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New Hampshire Schools to Maintain Some Remote Learning

The novelty of remote instruction has long since worn off, but school administrators in New Hampshire say online worksheets, recorded lectures and live video feeds will play a role in school going forward.

by Josie Albertson-Grove, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester / March 15, 2021
Lorna Swan helps her son, Kaden Abdur-Rahman, 10, learn remotely in Chicago. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune) TNS

(TNS) — A year ago, educators like David Hobbs were determined to look on the bright side and find a silver lining to this strange new thing we started calling "remote learning."

Last week, Hobbs, assistant superintendent in Hampton's School Administrative Unit 21, almost laughed at the optimism of March 2020.

A handful of Winnacunnet High students turned to remote learning for the first time as they quarantined after a school trip to Italy. Then the whole state went remote.

The novelty wore off fast. Almost as soon as school buildings closed, families were clamoring for them to open again. They needed child care to go to work. They needed a break.

Every school in the state is now open for in-person classes, but the much-maligned practice of remote learning won't be thrown out like yesterday's surgical mask.

"I think its going to be a component of education from here on out. I don't think we can deny that," Hobbs said. But he wants to see remote learning deployed judiciously.

"Now that we have these tools," he said, "how can we best leverage them in a way that's not putting kids on screen all day, but that's going to help kids connect with other kids and their teacher?"

This winter's snow days offered a preview of the way schools might apply remote learning in the years to come. Instead of missing a day of class when the weather is bad, lessons can continue uninterrupted at home.

"The snow day from the past is probably transformed," said Winfried Feneberg, Kearsarge Regional School District's superintendent. Children will bring their computers home, and a teacher will stream live lessons all day.

"Unlike blizzard bag days, it's a seamless pivot," Fenenberg said.

As long as there's internet access, that is.

Newport Montessori principal Christy Whipple said that was less possible in her area — as in many areas of the state with spotty internet.

"The reality of living in New Hampshire, and rural New Hampshire, is there are going to be snow days," Whipple said. "When we have a blizzard in our area, that often means no Internet service."

Children without reliable internet access at home also would be shut out of snow-day classes, just as remote learning laid bare the divide between the home computer haves and have-nots.

The pandemic has pushed more school districts to provide each student with a take-home laptop or tablet. Supplying a device for every student has for several years been normal in wealthier districts, but remote learning, and money from the CARES Act, finally got laptops into the hands of students in poorer school districts.

Families, too, might keep connecting remotely with their children's schools.

Parent-teacher conferences of the future might be video calls, Hobbs said, instead of in-person meetings at school. Meeting online instead of in-person has been easier for teachers and families, he said, and has led to more frequent connections with more families.

In recent recommendations, the state Department of Education has highlighted ways remote learning could be used even in fair weather.

A consultant's report published last week suggested that portions of career and technical education courses could be offered remotely, eliminating some of the onerous travel back and forth from a regional career and technical education center.

Online learning also might be part of cost-cutting strategies for school districts, the Department of Education said in January.

Smaller districts might decide to use online learning to offer more electives to students, Feneberg said, or students could pursue higher-level math than what is taught in their home districts.

Remote learning strategies like online worksheets, recorded lectures or live video feeds of teachers may remain a part of education after the pandemic ends, but Hobbs hopes the in-person classroom will be the norm once again.

There's some magic in being in a full classroom with a teacher, he said.

(c)2021 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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