From Onsite to Online:
How The Help Group’s Schools Transformed Themselves for Distance Learning
Keri Borzello, MPA, Help Group Summit View Head of School
Ellis Crasnow, PhD, Help Group Director, Stem³ Academy and Stem Education
With the health and well-being of our community in mind, and following recommendations and guidelines set forth by local and state officials, The Help Group announced on March 13th that they would be closing their school campuses. With deep experience garnered over decades on how to develop curriculum and tailor instruction for students with social and learning differences, the challenge was to preserve those aspects of each program that translated well to an online setting, while developing and integrating novel and enriching exercises and assignments into the school day.
THG schools and staff mobilized swiftly to ensure that the students entrusted into our care would continue to have their educational needs met. From a distance teaching and learning program to clinical services to social opportunities, remote versions of each school program were created within a week of campus closures.
All teachers diligently worked behind the scenes to receive training and create continued learning programs suited to best meet the needs of their
students and over 180 laptops and hotspots were provided across the agency to families in need. In no time, more than 1400 Help Group students were participating in distance learning. It is said that the measure of an individual is not how well they perform in times of ease and plenty, but how well they do in times of struggle and adversity. By such a measure, the teachers and staff of all of The Help Group schools have done an extraordinary job of transforming their schools into vehicles for the support and promotion of distance learning among their students.
The result has been that more than one parent has remarked on how full our schools’ offerings are, how we are providing more than they could have ever imagined, and how much they admire the teachers for their dedication to supporting, encouraging, and engaging their students during what is a difficult time for us all.
“You acted quickly but not rashly in making the decision to shift. You prepared the students well. You went live on line quickly and relatively seamlessly. You set out clear expectations for the students and those expectations have provided much needed structure for our children. You have provided not only continued high quality education, but also social opportunities.” – THG Parent
Many THG schools are offering quality synchronous real-time online teaching and learning via Zoom and Google Meet. Other programs are relying more heavily on asynchronous learning models to best meet the needs of their students, consisting of guided instructional support through digitized or paper packets and workbooks, or posted lecture notes. Asynchronous learning is when the instruction and learning take place at different times. (I may record a lecture so that you can play it at a more convenient time to you; I might put up assignments that you can complete and submit according to your own schedule)
The Help Group’s College Prep Schools are using blended synchronous (live classroom teaching) and asynchronous models balancing classroom engagement, dynamic learning and instructional depth with the flexibility and pacing that exists with asynchronous learning. For the agency’s college-bound students, a segment of the day is earmarked for office hours during which individual needs can be further addressed through additional support and tutorials. Screen time is balanced with sensory breaks and physical activity including physical education and hands-on experiences.
Each Help Group school is tailoring their distance learning program to the individual needs of their students. In working with children with mild to moderate learning differences, our Distance Learning Program encompasses a multi-modal approach to learning. It includes robust discussions, collaborative work, video and audio clips, hands-on exercises and individual work time, as well as student-led activities and presentations.
“It’s a great program for our kids! Many of us moms have been sharing with each other how glad we are to be here during this time and have teachers who understand our kids’ needs.” –THG Parent
In addition to what is being offered academically, The Help Group Schools continue to offer services such as school-based counseling, speech and language, and occupational therapy. Such services are being offered remotely through teleconferencing platforms. During these difficult times, when many students are experiencing heightened anxiety, necessary therapeutic services continue to be available.
For more and more students and families, the required social distancing mandate is leading to intense feelings of isolation. In an effort to keep students connected to one another and virtually foster a sense of community during these difficult times, many programs have created social opportunities for both students and parents. Opportunities for students include participating in online workability programs, joining clubs, after school enrichment opportunities, and virtual social gatherings, whereas for parents they have included game nights, parent association meetings, and family activities such as ‘Chemistry in the Kitchen’, when students and parent can bake and make together under the guidance of a teacher.
”I love the lunch time Café that you organized so that T… can have lunch with his friends. It means so much to him to be able to see them and is the highlight of his day…” THG Parent
Even though distance learning, students continue to learn essential skills such as self-regulation, time management, self-advocacy, organization, and problem-solving, skills which are critical to their future success.
While the agency recognizes that distance learning cannot replicate the in-classroom experience, we commend our school teams for creating such rich programs for our students to remain connected, learning, and experiencing a sense of normalcy during these uncertain times. THG Schools will remain closed for the duration of the regular school year as well as summer school (ESY). While we continue to evolve, refine and explore new techniques and strategies to meet the needs of your students, rest assured that our teams are here to support you.