Learning and serving from a distance

James Neiss/staff photographerThe children were all smiles as their grandmother Tammy Curcione waves to staff at Harry F. Abate Elementary School after picking up breakfast and lunch for her grandchildren Ashton Taczak, 3, Ameila, 6, and Aubree, 4.

While numerous educators have been taking their lessons online, many still miss seeing their students every day.

Many teachers said the transition was difficult in the beginning but things have gotten easier since then. However, Ashley Rotella, who teaches fifth grade math and social studies at 79th Street Elementary School, said this has not been easy to talk about.

“It is hard because a classroom teacher can not be replaced. We can push material out on all kids of different forums but at the end of the day, the student-to-teacher and teacher-to-student connection is a strong component of teaching,” Rotella said. “I may be able to provide instruction via my web page, and I leave my mistakes and silly words for my kids to hear, but at the end of the day we all (teachers and students) want to be together to share in our successes and confusion.

"During this unprecedented time teachers including myself have attending multiple web training's and have worked together to try our best to provide for our students. It does not fall down to the shoulders of one educator but a team. Our district stands together to help push through tough times and come out of them shining.”

Rotella added that during this world of confusion, the students should have some consistency. She has tried to offer it by keeping lessons and materials she would do daily everyday. It took some extra work, she said, but she uses her school webpage to teach math lessons. She will do a lesson virtually and upload the video on each topic.

“One of the challenges was getting all the kids to convert to the technology,” Rotella said. “We do have some that are still without the capabilities of the technology so we do create packets for them to pick up and turn in. I guess one of the biggest challenges is not being able to see them and help them. There are always going to be students who are going to struggle, so you always want to be there to give them a pat on the back or a little extra guidelines for them to follow.”

In a school district and a teacher in Niagara Falls, though, the platforms aren’t the same, she said most staff and students have been struggling with not being able to see their students each day. Unlike most, who had to learn to transition their lessons online, Amy Chiarella, Chair of the English Department at Niagara Falls High School had most of her work out online already. She has been doing a lot of online document sharing in the last few years with in class sessions being a face-to-face discussion or a debate forum to speak about material they were learning.

When the transition began, it wasn’t hard but the pain of not seeing students has been hard for her. Not being able to see them face to face has not been easy. She has worked to ensure students are still getting the same knowledge they’d receive from an in-class discussion.

Along with teachers, meal preparation has changed as well. Since the pandemic began, over 177,500 meals have been given out in the past 35 days. Kevin Edwards, the Food Service Administrator for the Niagara Falls City School District, does expect that number to go over 200,000 by May 8. He spoke about how the transition has been on his end.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Edwards said. “It’s been very busy. We have every school open, but it’s been busy. Basically what we do is a hot lunch. We have stuck to our traditional pizzas which is on Thursdays. We do six days a week and on Fridays we include a double bag food for Saturdays. The only day we do not serve is Sundays. It’s actually 12 meals a week since you get breakfast too.”

For the first time during the meal program, a dinner will be done at Hyde Park Elementary School. The menu will be a garden salad, penne pasta bolognese with a garlic roll, and chocolate chip cookies. Some of the challenges he has faced are that many districts are using the same products which are harder to get. Aside from vendor issues, he has found there are issues with the volume of people reliant on this program as well.

Edwards said at Hyde Park and Harry F. Abate Elementary Schools are the two highest. He said there are around 3,000 meals a week served for students of Hyde Park, and around 2,900 for those at Abate Elementary. The third highest, he said, would be Niagara Street Elementary with 2,500 meals served weekly. There are plenty of concerns coming from staffers helping with the meal program about catching covid-19. He said parents have been quite receptive to the program.

“I’ve been with the school district for three years and I didn’t realize the need that there actually is,” Edwards said. “There’s a large need here in Niagara Falls.”

The meal programs will be continuing into the summer time as the school year winds down. Staffers throughout the School District are looking forward to seeing their students once again in the fall.

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