CUMBERLAND For Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) kindergarten teachers Jenna Lacey and Rachel LeBel, preparing for week one of distance learning was an exercise in creativity and strategic thinking: How do you meaningfully engage five-year-old students in their learning outside of a traditional classroom environment and, all the more, without in-person interaction?

The answer: a combination of creative approaches and familiar routines.

“I love a challenge and the opportunity to grow as a teacher,” Lacey says. “When I found out we would be participating in distance learning, I immediately began researching ways I could continue to support my scholars and get creative with learning.”

Both teachers utilize a platform called Loom to record and share instructional videos with their students. Lacey has recorded problem solving lessons called “Math Stories,” while LeBel has recorded songs to help students learn the days of the week and months of the year. They are also hosting virtual “lunch bunches” and classroom gatherings—known as community circles—to preserve an all-important sense of community among their students.

Distance learning also provides Lacey and LeBel the ability to cater lessons to each individual student.

“I was on a video call with a family, and I gave my scholar a math word problem about sharing Cheerios with her sibling,” Lacey recounts. “She actually grabbed Cheerios and started acting out the math problem together with her young brother. Not only was my kindergarten scholar learning, but her sibling got to participate, as well.”

And while such creativity is critical, Lacey and LeBel also stress the importance of bringing a semblance of normalcy and routine to their students’ days.

“Distance learning is a huge change and adjustment for everyone, so I want to keep as much normalcy and routine as possible for my scholars,” LeBel says. “We are all trying our best to make this work. But after week one, I am feeling hopeful and so inspired.”

The successes from week one of distance learning extend beyond Lacey and LeBel’s classrooms and throughout Blackstone Valley Prep’s network of six schools. Over 450 Google Chromebooks were safely distributed to scholars with limited to no technology access at home; more than 2,500 age-appropriate books were purchased and delivered to scholars’ homes to encourage daily reading; and BVP teachers, leaders, and support professionals had more than 10,000 documented family interactions, checking in on everything from health and food security to technology access and academics.

“BVP’s mission is to prepare every scholar for success in college and the world beyond,” Lacey says. “Seeing our community come together and find unique and creative ways to support our families, scholars, and staff in order to fulfill our mission has been a huge win! We are truly living out our mission and it feels amazing to be a part of such a dedicated community.”