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Ewing Schools “Return to School” Update: Thursday, July 9th 4:00PM

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 9th, 2020 

Dear Ewing School Community, 

As you know, we have been using the New Jersey Department of Education guidelines contained in their “Restart and Recovery Plan for Education” to develop a plan for our students to return to school on Tuesday, September 8th 

Our administrative team and our “Return to School” transition committee consisting of stakeholders with relevance and expertise has been evaluating and analyzing different scenarios to formally reopen our schools. I wanted to provide you an update on how the process is evolving. 

Remote Learning Option 

First of all, we have heard from some parents that regardless of any steps and precautions that we implement to keep our schools as safe and healthy as possible, they are reluctant to send their child to school due to family medical concerns. We completely understand that position. 

Consequently, the Ewing Schools will offer a completely online, K-12 remote learning option that we affectionately call Virtual Learning Program 2.0. This program will be taught online by Ewing School District teachers and will be available to any student if the family has a concern that would prevent the child’s return to building-based schooling. 

We learned a considerable amount about virtual teaching and learning during our public health closure, and will implement many of those lessons.  We also listened to concerns expressed by school community members about online instruction in our survey and will work to make enhancements.  The Ewing School’s Virtual Learning Program 2.0 will feature the following: 

  • A dedicated Learning Management System.
  • Students interact virtually, several times a week, with the teachers using their technology device and instructional resources. This will include both synchronous (scheduled class meetings) and asynchronous (student self-paced) learning.
  • Teachers will meet with students in whole class and small group instruction through video conferencing
  • Access to digital content and instructional resources (video and audio)
  • Online assessments including quizzes, peer assessment and projects
  • Teaching, learning, student engagement, discussion, brainstorming and problem solving will occur in a fully virtual/digital environment
  • Teachers will post weekly assignments and provided descriptive and actionable feedback for students through the Learning Management system
  • District-provided technology and technology assistance for families. 

More information will be forthcoming, and a formal registration process will be released.  However, it is important for us to begin to get an understanding of the number of students who will choose to be a part of our Virtual Learning Program, so we are asking any family that knows they wish to enroll their children in our remote learning option to contact Theresa Hullings at thullings@ewingboe.org or call 609-538-9800x1102 and please share with her the following: 

Student(s) names:

School(s):

Grade(s):

We ask that any family that chooses to register in our Virtual Learning Program has their child remain in the program for at least one marking period. 

Elementary Schools 

Our focus in planning for the reopening of our elementary schools has been shaped by the following: 

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics strong recommendation that primary school children should return to school this fall.
  • The results of our survey suggesting that primary school children struggled with online learning more than their older counterparts. It also appears that families with young children participating in online learning struggled more with stress and demands.
  • The practical reality that having elementary-aged children at home presents a significant child care challenge for working families.

As a result, our work in planning on reopening our elementary schools has emphasized the following: 

  • Planning on having our students for the entire school day.
  • Small group/physically-distanced teaching and learning (8-12 students per classroom/instructional pod).
  • Limited student interactions outside of that grouping.
  • Minimal targeted/supplemental virtual instruction. 

In working towards those goals, we have come to the realization that a traditional day of elementary school teaching and learning integrating social distancing protocol such as mask-wearing could be grueling for students and very difficult for staff. Consequently, we are being very innovative and creative in planning for the reopening of our elementary schools.  The elementary school day may be very different from what it was in the past, with things like instructional pods, outside classrooms, activity-based learning and instructional/enrichment academies becoming a part of our vernacular.  This is, of course, very challenging logistically, but we believe we are making progress towards a model that will be as safe as possible for our students and staff. More details will most certainly follow. 

Fisher Middle School/Ewing High School 

At the secondary level, we are currently focusing on the implementation of what is known as a blended or hybrid model, combining traditional classroom-based and virtual teaching and learning. 

In order to keep our schools as safe and socially-distanced as possible, this model will feature the following: 

  • An early dismissal schedule for both Fisher Middle School and Ewing High School.
  • No lunches will be served at either school.
  • The model will feature a rotating A/B schedule, with half the students being in school one day, and participating in online learning the next. (division most likely alphabetically by student last name)
  • Teachers will conduct their classes, and then have online office hours in the afternoon to assist students. 

A positive of both our models is they can be implemented in September, and if the public health situation continues to improve, we can start to move towards a more traditional day of learning. 

The schedule and approach for the O’Brien Academy is still being evaluated and developed. 

Some other items of note: 

Athletics and Activities 

As of this note, we are still waiting for guidance from state and athletic officials regarding the fall athletic season.  Decisions will be made after this guidance is issued. No school-based training or practices will be allowed to start for any athletic program until July 28th at the earliest. We do anticipate being able to offer school-based clubs or activities that can be conducted virtually during the school year. 

Operations and Facilities 

As the summer progresses, our facilities, under the direction of Mr. Nettleton, and our Operations team, led by Mr. Louth, will be preparing our schools for the return of students by implementing many of the recommendations included in the State’s guidance.  This includes classroom revisions, ordering of PPE and other safety items, evaluating transportation, hallway and food service logistics, and designing health and safety protocols. 

It should be noted now that lunch will be provided at the elementary level, but our planning suggests that it will most likely look quite differently than it did in the past, with box or “grab and go” options being offered to students, and being eaten in small group settings such as classrooms or in outside small group learning centers. 

At Fisher Middle School and Ewing High School, any family that qualifies for the Federal Lunch program will have food provided in a manner similar to the model implemented during the school closure. 

What Can Families Do Now? 

As we make our way towards this challenging opening up of school in September, families can assist by doing the following: 

  • Have your children practice wearing a mask for extended periods, and make sure you have clean masks and face coverings available.
  • Emphasize to your children the importance of social distancing, and staying six feet apart from other individuals.
  • Continue to stress the importance of sanitary practices such as hand-cleaning and refraining from touching of the face.
  • Each day prior to the start of school, all students must complete a brief health screening. Please make sure you have a thermometer in the house and plan to do this daily. 

Please keep in mind that the purpose of this correspondence was to provide a broad update of our planning at this point.  A more detailed and comprehensive overview will be provided to the Board of Education and public as we finalize our plans at the end of this month.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. As always, we are available for any thoughts or questions you may have. 

Sincerely, 

Michael Nitti

Superintendent of Schools

The Ewing Public Schools