North Smithfield parents, principals weigh in on distance learning


NORTH SMITHFIELD – The majority of parents in North Smithfield are satisfied, overall, with their kids’ distance learning experience, at least according to the results of a survey sent out by the school district last week.

Supt. Michael St. Jean noted that 175 parents responded to the opportunity to weigh in. And while eight of the respondents gave negative ratings across the board, most rated the experience as positive.

“You have students that can be very easily overwhelmed if they’re not in their normal routine,” St. Jean said.

Parents, as a whole, said they’ve received adequate instructional, social and technical support.  They said that the amount of work their kids are receiving is balanced, and that expectations are clear.

“We had a number of very thoughtful comments,” St. Jean said.

At a virtual School Committee meeting held this week, the superintendent noted that principals have made some adjustments to their plans in reaction to the feedback.  From spirit weeks and Zoom meetings, to Instagram posts and scavenger hunts, principals laid out the ways they’ve been working to reach out to students and maintain community amid a difficult situation.

North Smithfield Elementary School Principal Jennifer Daigneault said that some of the younger students are breaking down.

“The honeymoon phase is over,” Daigneault said. “We’ll catch them up when we get them back. We miss them.”

Middle School Principal John Lahar noted that some parents said the students were receiving too much work.

“We didn’t think about the mom who’s at home and working with three little ones,” Lahar said. “We don’t want to overwhelm anyone, so dialing it back is really where it’s at this week.”

Even criticism from parents, Lahar noted, was constructive.

“It hasn’t been complaining or angry,” he said.

High School Principal Timothy McGee said he’s held virtual meetings with members of the student council to discuss their experience and brainstorm ideas on what can be done to replace lost experiences for seniors.

“These kids are honest and they’re articulate,” McGee said. “They just felt like they’ve been robbed of so many things.”

McGee noted that the school has scaled back the requirements for the senior project, waiving the field work.

The Class of 2020, McGee noted, had planned ambitious end-of-year events including a prom on a boat leaving from Boston and a three day trip to Ohio, all of which have been cancelled.

“My seniors are a little in the dumps right now,” he said. “I can’t fix that, but I can do everything I can to make it better.”

If a normal graduation can’t be held – a possibility that’s become increasingly likely under ongoing stay-at-home orders –McGee said he’s been entertaining some alternative ideas.

One option would see students gather at the high school into designated parking spots and stay in their vehicles while ceremonies were broadcast via wifi over YouTube. Diplomas, he joked, could be dropped from the sky.

McGee said he also checked out Rustic Drive-In as a possible venue and he was the 10th principal to inquire.

“They didn’t say no,” he said. “I’m just trying to get as many ideas as I possibly can to make something happen.”

“Something will happen, I just don’t know what it is yet,” McGee added. “If anybody has any good ideas, shoot them my way.”

Regardless of the plan, McGee noted that some sort of graduation will have to take place before summer begins.

“It’s going to have to be something that we have never done before,” McGee said. “It’s going to be a memorable graduation.”

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