May 1, 2020
Dear PS 321 Families,
It is hard to believe that we are completing six weeks of remote instruction. Thanks so much for supporting us during this challenging time. I do understand that different families have different needs, depending on your individual circumstances. Many of you are balancing working remotely yourselves and also supporting your children in their remote learning. For families with young children, families with ill family members, families with limited numbers of devices, this can be extremely difficult. And of course, different children respond in different ways to remote learning.
As we continue with remote learning until the end of the school year, our dedicated staff is working hard to provide important instructional and social emotional support for students. We also recognize the need for flexibility. For most children, having a predictable schedule, lessons, and some explicit assignments to complete is very helpful. If it is not working for your child, modifications can be made. Although we want children to continue to learn, we also recognize that this is a unique time and your children’s and family’s emotional and physical well-being is of utmost importance. If your child is having difficulty keeping up with assignments, do not feel you have to go into battle. You can set priorities—probably most important is some reading, writing, math, movement, and fun activities daily. We know that many parents fear that their children will fall behind academically. It is important to recognize that we are not going to expect students to make the same progress they would have made were we in actual school. We will take this into account in planning for the coming school year.
In recognition of the unique circumstances of this year, the Chancellor has issued a citywide grading policy for end year grades that must be adhered to by all schools. In elementary school, students will receive either a “Meets Standards” or “Needs Improvement” grade in the major subject areas. We think this makes a lot of sense, and it in fact mirrors the grading policy we have for our first and second graders. There will be some summer school options (most likely remote summer school) available to children who receive Needs Improvement in ELA and Math. We are not yet sure if this is for all grades of not.
I know that your teachers are in frequent communication, but I also understand that some of you would like an opportunity to “meet” with me and ask me questions. We had an excellent SLT meeting Wednesday, and we discussed the possibility of me doing some version of my spring “Grade by Grade Parent Meetings.” I am still working out the details and timing of this, but hope to be able to offer these kinds of meetings to families. As I am planning these, it would be helpful to have you send me questions so I get a sense of what is on your minds. Please email these to Lphilli@schools.nyc.gov with the subject line “Questions for ___ grade parent meeting,” filling in the blank with your child’s grade. I am sure I will not have answers to them all, but I will do my best ☺. I will then plan a brief presentation and will leave an option for you to ask or submit additional questions (depending on whether this is virtual or taped). .
I also wanted to reiterate what you can expect from your child’s teacher as remote learning continues. There has been some confusion about what “live instruction” means, and I want to clarify this. The Chancellor is referring to what I had been calling “live teaching” as synchronous instruction, meaning instruction in real time where there are possibilities for interactions between the teacher and the students. This is not required, though many of our teachers are doing this. The Chancellor’s definition of live teaching included pre-recorded videos.
Our teachers are all providing two times a day when the children can “see” them. That might be in synchronous instruction on Google Meets where students and teachers interact, or it might be in a pre-recorded video. Both are very valuable, and different teachers have had success with different models. When we talk about instruction, this includes not only academic subjects but community building and social emotional learning as well. In addition to these two times when children see the classroom teacher, the teacher has two hours of “office hours.” These can include small group or one-on-one meetings in real time, phone calls, responding on the stream or to assignments, and answering emails. The rest of the teacher’s six-hour day is spent making and posting videos, finding and posting outside resources and lessons (such as EMBARC or Zearn Math), preparing and posting assignments, communicating with families, and reviewing student submissions.
On your child’s Google Classroom, you should be able to find a weekly schedule so that you can plan effectively. If you are having trouble locating this, please reach out to the teacher so that she can guide you to it. We are expecting that students are doing some reading, writing, and math daily. Integrated science or social studies curriculum units are rich and engaging ways of combining many of these subject areas, and they are happening in several grades. Also be sure to check out the great activities our cluster teachers are offering. Because it can be a challenge for parents to upload assignments and for teachers to read all of them, teachers are limiting the amount of work that is submitted. In a real classroom, in 5-10 minutes, a teacher can walk around and get a good sense of the work children are doing. We can’t quite re-create this on line.
Children who are mandated for IEP or ENL (English as a New Language) services are continuing to receive these. Service providers, SETSS teachers, and paraprofessionals are meeting with their students either individually or in groups. Paraprofessionals have at least two times during the day when they are in individual contact with their mandated students, and paraprofessionals have made arrangements with families for the best possible ways to do this. We understand that for some students who receive many services, these services combined with the interactions with the classroom teacher may be overwhelming, and we are happy to work out individualized plans for students that take this into account. Feel free to reach out to Liz McCormack, AP in charge of special education, at EMcCormack@schools.nyc.gov if you have any questions about this.
As you know, May is Poetry Month at PS 321, and I’ve heard from many of you that your children are excited about this. I love the idea that even though we are isolated in our homes, this school-wide initiative can unite us. And, this short form of writing seems suited to at-home learning when it may be difficult to engage children in longer writing assignments without the structure and supports of an actual classroom. We’re excited that our PTA is working to produce a “virtual Pandamonium” where we’ll be able to see children’s poems on line.
Nuri Bey is continuing to provide technology support to families; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, PS 321 is now a “Grab and Go” School Food site. Adults and children can pick up 3 meals a day between 7:30-1:30 at the main entrance.
Thank you for being such supportive partners during this very challenging time. And, hoping that you are staying healthy. I feel privileged to be part of this wonderful community of staff and families.
Liz Phillips, Principal
May 1, 2020