Distance-Learning Team Devoted to Virtual Learners

Sabrine Yaser, Reporter

West Haven High School has a team of teachers working full-time to help instruct the 650 students currently enrolled in the school’s virtual-learning program.

These distance-learning students are enrolled in regular classes and submit assignments to the teachers they would have had if they opted for in-person learning. The distance-learning team is available throughout the school day to give additional support to the virtual learners since those students are missing out on in-person instruction from their regular teachers.

Distance learning teachers Tracey Acquarulo and Maryellen Lafo dedicate their school days to assisting distance learners. (Jen Cummings)

“We want kids to stay on top of their assignments, and we hope to keep them on track with their classes,” said Tracey Acquarulo, who has taught English for 21 years and is currently the support teacher for English on the distance-learning team.

The other support teachers are Maryellen Lafo for math, Dominick Bonito for science, Tyrese Sullivan for social studies, Scott Schevling for precalculus and calculus and Robin Ferreira for statistics.

Not only are there teachers to help, but now there are tutors. Principal Dana Paredes recently announced there will be a support person available on Google Meet each day from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. to offer students guidance and answer questions. Students may log in or email during those times to ask questions about the distance-learning program and how it works. In addition, there are also teachers available after school from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. for any student who needs help with assignments.

We want kids to stay on top of their assignments, and we hope to keep them on track with their classes

— Tracey Acquarulo, English teacher for distance learning

Technically the distance-learning support team could work from home, but they actually work in the school. Ms. Lafo, who has taught math for 34 years, said she likes to be in school with the rest of her colleagues, but she misses working with students in person.

“I miss the ‘Ah-Ha! face’ when the student understands the subject,” she said. The distance-learning team is located in separate rooms by themselves.

“I look like a crazy person talking to myself!” Ms. Lafo said, noting that when she does her meetings on Google Meet most of the students don’t turn their cameras on.

Ms. Acquarulo agreed. “I miss seeing all of the students’ faces,” she said. “On the first day of online school everyone had their cameras on, then the next day no one had their camera on. What, are you having a bad hair day?!”

Ms. Lafo said she is learning something new every day and is starting to finally adjust to the new way of teaching. She noted that she started her career with a chalkboard and an overhead projector, and now she is working with Google Meet, Zoom, and other methods of communication.

Distance-learning teacher Maryellen Lafo spends a lot of time on video calls with some of the school’s 650 virtual learners.

When asked if they had any advice for distant learners, Ms. Lafo said it is important for “students to apply self-discipline” so that they can stay on top of their work and be ready for upcoming meetings with their teachers. Ms. Acquarulo said to “make a routine for yourself” and to “maintain that routine” so you can get in the habit of waking up every day as if you are going to school. She also said, “to take advantage of the support that you are given.”

Both teachers also said, “don’t be afraid to reach out,” whether it is to them or to their actual teachers. “It’s our job to help students,” both teachers said and they will do whatever it takes to fulfill that motto.