New distance learning days for BI School students

Fri, 05/21/2021 - 9:15am
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Superintendent Michael Convery informed the Block Island School Committee of the addition of two Distance Learning day to the school calendar. There will be a DL day added to the week of May 24 and another DL day added to the week of June 7. His decision comes in response to the heightened stress levels he and the staff have observed in the student body over the past weeks.
Dr. Susan Gibbons addressed the School Committee in support of the DL days. Dr. Gibbons pointed to the growing awareness that the high school students in particular are under an immense amount of stress due to the difficult changes caused by the pandemic. Last month she conducted a study in her classes that looked at student stress levels and she says the results were shocking. Even the students who are functioning at a high level academically are experiencing tremendous levels of stress and unease related to the reality of pandemic education, according to Dr. Gibbons. She believes the additional two days of Distance Learning will provide a small level of support for the students and staff. She reports that most students perform well on DL days, and the vast majority of students say DL days help them reconnect with teachers and receive one- on-one instruction while avoiding all the Covid guidelines and restrictions.
Principal Kristine Monje discussed the two types of DL days, the synchronous days and asynchronous days. On synchronous days, each class meets together virtually at their regular assigned times. Students will have these live, virtual meetings throughout the day, interacting with their teachers in a virtual classroom setting.
The other type of DL day is asynchronous, where teachers post the assignments online for the students, and the students can access them and work at their own pace. Teachers are available throughout the day in virtual office hours where the students can reach them for individual instruction. The two new DL days will be asynchronous.
Convery pointed out that the DL days are scheduled during the two weeks leading up to exams week, and the hope is that teachers and students will be able to use these DL days to focus on exam prep.
Member Patricia Doyle said she did not like the precedent that these DL days set, and stated that kids need routine. Member and Secretary Annie Hall said “lots” of parents had told her that they think kids should be in school. Chair Jessica Willi requested that Convery and Monje provide a letter to parents explaining the addition of more Distance Learning days and the reasoning behind them. Convery and Monje said they would honor the request and produce such a letter. The exact days will also be determined and communicated to parents, with Monje reiterating that the additional DL days are only for high school students.

Monje also reported that plans are underway for graduation on June 13, 2021 at the Spring House, with inclement weather
plans for the school gymnasium. Under current Covid guidelines, Monje says they have to limit the total number of attendees to fifteen guests per graduate, by invitation only. She says that as of now, they have to plan for accommodating the graduates and their families, with the hope that state guidelines will change and the entire student body will be present. 

The seniors are graduating just in time, as three of the seven boilers that provide heat to the school are down, with a fourth
boiler developing a leak this spring. Convery says the HVAC replacement plan is set to be on the Town Financial meeting in 2022, but he does not think they can wait that long. As such they are having a meeting on Thursday of the School Building Committee to discuss and plan how to address this pressing issue. Member Charlie Weber suggested they have a boiler repairman look at it as soon as possible. Additionally, Convery will seek emergency repair for the gym envelope building project, which is not scheduled to be addressed until 2023.
Through Distance Learning, graduation plans, and broken boilers, the Block Island School marches on, saying hello to new
teacher Stephanie Warcup, and good bye to Guidance Counselor Lynn Loya. Whitney McGinnes made the report for the Student Council, describing the students passing out Block Island Hurricanes masks in conjunction with the Mary D. Fund, and working on getting the student talent show together. This year it will be a virtual event, with students sending in a video of their performance and the Student Council posting it on Instagram, with parental permission of course. McGinnes also mentioned that the Student Council is hoping to have a volleyball or a movie night for the student pods before the end of the school year.