Parent Group: Online Learning Plan Needs ‘TLC’

            The idea is barely beyond infancy, but by Monday morning, the baby weighed over 400 pounds.

            A group called Tri-Town Learning Community (TLC) has formed to estimate and potentially try to address the dilemma that working parents will face when the academic year starts and their children are at school only some of the time.

            Monday’s School Committee vote made official the Old Rochester Regional School District’s plan to open the 2020-21 academic year with a hybrid learning model. That is, students will physically be at school only two days per week and learning by remote access the other three days.

            The state’s prior instruction to individual school districts creating three distinct return-to-school models to prioritize their in-person plan is evidence of the stress that a remote or even hybrid model puts on the families and, indirectly, the economy.

            On August 2, Marion resident Terri Lerman created a Facebook page called Pandemic Learning Pods South Coast (updated on August 11 to match the “TLC” branding) to discuss the matter and invite ORR-district households to participate in a survey. In less than a week’s time, the page’s group grew past 350 members. By Monday morning that number had grown to 419, and by Tuesday morning the survey had 78 respondents.

            The survey asks interested households in Marion, Mattapoisett, and Rochester for names, emails (only to be used for contact purposes in the event TLC achieves operating financial support), towns of residence, and if they have children in grades K-6. The survey expands to establish the number of children and whether the parent works full or part-time and in or out of their home. It then asks the question if the parent would be comfortable with a college-age student tutoring their children to interact with the ORR online curriculum.

            The goal is to field hundreds of responses to the survey so that TLC can document the level of need in the tri-town area. Here is the link:

            TLC’s vision is an army of college-age tutors sponsored by private industries and/or public agencies, spending time with children in tri-town residents’ homes, bridging the gap between the online portion of ORR’s curriculum and students that need something extra, be it attention span, comprehension, motivation, technical difficulties accessing the program, etc.

            “The hard part is where do we get that money?” said Lerman, a 30-year educator who teaches at the Global Learning Charter Public School in New Bedford. “When I finally decided to jump off this ledge, I also put out a cry for help to people who know more about (fundraising).”

            To that end, Lerman enlisted the assistance of Georgia McDonald and Jennifer Dubois to connect with local non-profit organizations that might be able to help. On Monday, Lerman reported having spoken with Liz Wiley, executive director of the holistically focused Marion Institute. Lerman is educating herself as fast as she can on how to apply for grant funding.

            It is getting late into the summer, but TLC is so young Lerman openly wonders if it would be more expedient to put together the resources and let parents use the money the way they want but with a system ensuring accountability. That way the parents would be vetting the people coming into their homes to tutor their children.

            Much has to be decided in a short timespan for TLC as a 2020-21 program to take flight.

            “I think what people are worrying about is they have a strange hesitancy because they don’t know what the schools are doing yet. But what they need to understand is we need this data to establish need,” said Lerman, who hopes to see 200-250 more families respond to the survey to publicly establish the need she has seen first-hand in another district.

            “There’s a lot of need in New Bedford for this because in my experience teaching remotely… at least half of my students never showed up to my Zoom classes no matter what I did,” said Lerman, who had letters translated into Spanish and asked administrators to make phone calls. “There were just kids who weren’t showing up, and with the kids who were showing up there weren’t parents around. They were going to work; there’s no one minding the kids.”

            Economic challenges in the Tri-Town cannot be equated to New Bedford, but Lerman’s research took her to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website. She says the Tri-Town is presently schooling over 30,000 children, counting Old Colony Regional Vocational-Technical High School. Of that number, 15 percent are economically disadvantaged. Lerman estimates 467 families fall into that category, including 243 students in grades K-6.

            “I’m hoping for some combined effort for a fiscal sponsor so all these mechanisms can be supported, then a financial supporter like the United Way or individual donors,” said Lerman, who intends to meet this week with the United Way and reach out to the SouthCoast Community Foundation. There is no plan at this point to start a Go Fund Me page.

By Mick Colageo

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