Top of everybody’s wish list: Ending the year in class

Education. Ending the school year with a return to normal, even if it will be for only a few weeks, holds special significance.

| 10 May 2021 | 02:13

School districts can see the finish line after a tough year negotiating remote, in-person, and hybrid instruction, and everything in-between. Now they’re looking to end the year with students back at their desks.

Ending with a return to in person learning, however brief, is the overwhelming preference of most parents.

“So many parents and teachers are relieved to have this time, as small as it is, for students to transition into what we’re calling the normalized school experience,” said Karen D’Avino, the school superintendent in Vernon, which switched from fully remote learning to in-person instruction April 12. “Hopefully by the time September comes, we’ll have more students back.”

Switching it up

Other schools districts that switched plans include Hamburg’s Walkill Valley. Originally, the district split students into cohorts where each would attend for two days a week and work remotely the other three.

A Wallkill Valley representative noted that a change in state guidelines allows more students in the classroom.

Wallkill Valley students returned to campus on April 26. School remains in session four days a week, Monday through Thursday, until the end of the semester.

And while students in Sparta, are now in classrooms five days a week, they are attending on a shortened schedule.

“They are thrilled to be back seeing their friends and teachers in person,” said interim superintendent Patrick McQueeney.

Parents want “in person” learning

Based on surveys the schools sent out asking for feedback, 75 percent of the Wallkill Valley parents voted to send their children back to in person learning.

In Warwick Valley in Warwick, N.Y., 700 people responded to the survey the school sent out and 93 percent of parents said they want their children to return to daily classroom instruction.

Delaware Valley, P.A. families decided what was best for their children back in September. Approximately 75 percent chose in-person.

Sticking it out

But for other schools, there will be no last-minute changes.

Lenape Valley High School in Stanhope, plans to stick to its original hybrid school plan. The hassle of a big change so far into the year seemed unnecessary, said the principal, Thomas Claeys.

“We have a hybrid schedule that we’ve had since the beginning of the year,” Claeys said. “And we got started with our semester earlier in the year than most schools, so we’ll be ending before most too.”

Lenape Valley’s hybrid system has students alternating daily between coming to school and learning remotely. “So instead of a change, we plan to continue that until the last day of school on June 4th,” said Claeys.

Lenape Valley is planning in-person events, as guidelines allow.

“Right now we’re hoping to have everything live, but who knows what will change in the next coming weeks,” said Claeys. “We plan to have graduation to be in-person and be a traditional ceremony unless authorities tell us otherwise. Same for senior awards recognition, our senior trip, and our prom.”

The Goshen, N.Y. school district, asked families to choose between four-day in-person instruction or fully remote instruction. Once chosen, “you will not be able to change your child’s learning plan for the remainder of the school year,” said Superintendent Daniel Connor in a letter posted on the school’s website.

Delaware Valley in Pike County, Pa., didn’t need to make a switch since most of its students were in classrooms all year.

“We have offered five days a week in-person or five days a week remote all year long,” said John Bell, the superintendent. “We will continue this for the rest of the year.”

Why change now?

Parent Jen Hamilton expressed frustration about the switch now at a recent Sparta school board meeting. “This was the same issue in February when you announced they were going back. What has changed?”

Hamilton and other parents questioned the point at having kids return for the tail-end of the term, calling it “laughable.”

So, why change now, when summer break is only weeks away?

“The biggest challenge for some of these students who were out for more than a year is that transition back to in-person learning,” said D’Avino, the Vernon superintendent.

She said students’ need for social connections pushed her to get them back on campus.

“My concern from the very beginning was the lack of social connection for the kids,” she said. “Students need other students around to understand social cues and to build relationships, which is necessary for social development.”

Child development experts say socializing at school teaches kids vital skills and prepares them for the interactions they will have as adults.

Christina Scotti, mother of a first grader at Smith Clove Elementary School in Central Valley, N.Y. (and Director of Design at Straus News) said she was saddened when her child wasn’t getting that social connection, especially at such a young age, when it’s so vital.

“She loves the bus,” Scotti said. “She loves meeting people and talking to other kids. She wasn’t doing that when it was virtual.”

In April when the Monroe-Woodbury, N.Y. school district gave parents of elementary students the option of sending them back for five days a week, Scotti jumped at the opportunity.

“It’s a lot to juggle when it’s virtual,” she said. “I have to figure out if I can take her to work, make sure she has her homework ready, snacks, papers, pencils — all while working myself. I was so relieved to have her back in the classroom, even if it’s for three months. That’s still a very long time.”

And when school officials are also parents, there’s double the reason to want kids back in class.

“I have all of my kids back in school so I am a happy lady,” said the Monroe-Woodbury, N.Y. school superintendent, Elsie Rodriguez.

Monroe-Woodbury just brought back most middle and high school students. “Our elementary schoolers came back a bit earlier, so we’ve had about 80 percent of our elementary students back since April 12,” Rodriguez said.

The process wasn’t without its difficulties.. Since last summer, New York State required that students either be six feet apart or separated by physical barriers. The Monroe-Woodbury custodial staff spent an entire weekend before the students’ return installing barriers. Right after that, the state withdrew the barrier requirement and changed the social distancing rule to three feet.

“So our custodial staff worked so hard on this, we were prepared for this, and then we had to — which is my most unfavorite word right now — pivot to something different,” Rodriguez said.

Despite the many pivots of the past year, she is thrilled because students and teachers are in class once again.

“There is no better alternative than being in-person and being with teachers and classmates,” said Rodriguez. “Having that live interaction and connection with others — there is nothing that will ever take that place.”

“There is no better alternative than being in-person and being with teachers and classmates,. Having that live interaction and connection with others — there is nothing that will ever take that place.” Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez, Monroe-Woodbury