In her kindergarten class at Lawrence Woodmere Academy, Lindsay Breslauer calls her 10 students her friends, and they have made the word part of their growing vocabulary.
Six of Breslauer’s friends have been out of the classroom since LWA returned from the holiday break on Jan. 3, and one, who had been out since mid-December, just returned on Monday.
With the surge in Covid-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, LWA, a private, nonsectarian school in Woodmere, offered a remote option to its 165 students in pre-school through high school.
“LWA has been permitting students to learn remotely, which was decided prior to the holiday break, based on prior year’s data indicating that there was a surge after the new year,” Headmaster Brian O’Connell wrote in an email. “We are an independent school and are therefore directly responsive to the wants and needs of the families we serve.”
Like other schools and districts, LWA went fully remote when the coronavirus pandemic hit the area in March 2020. The teachers mastered Google Classroom and Zoom, taught virtually and then used a hybrid model as well, with students both in class and at home.
“Absolutely there are challenges, but I also think there are positives,” said Breslauer, a 2007 LWA graduate who has been teaching for six years, four at her alma mater after two years in New York City. Remote learning, she said, “gives families the option to continue the learning for their child.”
The added positive, she said, is that the students can see their classmates and interact with them even though they’re not in school.
“Part of teaching is coming to terms with altering styles,” Breslauer said, noting that when teaching her “friends” math manipulatives, using the physical objects that help students understand mathematical concept, students in the classroom have access to the typical blocks and cubes. “Not everyone has access to those objects,” she said, “so we let [remote students] make their own or use different objects. It’s fun to do.”
“As a teacher, the workload is more intense,” Marisa Dulisse said of teaching on virtual platforms. Dulisse has taught for 21 years, and has been at LWA since 2019, where she teaches science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, classes to kindergartners and fourth- and fifth-graders through high school seniors.
Dulisse said that the most time-consuming part of remote teaching is making sure that remote students have the materials to take part in art and science projects, and creating slide presentations.
The upside, she said, is that through Google Classroom, her STEAM students, including several of the 15 students across China, can share the work, and she can grade it, quickly. “Students prefer to be in the building,” Dulisse said, “but the Google Classroom platform is a saving grace. We do it and make it work.”
North Woodmere resident Ella Schwartz had both of her sons, Sammy, an LWA junior, and Nate, a seventh-grader, learning from home after the holiday because of the Omicron surge. They began the school year attending in person, like nearly all LWA students.
“I prefer in-person learning, but we’re lucky they’re pretty good with remote learning, staying focused and keeping engaged,” said Schwartz, who serves on the LWA board of directors. “They’re comfortable with the technology, we don’t have to help, and they have their own work area, desks and are self-sufficient.”
Being able to quickly shift to virtual platforms is a plus for LWA, O’Connell wrote in the email. The benefits include having the students in China learning concurrently with those on the Woodmere campus; having more than 90 percent attendance on Jan. 14, when there was a snowstorm; holding a professional development session for teachers on Zoom on Jan. 21; and being able to offer the remote option during variant surges.
“Based on current data, I contacted the parents [on Jan. 19], informing them that students should return to on-campus learning starting Monday, or sooner, devoid of a medical/health appeal from parents,” O’Connell wrote. “However, we look at each case individually to be reasonable and sensitive to family needs.”