In preparation for students to start classes Aug. 24, Peters Township School District educators have been working on a viable system to optimize both in-person instruction and remote learning.
“We want teachers to focus on doing one thing, and doing one thing exceptionally well. We do not want to overburden them with having to do remote at the same time they have children in front of them,” Superintendent Jeannine French said. “We’re able to achieve that most of the time, and we had to do that through implementing different models at the different schools.”
She offered frequent explanatory commentary during Peters Township School Board’s Aug. 17 meeting, which featured a presentation by Jennifer Murphy, deputy superintendent, and Michael Fisher, assistant superintendent, on the district’s “educational delivery models” for the 2020-21 school year.
The board voted Aug. 3 to begin the year with students attending in-person classes five days a week. They also have the option of learning at home, which all students were obligated to do following the closure of school buildings in mid-March because of COVID-19.
“We know that last year, when we had to very quickly switch to emergency remote, we have room for improvement. It served the purpose of getting us safely to the end of the school year, but we knew what we needed to work on,” French said.
In June, the board approved lease agreements to ensure all students have Dell devices, equipped with Instructure Inc.’s Canvas Cloud Learning Management System, for what is hoped will be better experiences with remote learning.
For students who report to their respective schools, the district’s emphasis is on safety.
Class sizes have been minimized to allow for sufficient distancing. Fisher said at the elementary level, kindergartners through third-graders will study in rooms with 20 or fewer students, and 22 or fewer for fourth, fifth and sixth grades.
Also, the movement of the younger students around their schools is limited significantly, for circumstances such as visits to restrooms and nurses’ offices, physical education and advanced mathematics classes.
“That’s one of the only times that we would have kids co-mingle,” Fisher said.
“So second grade may go to third grade for some accelerated math classes, and we have spots in those locations that kids can just fit right in.”
At the middle and high schools, signs are placed throughout the buildings to help mitigate congestion, and staff members will monitor hallways to help students follow directions.
“It’s a little more challenging to do at the secondary level,” Murphy said. “You have 20-some kids in a room who are going in 20 different directions.”
Safeguards also are being taken during lunch periods.
“The biggest thing we all will have to wrap our heads around is, school is not going to look the same on Aug. 24 as it did on March 13,” Murphy said. “We’re sitting differently. The circular tables are gone. Kids have to sit in one direction. We’ll have to stagger. We’re thinking through ways to have kids that are packing sit in one area.”
Lunchtime will provide opportunities for “mask breaks” from the mandatory facial protection, as long as social distancing is observed, and district officials are examining other times during which students can dispense with their coverings for short periods.
Another consideration is giving students breaks from the classrooms, themselves.
“We’re encouraging outside time more often. We’ve worked very collaboratively with our township and police department to let them know that we want more outside air,” French said. “That’s a little bit unusual, not our standard operating procedures, but the police were very cooperative, and they will be increasing patrols around our schools.”
Murphy noted one major difference with remote instruction compared with what students experienced in the spring.
“Kids are going to have to wake up, and if you have first period and you have physics, that’s when your synchronous instruction will occur,” she said about the real-time aspect. “We had a luxury last year where teachers were still engaging at 8, 9, 10 o’clock at night, because they had evening hours or they had late hours. This year, it functions within the general school day.”