WORCESTER, Mass. — With 25,000 students, Worcester is among the largest school systems in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
When COVID-19 closed the classrooms, it pushed the district to remote learning, but it also pushed the district to the brink.
There were only enough Chromebooks for half the students, 5,000 students had no access to Wi-Fi or any other way to get online. Teachers too had to quickly learn to adapt to remote learning.
“Students weren’t familiar with that mode. Staff were not familiar with that mode, and parents weren’t,” Worcester School Superintendent Maureen Binienda said. “There was no warning [when COVID-19 struck.] And everybody was thrust into, ‘How are we going to provide education to our students?’”
In the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, the district quickly relied on sending learning packets to students and checking in with all 25,000 students. Only 10 students were beyond reach of educators.
Over time, Superintendent Binienda said that, through zoom meetings and remote learning, a bond was established with families.
“You’re in every student’s home, seeing the family, and, in many cases, some of our parents were learning alongside our children,” Binienda said.
And lessons are still being learned, now from summer school sessions, where the Superintendent Binienda said it seems students and teachers are getting the hang of remote learning.
As for the coming school year, it’s not known yet if Worcester classrooms will reopen at all, but she said she believes the district is ready.
“We are going back to a whole new world. And the way that teachers used to teach with ‘here’s a paper for everybody.’ Well, there’s not going to be a paper for everybody. You are going to bring your chrome books in and you are going to learn and send it to the teacher electronically, that’s a whole new way of doing school,” Superintendent Binienda said.
The superintendent’s report will be presented to the Worcester School Committee on Thursday. In the meantime, plans are still being drawn up for the start of the new school year.
Superintendent Binienda said it is possible classrooms will remain closed, replaced by remote learning, but that decision has not yet been made.
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