Transitioning to a New Virtual Education Reality – putting a plan in action due to COVID-19
Dr. Chris Hoye, (principal) and Dr. LeRoi Jones (Supervisor of Instruction) share their perspectives of what it was like to transition all Gateway students and staff to online learning in the midst of COVID-19.
A Monumental Task
“It was an experience I will never forget. After hearing the state’s decision to close down the schools in New Jersey due to the pandemic that took over our lives, our mettle was severely tested. We began to mobilize from a center-based program to a virtual learning plan without delay or hesitation. Teachers and all faculty began working diligently on creating something they had never done before, never even dreamed of doing.
We were tasked with creating a virtual school based out of the students’ homes. We needed to determine quickly which students had access to the internet and computers/tablets at home. For some of our families, this is a major issue. We also had staff preparing hard copies of learning activities so that the children had work packets of actual paper-and-pencil work to do at home. These learning packets were especially important for those who could not access the online resources.
Teachers also worked hard to ensure that all students had access to our online learning materials such as IXL for Math and Reading A-Z for Language Arts. These allow students to sign on at home and work on important core content areas daily. We needed to confirm phone numbers and emails for our families because the reality is they do change as well. It was a busy time!
We have made the plan work with flexibility, hard work, and perseverance. We couldn’t have done what we did without the dedication and commitment of the parents.”
A Teacher’s Perspective
One of the teachers commented, “Starting on Monday, March 16th, everything changed for us, as it did for the rest of the citizens of New Jersey. We felt stress and anticipation from the unknown as the COVID-19 virus descended upon our community. Realizing we would be out of school for an unknown period of time, the faculty and administration galvanized the staff to create individualized learning plans that would fit our students. The staff, once we appreciated the enormity of the task we faced, demonstrated they were ready and willing to design a plan that would work for families with and without technology access. Collaboration with parents was essential to have this plan be affective. “
Making It Work
Chris Hoye said, “All of our Related Services and Support Staff--Speech and Occupational Therapists, Counselors, Gym teacher, Transitions coordinator, and our School Nurse--literally everybody in the building, was vigorously engaged in producing and collating materials for the students to study and learn at home. Because of the unique nature of our students and the severity of some disabling conditions, each class, and each packet had to be individually prepared.
As our Virtual School took off, I personally became ill with the COVID-19 virus. (I am happy to say I am fully recovered now!) However, during my illness, Dr. LeRoi Jones took command and did an amazing job marshaling the staff to quickly acclimate to Zoom meetings and to create schedules for parent and student contacts on a daily basis.
I am so proud of how the entire Gateway family--staff, students, and families--have stepped up to the plate to help make our plan a successful reality! We were also very fortunate to have had amazing leadership and support from the RKS administration to guide us through this unprecedented challenge.”
Dr. Jones said, “I think we as educators are attracted to the idea of supporting and encouraging students to reach their full potential. Working with a special needs’ population is a privilege, and I value the opportunity to affect change. As an educator and administrator, I would have never thought the way we teach, encourage, and support our students would be interrupted by a virus. When Dr. Hoye called the entire staff into the gym and explained to us that we needed to make preparations to transfer from a regular school model to a virtual model, I became flooded with many emotions, above all extreme anxiety. I had many questions on how to transition to a virtual model. The transition was supported by many people, but none more important than the teachers, para-professionals, and related service staff. The staff at Gateway were steadfast in their resolve to continue to educate and support our students. Everything, and I mean everything, we asked of them was completed with urgency and confidence in the idea that we are a team. The first few weeks were challenging for me, however I had great support in our building Principal Dr. Hoye and Program Director Dana Giblin. They guided and supported the Gateway staff in developing and implementing our virtual model.”
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Since 1980, RKS Associates has been a leader in providing the needs of special education students and helping children grow to their fullest potential. Each of our schools seeks to empower each student with skills for life, work, and recreation; we believe that every individual possesses the dignity and potential to contribute to a better world.
As part of the RKS Associates Network of schools in New Jersey, the goal at the Gateway School is to assist all students in becoming as independent as possible and help them get ready for the future. Located in Carteret, NJ, we serve individuals throughout Central and Northern New Jersey. Contact us at our main office at 732.541.4400 with any questions or schedule a private tour of the Gateway School today.
Chris Hoye, Principal-The Gateway School of Carteret, NJ