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David Pistone: Going the distance in learning

Other Voices
David Pistone

In the past few months, there has been so much news and so many stories about things that are going poorly (the economy, deaths, unemployment, restrictions, etc.) and things that are truly going well (health-care workers, first-responders, grocery store workers and so many more who are stepping up and performing heroic deeds).

One of the areas that has received a large amount of coverage is the education system and, specifically, how our youth are doing regarding one of the new buzzwords — “distance-learning” — and how this will affect their learning. Much of it has been negative, throughout the state and the country. There has been a lot of finger-pointing on all sides, mostly out of the frustration caused by this pandemic. After all, the media do have a tendency to latch onto the negative stories sometimes.

However, there are some very positive and successful stories regarding how schools and students are handling this crisis. At Mount St. Mary’s Academy (MSM) – a small school in Grass Valley, there was a very short time to react to the sudden announcement that the “physical” schools were going to be closed. We, as with most schools, had about 24 hours to respond. It was the morning of Friday the 13th (naturally) when the staff was officially informed that the school would not be meeting in-person the following week.

At that point, no one knew how long it would last. Everyone — students, teachers and staff, dropped what they were doing and immediately started formulating a strategy for what we thought would be two to three weeks of remote learning. Packets of material were created for students to take home with them, parents were notified and told to be prepared for further communications in the coming days, and students all jumped in to help accomplish what needed to be done. With a lot of work over the weekend, by the following Monday all students were hard at work going through lessons and completing assignments.

The saving grace was that everyone involved … pulled together to accomplish a very challenging task in a very short amount of time.

Did all of this happen without a hitch? I’d love to say yes, but that was hardly the case. We had internet issues to overcome, as did most of the state and country. Zoom was not all it was cracked up to be. We had confused parents, due to different teachers communicating in different ways. We had questions about how to safely transfer subsequent assignments, both from teacher to student and student to teacher. On top of it all, we had concerns about students, and especially elderly caretakers, staying healthy. The saving grace was that everyone involved — students, teachers, the administration, and especially parents — pulled together to accomplish a very challenging task in a very short amount of time.

Everyone was patient as we learned from experience. We refined and honed our processes each week. Some teachers moved to creating YouTube lessons in order to work around the internet issues and to accommodate family scheduling conflicts that arose when multiple children had to learn from home. It was a wonderful example of how to get through a very difficult situation without losing sanity … or respect for one another.

Well, here we are six weeks later, and the process continues to be refined. Through constant communication with parents and students, and a lot of work, the staff at MSM has been able to keep the learning process moving ahead without any significant problems. It was truly a great example of how planning, strategy and cooperation can lead to success. In a continuing effort to try and stay one step ahead of the game, our focus is now turning toward assisting students in the county, not just MSM students, who may need some assistance over the summer to ensure that they will be ready to hit the ground running for the new school year come September.

I think it’s safe to say that all of us in the education system in Nevada County can’t wait until we return to a more normal and personal way of teaching. I’ll echo what almost every teacher will say — “Remote learning is no substitute for the classroom … for so many reasons.” In the meantime, we thank all of those who have stepped up to perform tirelessly and heroically in recent times to keep our community alive. We pray for their safety and success.

We also hope that the community knows that the status of education in Nevada County is not as dire as the media might make it appear to be. Stay healthy …

Dave Pistone is a teacher at Mount St. Mary’s Academy in Grass Valley. He lives in Nevada City.


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