Educating Under Covid-19: Rewriting the New Normal of Learning

Teachers and administrators have been entrusted with building a new learning environment under strict Covid-19 guidelines. Almost a year later, students and parents are still adapting.

When the Covid-19 pandemic shut down all in-person learning, teachers and students had to learn to adjust to distance learning. Almost a year later, the on-going adjustment period has created numerous versions of day-to-day school. 

During the pandemic, Easton schools have continuously adapted their teaching models in order to provide students with a best quality learning experience under very challenging circumstances. In January, Samuel Staples Elementary School and Helen Keller Middle School began all in-person learning while still giving students the option to learn remotely from home.

The ER9 “Reopening Our Schools” plan calls for “grouping students by the same class/group of students and teacher (into a cohort) so each team functions independently as much as possible.” 

Students at Samuel Staples stay in their classrooms for most of the day. They leave for lunch, recess, and physical education. This allows them to remain within their cohorts and minimizing overall social contact. Students at the middle school were accustomed to moving from classroom to classroom throughout the day. The students have since adjusted to staying within their cohorts —a new way of grouping students.

“We are cohorted by grade level at school,” said Susan Kaplan, Helen Keller Middle School principal. “We altered our schedule this year to reduce the number of classes/locations students move to during the day.  We also have grades of students moving at different times of the day to reduce density in the hallways.”

Kaplan has witnessed these changes first hand. “We’ve been through a number of models since  the school year began,” she said. “We opened in the hybrid model, we then switched to full-in with an option for students to still stay hybrid, we then went to full- remote, came back after the holiday break hybrid for a week, and then we came back full in, without the hybrid option.”

Students have only had a small taste of in-person learning so far this year. Fifth graders who have transitioned to the middle school have not yet experienced the flow of a new building, let alone gotten used to cohorts. Due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, full, in-person learning has by necessity been limited.

The fluctuation between models has required teachers and students to teach and learn creatively. Educators have turned to programs like Pear Deck and QuaverEd in order to make hybrid teaching more accessible. Kimberly Fox Santora, Samuel Staples Elementary principal, credits teachers for their commitment to adopting new and innovative teaching methods.

“I actually think the teachers deserve a lot of props for this,” said Fox Santora. “Nobody sat down and taught them, in college, or in their job, how to use these software applications in the way that they are currently using them.”

Fox Santora highlights how teachers have created classroom environments that cater to students’ learning environments both in person and at home. Many of the students’ main cohorts are a mix of in person and online groups, and can vary from day to day. Making sure that all students are actively engaged is a priority for the teachers.

Teachers at Samuel Staples have taken advantage of new computer applications like Pear Deck, QuaverEd and Google Classroom to create an interactive and engaging learning experience.

“They have made everything within reach for the kids who are learning from home,” said Fox Santora. “They are able to facilitate back-and-forth in a way that is nothing short of inspirational.” 

Students who are enrolled for fully online learning are supplied with the necessary tools and paperwork to complete the same tasks that students in the classroom are working on. However, some students move between a fully in-person option and a fully online format.

“What we know about kids, they thrive when there is a consistent routine to follow,” said Fox Santora. “There is a greater sense of confidence when they have what they need.”

Students at Helen Keller are facing a different issue. The transition from fifth grade to sixth brings on more responsibility along with the physical and emotional change into adolescence. Middle school is tough enough during normal times. Now add social distancing and a mask into the mix and the challenges quickly multiply.

“These changes necessitated by local health data have had a negative  emotional impact on some students at the middle school level,” said Kaplan. “Our counseling department is fully booked every day. Our Student Support team is reaching out to families, they’re reaching out to the students, returning parent calls.  Like all people in the field of supporting students, these are unprecedented times, and they are very busy.

“My hope is that we will all find out on the other end of this pandemic that students’ resilience will prove effective in helping them  bounce back. That’s my hope, and that’s what I think will happen because history has shown this to be true.”

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