Students gear up for online learning, meal pick-ups as NJ schools close down

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Following the coronavirus contingency plan, parents like Dawn Haynes picked up bag lunches and breakfast for kids at Quitman Elementary.

More than two-thirds of the district’s 38,000 students rely on school for meals — and daily food distribution makes sure everyone eats. But it’s the remote learning component that changed routines for Haynes’s three daughters.

“Yesterday was my first time in the whole home school mind frame — and it was awesome. It gave me time to spend with them. And I got to see what their teachers deal with — how short their attention span actually is,” she said.

Haynes says she’s fortunate: the district provided a Chromebook and teachers walked them through how to use it. But Becky Hall’s second grader is among the district’s 10,000 students with no internet access.

“A lot of the kids here don’t have computers at home and laptops and stuff, so online learning for even them is hard,” Hall said.

The district sent home two weeks’ worth of paper homework designed to keep kids up to speed and focused on learning. Hall would like a laptop and more oversight from teachers to help kids through the material.

“But it’s still learning. They’re got to pick books. They’ve got little projects in the packet — math, science, reading,” she said.

“It’s one thing, in a classroom setting to ask 34 students to raise their hands to see it they ‘got’ it. It’s another thing to handle 34 or 25 different emails a day. They will get to it,” said Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon.

The Newark Teachers Union says some teachers are stuck working from home while their own kids do online learning there — even though day care centers throughout New Jersey have remained open during the coronavirus shutdowns. Across the state, 1.4 million students will participate in remote learning by Wednesday.

Newark Superintendent Roger Leon says the district’s monitoring and teachers will still submit reports.

“We are monitoring and adjusting very well to our realities today,” said Leon. “All are clear that this is not a vacation. And the work the teachers would normally do and the supervision of that work all occurs virtually.”

Newark is working on longer lesson plans. The superintendent says if this shutdown goes beyond two weeks they’ll need a longer-term strategy.