Lessons from Behind the Screen: An Interview About Remote Learning

“It’s really pushed the community to be creative and to reimagine what education can be” are the words Brilla Veritas second grade teacher Mrs. Emilia Chornay (formally Ms. Tanu) used to describe her first week of teaching remotely. Thanks to the ingenuity, dedication, and joy of Brilla staff like Mrs. Chornay, scholars have successfully been learning online. 

Mrs. Chornay connects with her scholars on Zoom

I spoke with Mrs. Chornay on her fourth day of teaching remotely. Like the rest of the Brilla community, the last time she stepped foot in a Brilla building was two weeks prior to that. On that day (March 12), while everyone hoped schools would not be closed for long, she and her colleagues prudently prepared for a long-term closure. They sent home with scholars a packet with two weeks worth of work. It was that weekend when Mrs. Chornay, her colleagues, students, and the rest of New York City learned that they would need to adapt to this rapidly evolving situation: schools would be closed for at least five weeks. When she heard the news, Mrs. Chornay immediately thought of her scholars: will they be ok? Will their families be ok? How will learning continue? Within minutes, she and all Brilla staff received an email from Executive Director Luanne Zurlo informing them of the mayor’s announcement. Ms. Zurlo shared that she and others had worked over the weekend to design remote learning plans. 

Mrs. Chornay and her colleagues wasted no time. The next day she and her co-teacher called all of their scholars to check in. How were they doing? Did they need anything? She reminded her students that they were to work on their take-home packets for a week and online learning would begin the following week. She also told families that if they needed a device, loaner Chromebooks would be available in a few days. On Friday of that week, after everyone had received their devices, Mrs. Chornay held her first community circle via Zoom. Although not the same as seeing her students in person, she said the time together fostered engagement and community. “It was great to see [my students’] smiling faces,” Mrs. Chornay remarked.

Scholars participate in Work Out Day during Spirit Week

Joyful engagement continued the following week when online learning officially began. As a part of their new remote learning routine, students are to complete the following six tasks everyday: a math lesson, a literacy lesson, a non-fiction studies lesson, a Blended Learning math lesson, a Blended Learning reading lesson, and 30 minutes of reading. At least twice a week, classroom teachers call students to check in on their academic, social, and emotional growth during this time. Additionally, students continue to participate–albeit virtually–in the joyful events so characteristic of Brilla: community circles, birthday celebrations, and even Spirit Week. Mrs. Chornay shared, “I try to organize different community-building activities. For example, I might ask scholars to wear their favorite colored shirt and send me a photo that I can post to ClassTag (an online school-home communication application).” Joyful engagement is not just found among scholars. She told me that she feels “a tremendous sense of solidarity and camaraderie” with other teachers during this time. “I am continually impressed with my coworkers who are sharing so many creative and adaptive ways to serve our scholars and their families.”

Mrs. Chornay discusses lesson plans with her colleagues on Zoom.

Mrs. Chornay shared that the transition has not come without challenges, though. “I’ve thought a lot about how to be true to our mission in these circumstances. We really emphasize educating the whole child, but how does a teacher imbue the core virtues (courage, justice, wisdom, and self-control) virtually?” She provided an answer to her own question: love. She shared, “I hope that my scholars know that, even though these circumstances are out of their control and may be very frightening, they are loved–loved by their families, their teachers, their friends, and so many  others.” Mrs. Chornay and the rest of the Brilla staff are not letting a school closure stop them from teaching students a most important lesson: that they are loved because, in the words of Mrs. Chornay, “when there is love, we can face–and even embrace–difficulties.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danielle Schirripa is Executive Associate of the Brilla School Network. In her role, she assists the Executive Director in establishing systems and processes for Brilla’s external communication and fundraising. She studied Mathematics and Philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Originally from Boston, MA, she enjoys spending time at the beach and watching the Red Sox. 

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