers will be sending to you, you can always go to www.schools.nyc.gov/learn-at-home for additional learning suggestions.
April 5, 2020