A behind-the-scenes look at virtual learning in Quincy.

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QUINCY — Emily Gaeta’s third grade class at Lincoln Hancock Elementary School looks nothing like it did eight months ago.

A chair blocks the entrance to her classroom with a sign reading “remote learning in session.” A bulletin board that usually boasts “shout outs” for students sits empty; math workbooks, educational games and craft supplies are piled in bins pushed against the wall; a block calendar by the door still reads “September;” and an industrial-sized bottle of hand sanitizer sits at the ready on her desk.

Gaeta hasn’t taught an in-person class since March, and she doesn’t know when she will again. She teaches a Zoom class full of children who are all calling in from home every day of the week. Using Google Classroom resources, a huge whiteboard behind her desk and the occasional flashcards, she’s tasked with making sure students develop skills like reading comprehension, sentence structure and alphabetization virtually — something she’d never done before.

“I try to mirror in-person learning as much as possible,” Gaeta said. “Every day I post a schedule of activities, and the students really like that. For six months, these kids weren’t in school, and now that they’re back, it’s something completely new. We just need to keep them motivated, keep it positive and create a routine they feel comfortable in.”

Most Quincy students at all grade levels are back in class on a part-time basis, but there is no end in sight to at least some amount of remote learning. Some teachers are juggling classes full of students both in-person and online, while others are teaching virtually all day every day.

Students and parents in the spring were quick to criticize the city’s online learning. Students took to social media to lament what they said were essentially “blow off” classes, and parents rallied several times over the last few months asking that their students be allowed to return to in-person school at least part time. Now, seven months after schools first closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials and teachers say remote learning is a far cry from the “crisis teaching” they experienced in the spring.

“It was a lot of independent, student-led work that, for some students, can be challenging,” said Cara Pekarcik, a teacher at North Quincy High. “We went from, ‘The teacher is here to answer your questions,’ immediately to ‘Here is an assignment, figure it out.’

“But now we realize how much we need to support the students and how much we need to encourage them to take responsibility for their own learning,” Pekarcik said.

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