SARATOGA SPRINGS — The 2020 school year was marked as unforgettable as students, teachers and parents all moved to distance learning.
COVID-19 changed the world of teaching and soon after the virus struck the Saratoga community, Saratoga Central Catholic School started to implement innovative distance learning. They began online classes on March 18, connecting students daily with set schedules, Zoom classes and encouraging messages for their students.
“This has been an experiment. We learned by doing and I think that many of the schools have proven they can continue education under very difficult circumstances, which this pandemic certainly is,” Michael Kondratowicz, interim principal said. “The distance learning with contact to the faculty, has allowed the students to be guided by their teachers. It’s helped parents by educating their children and allowing them to meet on a regular basis with their teachers under these unusual circumstances.”
The initial challenge Biology and Earth Science Teacher Kate Sedlak faced with remote learning was discovering methods to relay the education material to the students in a clear, concise manner.
“In the beginning, I think we never thought that we would be out for the whole year. We thought at the end of spring break we would be back. Once we realized that we wouldn’t be going back, we had to kick it up a notch,” Sedlak said. “Having the video classrooms has been a great thing…the school already has a digital platform we were using that really helped with the transition. It made it easier to communicate because students and faculty already knew the program.”
As a Biology teacher, living through a pandemic brought an ample amount of education material to Sedlak that students could directly relate to. The SpaceX Dragon launch also provided a learning opportunity for Sedlak’s students.
“I really took what was happening in the world that we live in and related it to the science they are learning. That’s what you have to do when you are teaching…you have to make up fun and relevant material with today’s world,” Sedlak said.
By relating the material to current events not only engages the students more, but also keeps them motivated as they can directly use the information they are discovering. Maria Izzo, dean of students and teacher for eighth-grade American history and twelfth-grade government, said seeing students online rather than in person has been difficult.
“It’s difficult for students to not have their teacher in front of them to explain assignments and material. They are all just different levels of learners. Keeping them engaged and motivated as they’re not in front of you has been a challenge,” Izzo said.
Thinking creatively has allowed both Izzo and Sedlak to keep the students engaged and motivated while learning through a new medium.
“There are a lot of resources out there, you just had to go through them and figure out what ones you could use,” Sedlak said. “When I started teaching we didn’t even have computers in the classroom. I had to do all my grades in a grade book with a calculator. Dealing with the technology was an issue and who knows what will happen next year. I’m trying to learn from this experience to see what I have to do next year.”
Izzo said she has run into technology problems as student cameras or microphones won’t work or the Internet crashes, which happened to Izzo just this week. Despite the disturbances with technology, Izzo can use multiple online platforms that allow the students to work in different ways, including group assignments.
“I have to give a round of applause to our faculty, parents and students who, under these circumstances, have worked really hard to work with programs and try to help educate our students,” Kondratowicz said. “We will continue [distance learning] until June 12 for our seniors and June 19 for other grade levels. Then we will be stopping it and we don’t know what the future will bring. All sorts of government planning and discussions are going on in New York State about what the school year will look like next year.”
Izzo said: “it’s kind of hard to start off a school year with new students. I can only imagine starting in a new school and you’re on a computer…but I can’t even imagine what it would be like for the younger kids. [Distance learning] would be some students first kindergarten experience. I know it’s technology but that in-person connection is needed.”
Sedlak said from what she knows thus far, there are three main options for schools next year. She said the transition would be fluid through the options.
“But nobody knows. No one knows what is going to happen but we have to be ready. Whether it’s partial distance learning, we just have to be ready and prepared,” Sedlak said. “I’m just really proud of my students.”
Izzo added: “What do I think the future holds for remote learning? I hope it’s short-lived and maybe not just the only way we are going to do it. I’m hoping our NYS education system can find a way that we can be with them some of the time. It’s going to be difficult, but we know what we are up against now and we know what precautions we need to take. I think anything is possible to get the kids back into the classroom if you put your mind to it. I think we owe it to [the students], for their education, to try to make it happen to get back into the classrooms.”