Virtual college tours. An online student town hall. Homemade play dough.
Those are some of the preliminary suggested activities the New York City education department and teachers union released on Tuesday to help fill the seven school days that had previously been scheduled for spring break. The aim is to “ease up on the hard-core academics,” and equip teachers with content after unexpectedly being asked to work through the anticipated vacation time, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told members in an email.
The materials include lots of screentime, including links for virtual Disney rides as part of a “health and wellness” themed week of activities. While some teachers may find the ideas helpful, others didn’t think the activities would work for their students and felt they needed to plan their own lessons this week — a time many hoped they would have to rest, celebrate religious holidays, or plan for what’s increasingly looking like a long haul when it comes to remote learning.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered schools to continue instruction during spring break as a way to keep students occupied inside, especially as the warmer weather might lure more children outdoors. Many teachers and families blasted the cancellation, saying they were exhausted emotionally from the toll of coronavirus pandemic and the stress of transitioning to remote learning.
The city’s materials highlight a different topic every day. April 9, for instance, focuses on college readiness. Pre-K students are encouraged to speak with their family about what they want to be when they grow up. High schoolers can register for “lunch and learn” sessions with employers in sectors including health care.
Other themes include the arts, computer science, and world languages, with suggestions to go on virtual museum tours, create wire sculptures, and to set aside time for physical activity.
The activities were chosen to encourage families to come together, Mulgrew said.
They also aim to “reflect on and show gratitude to the nurses and doctors, delivery workers, grocery store clerks and others who have continued to provide essential services during this public health crisis,” he said.
Teachers can modify the suggestions as they see fit, or develop lessons of their own.
“We want to provide you with a prepared package of activities as an option for your use during this period of time,” schools Chancellor Richard Carranza wrote in an email to teachers, “to lighten the load for you and your students while still providing rich and exciting activities should you choose to use them.”
Not everyone found the menu of activities helpful.
David Price, who teaches at the highly selective Bard High School Early College in Queens, decided he’ll probably come up with his own lessons for the week after scanning through the city’s materials.
He felt like the content wasn’t relevant or interesting for his students.
“I don’t see this and feel like, ‘Oh OK. The [department of education] has planned this week for me,” he said. “I think a lot of teachers would say, ‘If I’m being made to do something, I’d rather it be something I know and love, rather than something that’s sort of cobbled together.’”
Check out the suggested activities here.