East Providence instructors ‘learn’ basics of distance methods

Silvas talk teaching, adjusting to current situation in city schools

By Mike Rego
Posted 3/25/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — City residents and East Providence High School teachers Mike and Marisa Silva are not only a couple who share the same profession, but are now also both becoming indoctrinated …

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East Providence instructors ‘learn’ basics of distance methods

Silvas talk teaching, adjusting to current situation in city schools


EAST PROVIDENCE — City residents and East Providence High School teachers Mike and Marisa Silva are not only a couple who share the same profession, but are now also both becoming indoctrinated into the methods and procedures of distance learning implemented to help avert the communal spread of the COVID-19 virus here and around the state.

Mr. Silva, in his 18th year, is serving double duty as an instructor and the chairperson of the EPHS Social Studies Department. Mrs. Silva, in her 13th year and ninth in the district, is a music teacher, director of the EPHS Townies Marching Band and coordinator of student concerts throughout the term.

Last week, their first working at home in what was expected at the outset to be at least a 10-school day stretch, the Silvas, together for 10 years and married for five, were getting used to the basics of virtual instruction.

“We’re in communication with our students. We’re putting assignments up online. We’re providing feedback and answering questions from our students. Right now, though, our main priority is making sure everyone is able to log in, use the web portals like Google Classroom, so the kids can be successful academically,” Mr. Silva explained.

As a department chair, Mr. Silva is also coordinating with staff, making sure they, too, are fully able to perform their duties via the distance learning standards.

“Our department has been very responsive. They’ve been asking good questions and have been very patient with the whole situation and with their students,” he said. “Our principal (Shani Wallace) has also done a good job communicating with us on what we’re expected to do. She’s been communicating with every department to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

Mrs. Silva actually has some experience in the use of Google Classroom, which the music department has utilized in recent years as another means of readying students for upcoming shows.

“We’re still going about this with the idea that we have scheduled concerts and performances in May that we have to prepare for,” Mrs. Silva said. “We’ve already been kind of doing these Google Recording assignments, so they’re used to the idea of going online. Now, we’re using the same idea to break down their parts into smaller portions, so they’re still practicing and making sure they keep up with the music.”

Like her husband and in other departments, this initial week of distance learning for Mrs. Silva and her music cohorts is about getting used to the changes, but it’s also about continued work on their craft as both teachers and students keep a wishful eye on those scheduled performances later in the spring.

“This week we’ve kind of been focusing on the kids being able to connect,” Mrs. Silva added. “We gave a video out by a very prominent band director (Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser) for them to watch. It’s a 15-minute video that talks about what they can do with all this new-found time. He gives them seven different ideas. We’re telling them to pick one, focus on that and video themselves doing it.”

She continued, “It’s not a rehearsal. It’s the not the same as everyone being together in the same room, performing and working on their parts, but it will have to do for now. Fingers crossed, we’ll still be able to make those performances happen. We’re scheduled for the Memorial Day Parade in (Washington) D.C. We’re moving forward as if it’s going to happen. We have those concerts. We’re working towards those things happening. They’re in May, so we still have hope.”

It’s appearing more and more likely, however, distance learning methods for schools will stretch beyond the current two-week period deeper into April. While it’s necessary under the current circumstance, Mr. Silva said it doesn’t compare with the actual personal interaction between pupil and teacher.

“Distance learning, virtual learning, whatever you call it, it’s inferior to being in front of a classroom everyday dealing with students face-to-face,” Mr. Silva said. “It’s a good, temporary solution, but it’s not something that should ever be done on a larger scale in the future.”

Teachers, by nature, are among the most regimented public employees. They get up each day at the same time, interact with peers and pupils in structured periods, then end their days in a similar manner. So far, not much has changed except for doing these things virtually instead of in-person.

“We’re planning, correcting, giving feedback like we always do, but we’re doing it behind a computer screen,” Mr. Silva said. “There’s a lot of anxiety out there from the students. They’re worried about when assignments are due, their grades and everything else that goes along with it. The teachers are being very flexible about due dates. We’re doing everything we can to make sure this goes as smoothly as possible.”

The Silvas, in particular, are also getting used to working in close proximity and without their usual audience of students or engaging in peer discussions. Mr. Silva, jokingly, said he’s becoming accustomed to doing his duties with the sounds of musical performances in the background. And the couple has taken to making what Mrs. Silva calls “silly” videos of their experience to post on social media. She’s also set up a video meet-up date with her students “just to see their faces, hear their voices.”

Mrs. Silva added, “Usually when the year is coming to an end and the seniors are graduating, you have time to adjust. It gets emotional. But this situation happened so quickly. It’s going to be difficult. Like I said, fingers crossed all those things we usually do will happen, so we still have hope.”

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