'It's really weird doing my schoolwork at home' - Students begin second week of remote learning

Youth. Sussex County students, teachers and parents navigate a whole new world in education, as they interact with teachers and classmates from their own homes.

Byram /
| 23 Mar 2020 | 05:14

By Laurie Gordon

As week two of remote learning hits the county, Sparta schools are adapting to remote learning.

“Everyone in the learning community has been amazing,” said Michael Rossi, Jr. Ph.D., Sparta Public Schools superintendent. “From teachers, to technology, administration, through our custodial ranks, employees have risen to the occasion."

Dr. Rossi said the biggest challenge has been trying to maintain continuity of instruction.

“However, our primary focus is doing our part to keep people healthy,” he said. “The school system's child study teams, counselors and related services are strategizing to meet the need of all learners in combination with classroom and special education faculty. It is certainly a challenge, but we have confidence in our team.”

Dr. Rossi said they are responding to issues as they arise.

“Also, our COVID-19 web pages are extremely helpful,” he said.

Tracey Dooling-Heuther, of Stillwater, is learning to teach and finds the distractions of teaching amid private community.

“But I know businesses must carry on as usual for as long as they can,” she said. “I have three kids in the house, not all mine, and it's hard enough to get them to concentrate on a screen until the work is done. But yes, when you have a tree company cutting and chipping, the drone disrupted the learning process. Soon it's going to be lawn mowers and leaf blowers, etc...I know that when they are physically in school, they don't have these distractions...how much learning is going to happen when you have machinery running.”

Dooling-Heuther's husband works for a landscaping company so she said she knows how important it is to keep these businesses running.

“We’ve had a very productive first week at Reverend Brown, Pope John Middle School, and Pope John High School thanks to our highly competent teaching staff who have prepared so well in their own personal time,” said Brian Vohden, Director of Curriculum at Pope John XXIII Regional High School, in Sparta.

The school has delivered instruction each school day though Google Classroom and via web conferencing with Schoology.

“The students... ability to easily adapt to this new learning environment is truly amazing," Vohden said. "Instruction begins at the same time each day and students follow a modified schedule. Fortunately, our schools made a $2.5 million infrastructure upgrade three years ago. This has allowed us to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.”

At Sussex County Community College (SCCC), remote learning began this week as the school was on spring break last week.
“Our learning management system trainner has been very busy-- sometimes twice a day--so everyone knows what they are supposed to do. Corey Homer (Institutional Research Associate Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Marketing, Enrollment Management, and Distance Learning) has been fantastic. We have a skeletal staff on campus to keep us up and running and are enforcing extreme social distance. We are very serious about that.”

For nursing students, the college may submit an application for a waiver to the Secretary of Higher Education as part of the curriculum requires physical contact.

All Sparta public schools are closed from March 16 through March 27. All events are canceled. This decision was made in consultation with officials from the Sussex County Department of Health & the NJ Department of Education.

Gus Modla, principal at Sussex County Technical School said that during the remote learning time, Sussex Tech will be conducting a thorough cleaning of the campus, so will be closed to both students and non-essential staff.

'A decision about continued school closure will be made during the week of March 23,” he posted. “School district administration will keep all families and staff informed as additional information develops. Following our receipt of information from the NJ Department of Education, the administrative and educational staff in our school began working on plans to deliver on-going educational programming during an extended school closure.”

“Distance learning isn’t hard so far,” said fourth grader Liam Connelly. “But it’s really weird doing my school work at home.”