Sunday, October 25, 2020

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the spring, students and their parents adopted an ad hoc virtual learning format, with limited help and peer collaboration, while normalizing continuous screen time. This fall their transition to the hybrid model of remote and in-person classes is still a struggle. Many are seeking to supplement their educational resources.

The Bergenfield Public Library, which has always been a central resource for its diverse community members to learn, study and receive tutoring, recognized these academic challenges and responded with a free virtual e-learning platform that provides expert help, study tools and group learning for grades pre-K-12, college and postgraduate.

“We saw how difficult it was for parents and children this past spring. Once it became obvious that the school year was not going to be the same, we asked ourselves what we could do to really help these parents and students and came up with a virtual tutoring service,” said Bergenfield Public Library director Allison Moonitz.


Back in March, the library had little time to shift to a virtual environment for its anticipated two-week shutdown. As COVID-19 worsened, staff members realized the long-term nature of the pandemic and strategized to continue supporting the diverse Bergenfield community.

Laurie Phipps, a Bergenfield Public Library board member, explained, “Bergenfield Public Library pre-positioned itself to anticipate the diverse needs of the community. Allison Moonitz took the initiative, realizing that this would be a long-term endeavor and wanted to be prepared to reopen once it was safe to do it and approved by the governor.”

In July, the library reopened its physical location following thorough COVID-19 safety guidelines by adjusting the internal layout for social distancing, controlling the hours of operation, and regulating the number of people entering the building. Sorah Shaffren, another Bergenfield Public Library board member, described how staff called and checked in with community members who were homebound, which “shows how the Bergenfield Public Library provides a community service beyond lending books to people.”

The library also ramped up its free virtual services for Bergenfield Public Library cardholders by adding free electronic books, audios and textbooks to the e-library. The library also encouraged non-library card-holding Bergenfield residents to access e-content through its new digital library card system. Moonitz emphasized how her team communicated with local school districts to specifically add books and textbooks that follow classroom curriculums for students to remotely access. Acknowledging that many families would cut non-essential subscriptions, the library purchased KANOPY, a digital streaming service, allowing members to freely view movies and TV shows, many of which are kid friendly.

Bergenfield Public Library has been working with the county’s superintendent and local school principals to understand their students’ needs and share these crucial e-learning resources. It is now providing an additional free digital resource: an online virtual tutoring and learning service. Any Bergenfield resident with a valid library card can access Brainfuse, an online platform for a variety of e-learning tools, such as expert help, study tools and remote group learning. The platform specializes in resources for students in grades pre-K-12, providing standardized test prep for the SAT and ACT, and modules for college students and postgrads.

Shaffren, a schoolteacher herself and parent to five children, explained how COVID-19 completely changed the learning opportunities for many elementary school students this past spring. “Basic reading, writing, math skills are not at grade level due to distance learning. I see fellow teachers working extremely hard to get students back to grade level. Beyond that, this is where the tutoring provides a huge support system to help kids get the skills to fill in those learning gaps.”

Bergenfield Public Library’s virtual tutoring service may bring some small financial relief to families that struggled to finance tutoring prior to COVID-19. From 2-11 p.m., students can receive live tutoring from expert tutors to review homework and classroom concepts and also receive additional guidance for all grades and subjects. Brainfuse also offers a writing lab where students can upload research papers and receive detailed writing analysis and assistance.

For its study tools, users can access SkillSurfer, a library of lessons, videos and tests for extra practice; Language Lab, which offers expert help for language learners; the LEAP Learning Platform, featuring customized study plans and lessons; and FlashBulb, where students can create and share flashcards, tests and games. Students can also collaborate with peers through private virtual study rooms and easy note sharing capabilities.

Shaffren reflected on the resources the library is offering during these challenging times. “As new changes emerge for parents, teachers and community members, we will show our resilience and unity as a community. We will continue to help our students grow, learn and strive. No matter what is happening in the world, the library is there for the community in such a special way and I am proud to be a part of it.”

To access Bergenfield Public Library’s e-learning resources, visit https://www.bergenfieldlibrary.org/tutoring/

By Olivia Butler