Virtually new: Inside Dartmouth Schools' online learning system

Oct 12, 2020

Trying to maintain student engagement is no easy task — especially when kids are learning from home.

To make sure her second graders remain focused on their lessons, new Dartmouth teacher Kayla Pineau likes to make time for at-home scavenger hunts related to the lesson or provide a weekly riddle.

“Different tricks are needed to pull out of the bag to keep them wanting more,” she said. “I’m always trying to keep them engaged somehow.” 

Pineau is one of five new teachers the district hired to run virtual classes for 148 elementary students in grades K-4. The classes are taught from a large music room at Quinn School, with the lessons held through Google Meet. 

According to Director of Teaching and Learning Tracy Oliveira, getting this system up and running was “a bit of an undertaking.” 

She noted that as part of the state’s reopening guidelines, schools had to provide an option for families who were not comfortable sending their children in person — so they chose third party remote platforms such as Edgenuity and TECCA. 

A suitable teacher was not found for fifth grade, Oliveira said. Instead, two fifth grade specialists split a few hours during the day to provide education to those students. 

“We just felt it wasn’t a good match for elementary school,” she said of the available online learning platforms. “We’re very lucky to hire these ladies.”

So far, officials and staff agree, the new system has been a big success.

Pineau said her second graders have been “pros” with their ability to learn from home, adding that they always remember to turn off their cameras whenever they step away to grab some water or take a bathroom break. 

“It’s crazy to see how comfortable they are and how much they’re able to learn through the computer,” she said. 

First grade teacher Sharon Arena-Zanghi said she too is in awe of just how well her students have adjusted to learning from home at their age.

“They’re just like little sponges,” she said.

She recalled how in a recent lesson on the seasons, many of her students were surprised to learn that trees produce sugar to make syrup. The next day, she said, the first thing her students wanted to do was discuss how they had tree sugar with their breakfasts. 

“As soon as we were all done they were all literally showing me their syrup from home,” Arena-Zanghi laughed. “It’s so adorable — I love them so much.”

Despite never meeting their students in person, the teachers have still managed to forge connections with their kids.

For the first two weeks of class, Arena-Zanghi had her students telling personal stories and learning how to ask questions.

“You learn a lot about them — even from their questions,” she said. “One little girl kept asking people if they listened to Carrie Underwood.”

Pineau highlighted that there was a fire drill when she was teaching, only for her kids to keep telling her how worried they were about her after she returned.

“It was so sweet of them,” Pineau said. “They’re like an extended family.”