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Staying Connected: Your Stories - May 21, 2020

Connections in Education during the Coronavirus Crisis

As educators navigate unprecedented obstacles with limited resources and guaranteed uncertainty, New York State educators lead the nation in their acceptance of this challenge. Throughout our state, administrators, teachers, and school personnel have demonstrated their extraordinary dedication, support, and commitment to their students and our children. From teacher parades for students to food and technology deliveries for families, New York’s educators have risen to this challenge! The New York State Education Department wishes to highlight the exceptional dedication of our educators with examples of emotional support, equitable solutions, and instructional practices utilized to stay connected with the students of New York State during this period of building closures. Read more below for stories that have been shared with us recently, or, if you have your own stories to share, please visit our Submit Your Stories page for additional information.

CoVIDEO Chats: Family Engagement beyond Academic Learning

Syracuse City School District

Our diverse, inner-city district is home to students from more than 60 countries. With more than 30 school buildings and academic programs offered in the Syracuse City schools, staying connected with students and families during these unprecedented times and ensuring they have the resources they need to continue to be successful is extremely important. Beyond food service and academic instruction, our Office of Family Engagement has created a twice-weekly series of Zoom chats - called CoVIDEO Chats - to allow families to ask questions or learn about topics that are relevant during these changing times. CoVIDEO chats are promoted on our district social media channels and have been a great way to encourage families to stay engaged beyond academic learning. Participants can join through internet or by telephone. These meetings are so popular that the maximum number of guests is often reached, and the district is looking into expanding the capacity. Parents seek guidance about digital learning, lesson planning, school and community resources, and many other questions and topics that concern them.

Functioning Virtually in our Elementary Functional Skills Classrooms

Van Schaick Grade School, Cohoes City School District

Van Schaick Grade School houses the Cohoes City School district’s four elementary functional skills classrooms, in addition to kindergarten through 5th grade classrooms.  The needs of the students in our functional skills classrooms are unique and challenging. The teachers in these rooms have met the additional challenge of addressing our students' needs virtually through their delivery of individualized, engaging lessons for their students.

Maggie Cioppa, the classroom teacher, and Karin Sencer, the speech pathologist, collaborate daily to deliver a quality virtual learning experience. Maggie and Karin utilize Google Classroom to ensure continuity of learning in a virtual world. Routine is very important to our students in the functional skills classroom and these two teachers ensure that routine continues for their students. Maggie and Karin developed an at home schedule for parents that mirrors the daily schedule they had in their classroom. Parents engage their child in a “typical day” in the classroom by following the videos provided.  In addition, and in order to maintain familiarity with the students, their three classroom aides, Stacie Sorel, Linda Harbacz, and Melissa Parker, also provide videos of themselves doing daily activities.

The videos target the familiar music and movement activities that were conducted daily in the classroom, as well as the reading of favorite stories from students’ “core language” program implemented throughout the school day. These core words are taught in a “see it, say it, sign it” format so that children can access and use functional words in 3 language modes to help get their needs met as well as reinforce initiation of language.  Karin is delivering materials and supplies every Monday so that the families have the tools they need to remain engaged in learning. Materials include core word activities as well as individualized picture exchange communication boards to provide parents with an additional form of communication within the home setting. In addition to daily video lessons, Maggie and Karin schedule Google Meets with their students and parents in small needs-based groups. At these meets the parents and teachers are using the same hands on materials to deliver an engaging lesson.

The success of the efforts of Van Schaick’s teachers can be measured through the words of a parent.  Kate Wetmore, best known as “Derek’s mom”, provides her account of the transition to virtual learning.

My son, Derek, is on the autism spectrum.  As a mother of a child that absolutely relies on the environment, structure and support of his classroom, and his teacher’s team of assistants and therapists, I completely panicked when school closed due to COVID-19. Parents were reassured that something online would be put together for our children during this time in distance learning. Still though, special needs are different, and I felt unsure.

This entire situation is still a work in progress, but as each day goes by my panic fades more and more while confidence takes its place. Thank you, Van Schaick Elementary team!! We’ll get through this together!
Kate Wetmore, parent, "Derek's mom"

Once we began Google Classroom, correlating materials were dropped off each week to go with videos of our teachers and staff. It was (and still is) new to us all, staff and parents alike and even though it doesn’t recreate the classroom my son needs, Google Classroom is monumental in terms of helping parents create a structured schedule with visuals in the home. Staff can easily offer all sorts of tools for learning through play, help with how to handle our child’s stress and behavior, speech, and physical education all with the click of a button.

Google Classroom is an excellent resource for these trying times but none of this could be possible without the staff my son, Derek, is blessed to have. All I need to do is email, call or text any one of my child’s staff members, his teacher Ms. Cioppa, any of her assistants, or any of his therapist (speech therapist, physical therapist, or occupational therapist), and they are almost immediately at my aid for whatever questions I may have. I couldn’t do any of this at home without my son’s incredible team.

This entire situation is still a work in progress, but as each day goes by my panic fades more and more while confidence takes its place. Thank you, Van Schaick Elementary team!! We’ll get through this together!

We're All in this Together

Sidney Central School District

Teachers and administrators at Sidney Elementary School created this video message to remind their students, "...we miss you and...we're all in this together!"

Submit Your Own Stories

We encourage you to share your story. Your story might be a one-page account, a video, or even pictures showing us how your school, your students, and your community are staying connected. Please visit our Submit Your Story page for additional information.