Note: This commentary appeared in part in the April 15 edition of The Beachcomber, but did not run in its entirety. We are republishing it here in full. We regret the error.
More than 70% of students at Chautauqua Elementary are back in school four half days a week, and we’re already seeing huge successes with our return to in-person schooling, as students learn to be with one another again.
Returning for half days has provided a successful transition for our students, who have been doing a great job with masks and social distancing.
The half-day when students aren’t in school, they have asynchronous school work in packets or on the computer and are encouraged to read a book and get outside to play. Students also attend live remote specialist classes when at home, including art, PE, STEM, Spanish and Social-Emotional Learning. There is also support, in small groups, for those who need help in reading or math.
Most teachers here at Chautauqua have noted a change in their students’ perceptions about school and that many seem to be enjoying school more than ever.
Manda Long, our kindergarten teacher, has noticed that her students have become skilled at waiting for their turn to speak.
“I’ve never really liked teaching them to raise their hands and wait to speak, but since they had to do it on the computer they have learned to do that already,” she said.
Teachers are finding that some students have returned eager to talk to their classmates while others are quiet and need to re-learn social skills of how to engage with one another. Shannon Brown, one of our fourth-grade teachers, put it like this: “Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes my class is too quiet and I can’t get them to talk.”
Recess has changed too.
Chautauqua has implemented “cohorting” during recess times — which means that each class has a separate, rotating zone on the playground.
Siri Bookani, a first-grade teacher, said she didn’t think at the beginning of in-person school that she would enjoy going to the rotating recess areas, but she has.
“I’m seeing kids play basketball that haven’t before; they are jump roping and drawing with chalk,” she said. “They are trying new things because we are in a different spot each day.” For some teachers, like Chris Muller, their favorite part of the day is watching students play at recess, interacting with other kids who had not previously been in their pods and learning new games.
“Getting to see them do something they haven’t done for such a long time is really great,” Muller said.
Teachers have had to adjust to new routines and develop new strategies for distancing and sanitation.
“I’ve had to come up with a routine for when students come in from recess or arrive in the morning that they do at their desk while everyone washes their hands,” said teacher Layla Tanner. “It’s the little things I haven’t had to think about in the last year.”
Chautauqua staff have overhauled the arrival and dismissal procedures since parents can’t enter the building. The district is also encouraging parental transportation to reduce the number of students riding the buses.
One benefit to the new arrival system is that students enter slowly and it provides much-needed time for teachers to connect individually with students.
Our school counselor, Kristina Miller, told me that parents coming by in the car lane were gushing about how well it’s going.
Our challenges have also included a lot of little adjustments along the way, from supplying more towels for wiping down desks to buying more Frisbees for outdoor play.
Teachers and paraeducators have incorporated a lot of “getting-to-know you activities” and time for developing social skills and connections that may have been missing during remote learning.
They have also appreciated being able to guide student learning more closely.
“It’s so easy in-person to see if they are getting it or not,” said teacher Matthew Chasen. “You can give some feedback in the moment. Things that are impossible to do online are so easy to do in person.”
Muller told me, “They can’t duck under the radar or leave class. They are a lot more accountable for their learning when in person.”
A few teachers at Chautauqua are leading morning remote classes and afternoon in-person classes. One split teacher noticed a growing dichotomy between the two groups. Some of the distance learners are independent workers and are staying the course, remaining focused, while others are showing some distance learning fatigue.
“I’m always thinking of new ways to engage them,” explained Layla Tanner, but “some of my remote students can hide if they want to.”
While some students turn off their camera and don’t submit a lot of assignments, others are highly engaged and still thriving in the remote setting.
Most of the 30% of families who chose to stay remote did so for health concerns, but others found that their students were doing well and they didn’t want to add a transition at this time of the year.
As the needs of the school community change, here at Chautauqua, we’re adapting and adjusting all our systems and will continue to do so in the future.
Rebecca Goertzel is the principal of Chautauqua Elementary School.