Google Hangouts is now in session: A day in the life for an online 5th grade class

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CLARKSBURG — One by one, Mary Quinto's fifth graders dropped in for Thursday's morning meeting.

But, rather than taking place in a Clarksburg Elementary School classroom, this meeting was held virtually, using the Google Hangouts platform.

The Eagle joined in remotely during the 9:30 a.m. session among Quinto and 11 of her 20 students — part of the district's efforts to continue learning while schools across the state remain shuttered amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The teacher and students exchanged smiles and waves through this virtual realm. By now, the kids have gotten used to seeing their teacher greet them from her kitchen table in Peru, wearing a sweatshirt and keeping her coffee mug close by. At times, Quinto excused herself to direct her own teenagers about cleaning their rooms or making breakfast.

On this morning, there are a couple of other surprises: Abigail Bonneville's 3-year-old sister frequently chimes in, eager for her big sister to play with her.

"My cat wanted to join today," Lyla Tullo said, petting a playful tabby in her lap.

"It's just another one of those benefits to having a morning meeting at home," Quinto joked, her students cracking smiles all around.

But, it's not all just socializing.

Quinto showed the students on her screen how they can navigate to online folders that include daily checklists as well as their math work, and some corresponding videos she created to help students understand the formulas.

She also introduced a new tool to them to check on their well-being. It's a gold-colored box with a column of six different colored heart emojis. Students can drag a heart from the gold box into a key with a corresponding feeling. A red heart, for example, symbolizes "I'm doing great"; a green heart means "I'm starting to struggle"; and a purple heart signals "I need to reach out for support."

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Students also have the option to elaborate on their feelings through a paragraph box that only the teacher can see.

At present, not all students are participating in these meetings and work, Quinto said, for myriad reasons, including not having a parent home to help them get online to not having adequate internet access.

Those who do participate have mixed feelings about this new system of learning, and also having their parents as incidental co-teachers.

Several students say they like having extra time to sleep and that they are allowed to do their lessons at their own pace.

"It's pretty nice that we can connect on the computer and we have more time to practice basketball and sports," Ryder Lefebvre said.

Mason Stred said learning on his own online makes him "feel more motivated," and that he is curious to look up things on his own. And Brody Stratton said he enjoys the quiet of learning at home and feels less distracted than he can be at school.

Cecilia Kincaid said that, in addition to her work from her teachers, a caregiver keeps a tight schedule of work posted on a whiteboard calendar in the family kitchen, which includes time slots for math, English language arts, reading and science.

But, she misses being around her classmates.

"It's kind of boring," she said, "There's not a lot of people to talk to here."

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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