First week of distance learning enhanced by ‘Spirit Week’ in Burrillville

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BURRILLVILLE – The Burrillville school district took a unique approach to the first week of distance learning for public school students in Rhode Island, with a “virtual spirit week,” that helped to keep kids connected and entertained as they completed assignments from home.

The distance learning initiative, believed to be the first of its kind nationally in reaction to the threat of COVID 19, was announced by Gov. Gina Raimondo, on Wednesday, March 18, and districts across the state were tasked with a mandate to quickly develop and implement a plan by this week.

Supt. Michael Sollitto told NRI NOW on Thursday that Burrillville’s plan is going “very well thus far.”

“Our educators worked tirelessly to put a structure in place that would allow for virtual learning for students in grades 2-12,” Sollitto said. “As we navigate through a virtual teaching and learning environment, we have encountered a few problems, but have been able to address these with minimal interruption.”

Parents of students in grades pre-K through 1 picked up packets of work for the week and a webpage was set up that contains the district’s distance learning plans, along with resources.

“There are also tabs for each school, with school-specific information,” Sollitto said.

The superintendent said that one obstacle to implementing the plan in Burrillville has been the distribution of Chromebooks.

Last week, the district distributed several hundred Chromebooks to families based on responses to a technology survey that was sent to parents of students in grades 2-5. Middle and high school students, he noted, already had the needed technology, as Burrillville is a one-to-one district for grades 6-12.

Sollitto said a number of students still need a device, and a second distribution had been scheduled for Thursday, March 26, from 2 to 6 p.m. at Burrillville High School.

“We also had some technical issues with broken devices or chargers,” Sollitto said, noting that the technology department has scheduled times for parents to bring in devices that are not working to swap them out.

Sollitto thanked Director of Technology Justin Allen for staying on top of the problem.

Preschooler Zephira Guilmain shows off her Bronco spirit.

In Burrillville, understanding virtual classroom etiquette has posed another obstacle to distance learning, and Sollitto sent a letter to parents on Wednesday pointing to the need for respectful behavior from students, and asking parents to refrain from interrupting teachers during instruction.

“It’s disruptive and causes more confusion,” the letter explained.

The superintendent noted that the district’s Facebook page has been updated daily with pictures of students and teachers hard at work.

“One idea that has really taken off is our ‘Virtual Spirit Week’ across all schools,” he said.

The district’s first virtual school day, Tuesday, March 24, was also “Sports Team Day,” and students and teachers attended virtual class donning  jerseys and hats with logos from their favorite teams. Wednesday was “Virtual Lunch with a Friend Day,” and Thursday, March 26 was “Hoodie Day.”

Eighth-grade social studies teach Mr. Durand shows off his Bruins gear.

“Outside Exercise Day,” was scheduled for Friday.

“We ask students and parents to send in pictures as they participate in these days, and we are posting them on social media,” Sollitto said. “It’s a great way to keep school spirit going strong.”

Sollitto thanked everyone for their patience and hard work in making Burrillville’s distance learning program a success.

“Teachers, staff, administrators, parents, and students have been very supportive, and we have had lots of positive feedback,” he said.

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