Staying Connected
As educators navigate unprecedented obstacles with limited resources and guaranteed uncertainty, New York State educators lead the nation in their acceptance of this challenge. Throughout our state, administrators, teachers, and school personnel have demonstrated their extraordinary dedication, support, and commitment to their students and our children. From teacher parades for students to food and technology deliveries for families, New York's educators have risen to this challenge!

The New York State Education Department wishes to highlight the exceptional dedication of our educators with examples of emotional support, equitable solutions, and instructional practices utilized to stay connected with the students of New York State during this period of building closures. Read more below for stories that have been shared with us recently, or, if you have your own stories to share, please visit our Submit Your Stories page for additional information.
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Teachers Meeting the Unique Needs of Students
St. Mary's School for the Deaf, Buffalo

St. Mary's School for the Deaf in Buffalo has been meeting the needs of deaf students and their families for over 160 years and serves students from birth through 21 years of age from all eight Western New York counties. The school provides a language-rich environment through which the students can achieve their academic, social, and emotional goals.

The staff at St. Mary's School for the Deaf believe in the mission statement: St. Mary's School for the Deaf is committed to providing equitable access to exemplary educational programs that prepare Deaf Students to be self-directed, lifelong learners, who are productive members of society.

Working from home presented a unique challenge for St. Mary's teachers, as their students learn best in specialized classrooms with hands-on lessons and activities. After taking a collective deep breath, the teachers of St. Mary's School for the Deaf rose to the challenge. They exhibited continuity of learning using virtual lessons on a variety of platforms, work packets, and distance-visits. All students benefit from these visual forms of teaching, but for the Deaf and hard of hearing students of St. Mary's, these platforms are critical. They can see their teachers explaining assignments using their mode of communication-American Sign Language. 

The teachers came together to create this video so the students and their families know that St. Mary's loves and misses them and they all will be together again soon.

Making Meals and Staying Connected
The Genesee Valley Educational Partnership
"This has been incredible to witness. Kids are so excited to meet their teachers and principals. The school meal program has been the connection for students to see and talk with their teachers." -Debbie Naples, Director of the Regional Food Service

District staff packing school van with lunches for families
At the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership (GVEP), superheroes wear gloves and masks and prepare almost 9,000 portable meals each day for students who reside in and around Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, and Wyoming counties. 

Debbie Naples is the Director of the Regional Food Service, a GVEP program that 21 area school districts subscribe to. Since March 18 and 19, Naples has revamped how the Regional Food Service Program normally operates, preparing and serving meals from school cafeterias. 

"Due to COVID-19 school closures, we had to change to an emergency feeding program. We applied for and were approved by New York state for both a Summer Seamless Operation and School Food Service Summer Program," Naples said. "In just 48 hours, we transitioned to this new program which allowed us to provide two meals at a time to students."

District staff packing lunches in school_s kitchen
During the first few weeks of the school closures, food service staff were preparing and serving or delivering meals. But as the closures were extended, many districts have used the program as a way to keep in touch with students. Not only do parents get the meals, but they also pick up schoolwork and see teachers and principals. Using district transportation vehicles, some school districts deliver meals directly to students' homes, especially in the cases where students live in remote locations or parents might not have reliable transportation.

"Our local businesses and communities have generously supported our food program. The goal we have for this program is simple, to provide meals to students. These are difficult times, especially for parents who are not working," Naples said. "Parents are so grateful and thanking us for providing meals. They share with us how this program relieves their anxiety of how they are going to feed their children. When we hear these stories, we know that we have done something important, needed and so valuable."
BOCES Hosts Virtual Scholastic Challenge
Cattaraugus-Allegany-Erie-Wyoming BOCES
What do you get when you connect over 80 students, 23 teachers and administrators, and 24 CABOCES Instructional Support Services (ISS) staff members, who are miles apart, each safely in their own homes, across two counties?

The first ever regional Virtual Scholastic Challenge.

On May 1, 20 teams from 12 area school districts met, virtually, to participate in the Virtual Scholastic Challenge. The Scholastic Challenge is an annual event that is hosted by Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES. The regional competition, which tests students' knowledge of academic trivia and current events, is typically held as a face-to-face tournament. This year, in response to extended school building closures throughout the region, the competition was held virtually.

Forty-two matches took place over the course of the day, with nearly 1,000 questions read aloud. Teams, made up of 3-4 students each, mastered using an online buzzer system that created fast paced and exciting matches. ISS Digital Resources & Technology Coordinator, Alex Freer, one of the match readers, said that there was such a positive energy among all participants: "What a joy to be a part of today!"

Shannon Wood, Franklinville Central School's coach added, "Please extend our thanks to all of the CA BOCES staff that participated in pulling off the VSC! It was really a great change of pace for the kids! They look forward to this and you accomplished the new format very smoothly! Thank you for all of your hard work!"

The participating districts were Belfast, Cuba-Rushford, Ellicottville, Fillmore, Franklinville, Genesee Valley, Hinsdale, Olean City Schools, Portville, Scio, Wellsville, and Whitesville. Congratulations to the 4 teams that scored the highest number of points at the end of 4 matches: 
  • Junior (grades 6-9) Finals match: Whitesville (1st place) and Wellsville (2nd place)
  • Senior (grades 9-12) Finals match: Ellicottville (1st place) and Fillmore (2nd place)
Virtual scrimmages for were held for three weeks prior to the May 1 competition.

Tim Cox, Assistant Superintendent for ISS, said he was pleased with the event and felt that it helped unify both students and staff. "It's events like this that really bring our region together...especially now."
POBMS Sunflower Project Keeps Spreading the Joy!
Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District
Sunflower seeds and brochure
In the spring of 2018, a few sunflower seeds were planted in the courtyard at Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School, and at the start of the 2018-2019 school year three, beautiful, tall sunflowers greeted teachers and students on the first day of school. The seeds from those three sunflowers were harvested, and that is when the POBMS Sunflower Project started.

During the spring of 2019, over 100 of those harvested sunflower seeds were planted in the courtyard, and extra seeds were shared with staff members and the other schools in the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District. On the first day of school this year, the POBMS family was welcomed back to school with over 90 bright, happy, giant sunflowers blooming in the courtyard!

During the fall of 2019, a school-wide seed dissection project was conducted and four shopping bags full of seeds were collected! The POBMS family made individual bags of seeds and designed a brochure detailing the story of the POBMS Sunflowers. The seeds were sent to over 300 Nassau County schools! In spring 2020, the POBMS family planned to plant double the number of sunflowers in the courtyard in hopes of sharing seeds in both Nassau and Suffolk counties this fall.

Sunflower seeds being planted by custodial staff due to building closures
Sadly, during this time of building closures, many of the schools that received seeds may not be able to plant them. However, that is not stopping the POBMS Sunflower Project! Many families in our POBMS community are sharing the seeds distributed all over the community, and our dedicated custodial staff planted the 2020 crop of sunflowers at our middle school.

As Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Lorna Lewis, always reminds the POBMS family: "Bloom gloriously where you have been blessed to be planted!" The POBMS Sunflower Project makes all of us happy to be planted in our beautiful school! We will keep spreading the JOY!