BY ANYA KAUFFMAN | COMMUNITY NEWS SERVICE | AUGUST 12, 2020
As the summer comes to an end, schools across the country begin to announce their plans for beginning the school year amidst the global pandemic.
Champlain Valley School District has announced a hybrid model for students to attend school in person for a few days a week, with increased physical distancing measures, and remote learning for the rest of the week. There is also an option for families to choose complete remote learning for their students.
All of the schools in the district will follow the same plan, according to CVU Director of Digital Learning & Communication Bonnie Birdsall. Many other school districts in the area are following this hybrid model for the fall as well, Birdsall said.
CVU High School will have a few scheduling differences, due to the fact that it is a high school, Birdsall said.
CVU has changed its system to a semesterised model, in which students take up to four classes at a time rather than eight, according to CVU principal Adam Bunting. This model will be more successful for the teachers as well, Bunting said.
“The semesterised model kind of allows everybody to focus a little bit more on what they’re doing,” Bunting said.
In mid-July, the school district asked parents if they would be open to a hybrid model for the fall, and that most were for it, according to Birdsall.
“A lot of parents obviously want their kids in school,” Birdsall said.
Birdsall also acknowledged that the hybrid model may not be ideal for some families’ work schedules, and that they have a separate committee working on childcare options. There is also a committee dedicated to fleshing out how outdoor classrooms will work.
Suzie McCoy has a son who is a rising sophomore at CVU. McCoy works from home and said that the hybrid model won’t be much of a challenge for her family.
McCoy said that because her son is a high school student, he is more independent and is able to maneuver online schooling more easily and autonomously, and stay driven on his own more than perhaps younger students can.
McCoy said that she decided on the hybrid model for her son because kids need some sort of social contact with their peers. She also noted that for younger kids, years like kindergarten are crucial years for learning to socialize.
“Hybrid is the best of both worlds in terms of getting some face-to-face, friend-time, even though it’ll be masked, socially-distanced, and whatever else they put in pace at the schools to keep kids safe,” McCoy said.
McCoy also said that she is keeping in mind that the school’s plans might change as the year goes on if, for example, there is a big spike in cases of COVID-19.
Birdsall said the district wouldn’t make that decision alone, and that it would come from the state. She also said that if schools were to fully open later in the year, it would take some time and a lot of planning. She said that a lot of precautions would need to be in place, such as advising and permission from the Department of Health.
“The bottom line for me is safety of the kids and teachers is first and foremost. That’s the priority,” McCoy said.
McCoy said that as a former educator, she knows that one year of altered schooling will not largely affect her son’s education long-term. She is grateful for the hybrid option, and that it’s better than no days in person, McCoy said.
“It’s just a blip on the screen,” McCoy said. Some kids will thrive more with remote learning, while others might struggle, according to McCoy.
Colleen Christman has a third grader and a sixth grader. They both homeschooled up until last school year, when they decided to have her sixth grader start attending Hinesburg Community School. Now, with the pandemic, he has decided to leave the school and begin homeschooling again for the fall.
Christman said that one of the reasons why they chose to homeschool instead of choosing the fully remote option was because she didn’t know what the school schedule would look like at first, and homeschooling worked better for her family’s schedule.
“We need a more concrete plan as a family. And so homeschooling affords us that concrete plan—not needing to worry about school closing because of an outbreak or being tied to a computer at a certain time,” Christman said.
McCoy said that remote learning for the fall will be stronger than it was in the spring, because of both students’ and teachers’ now increased experience.
“[Teachers] were thrown in the fire [in the spring], and then now they’ve had time, they’ve had experience, and now the summer, to kind of look it over and put in some new strategies and techniques,” McCoy said.
Birdsall said that the school district learned a lot of lessons from the spring that are being taken into account for the fall.
“Out of all the administrators in the whole district, whether at the district office or in the schools, nobody has taken any time off this summer. There’s a lot of work and planning that people have done to try to do the best we can to ensure that all students’ needs are met, and that they’re getting a high quality education,” Birdsall said.
Bunting said that in the spring, most of the administrators’ professional development was consumed by trying to figure out the mechanics of remote learning, as opposed to the pedagogy.
“With some time to repair we’ve been able to kind of tweak the overall system, but then also just get really clear about how we actually redesign our courses so that we get to the heart of what we want to do, but do so in a way that is engaging, that has appropriate rigor, and those kinds of thing,” Bunting said.
McCoy said that everyone is learning as they go, and that the situation is what it is.
“One semester or year of a less than perfect school experience will not permanently alter the lives of our kids. It is what it is,” McCoy said. “We make the best of it and be grateful for how hard all our admin and teachers are working to do the best they can with what we’re living through.”
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.