Districts prepare for long haul with distance learning: Public schools officially closed through April


BURRILLVILLE/NORTH SMITHFIELD – Efforts to continue K through 12 education amid the COVID 19 pandemic will continue for at least another month in Rhode Island following an announcement on Monday, March 30 by Gov. Gina Raimondo.

Thanking the parents, teachers, students and administrators who have made the distance learning initiative possible, the governor noted that the school closure could be longer, but she is taking a “day by day” approach in her efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

“To the parents, it’s brutal to try to juggle everything,” said Raimondo. “The good news is it’s going well. The kids are learning. Hang in there.”

Locally, administrators agreed that the experience so far has been challenging but positive.

“We have also received so many much appreciated positive, encouraging and supportive emails from families,” said North Smithfield Supt. Michael St. Jean. “With the support of our teachers, partners, and the community, North Smithfield Public Schools is prepared to deliver whatever is required of us to best support our students and families of our community.”

St. Jean said North Smithfield schools will be expanding distance learning planning and resources to support students’ instructional and other needs, no matter the duration.

In Burrillville, Supt. Michael Sollitto said the district is fully prepared for the extension to the distance learning plan.

“As we began distance learning last week,  we suspected that the school closures would extend well past the initial two-week period,” Sollitto said.  “We have been preparing for this and will build upon the early structures that we put in place.”

Sollitto said central office administrators hold virtual meetings daily with principals and teachers to continue working on distance learning plans.

“Plans will evolve as the school closures extend,” he said

Unique supports put in place in Burrillville include a daily technology drive thru from 7:30 – 8:30 a.m. at Burrillville High School.

“Parents can drive up and get technology assistance if their device is not working properly,” Sollitto said.

The district has also established a distance learning hotline at (401) 651-1901 and email at virtualinstruction@bsd-ri.net, that are available for immediate questions.

Districtwide, Virtual Spirit Weeks continue with daily activities. Monday, March 30 was pajama day.

“We encourage students and parents to send us pictures, and we will post on our Facebook page,” said Sollitto. “It is wonderful to see the school spirit during this distance learning.”

The superintendent said that at this point, all Burrillville families have access to what they need for distance learning and the district’s Distance Learning page, found at https://dl.bsd-ri.net/, is updated regularly.

The governor noted that for many, it feels like the distance learning iniative has gone on much longer than one week.

“There’s nothing easy about this,” Raimondo said. “It’s difficult. It’s disruptive. We all need to do our best to learn as much as possible so no one gets too far behind.”

For students and families still struggling to obtain the needed resources to learn at home, Raimondo announced that several major phone service carriers are now offering free “hotspot,” activation through May 18.  Cox Communications is now offering qualifying low income families two free months of service, or one free month internet for those who don’t meet the criteria.

“The purpose of this is to make the hotspot available for people for who it’s the only option,” Raimondo said.

Those unsure of how to access the new resources are advised to call their child’s teacher or principal and ask for guidance.

“I’m trying to take a little bit of the pressure off,” Raimondo said. “We’re trying to make sure that no one gets left behind.”

The governor also issued a challenge to parents to make sure their children read every day in the month of April.

“As long as school’s not technically in session the most important thing we can do for our kids is make sure they read,” she said, noting that details on where to get books will be upcoming.

“We have a whole system we’re putting in place,” Raimondo said. “Let’s make this as fun as possible.”

On Thursday, the governor said she will hold a unique press conference directed at children and students.

Raimondo said attendance rates for distance learning have been higher than expected.

“I’m thrilled with how it’s going,” she said. “I want you to know you’re doing a great job. It’s only because of the incredible work of everybody that I have the confidence to say let’s keep going.”

The governor said she understands how challenging the new system can be for parents, noting it’s only temporary.

“I’m just asking you to power through it,” Raimondo said.

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