Neshaminy School District's Superintendent Rob McGee joined our meeting this morning.
He began briefly touching on the challenges today’s educators are facing in trying to bridge and shrink the widening educational gap in America. Race, culture, ethnicity, language, and economic status continue to be powerful predictors of school failure. Whether the measure is grades, test scores, attendance, discipline referrals, drop-out or graduation rates, those students who differ most from mainstream White, middle/upper class, English speaking America, are also most vulnerable to being mis-served by our nation’s schools.
Rob then discussed in much greater detail the challenges which the Neshaminy School district has faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. When it first hit last spring and schools were faced with having to change almost overnight from an in-school norm to remote learning neither teachers or students were prepared. However, between the last school year and the opening of the 2020-21 school year many lessons had been learned.
The Neshaminy staff began reporting back on August 31st to prepare for having to better prepare for both synchronous and asynchronous teaching. They were assisted by four instructor helpers, positions gratefully approved by the Neshaminy school board.
They were being helped to develop three teaching/learning models:
- In-Person/In-Class model – complicated by the fact many classes are catering to both students in the classroom and others at home at the same time.
- Asynchronous model – in which students learn on their own time.
- Synchronous model – where students are linked via Zoom or other similar application to the classroom in real time.
The first day of school was on September 8th when some of the most “vulnerable” were brought in for in-person learning while the rest of the students began with synchronous on-line learning.
On September 14th, students were brought in for in-person classes, two grades at a time and only 50% of each per day, until all grade levels were involved. Studies were conducted during these days to evaluate social distancing on buses, and in classrooms, hallways, and even bathrooms.
On October 5th a full-blown educational hybrid model was implemented in which students could opt for all remote learning of one in which they would be in school two days a week and live-streaming their classes for three days each week.
The original November 2nd date for migrating to a normal in-school model had to be revisited both because it was a day before the election and the surge of COVID cases … ultimately resulting in stay-at-home restrictions. A new date of November 30th (now, just this past Monday) was then adopted with students being offered one of three new, parental choice options.
- Four days or in-school classes and one day of synchronous learning at home.
- Five days a week of Asynchronous learning at home.
- Five days a week of Synchronous learning at home.
Initially, only 20% have opted for other than in-class learning, a figure slowly decreasing.
One thing which appears to be evident is that the hybrid models are less effective than traditional in-person/in-class models.
Preliminary planning in underway to address providing summer classes and other ways to assist students who may fall behind where they should be due to the new learning environment.
If there are cases of COVID within the district … whether students, teachers or other staff … decisions on closing schools will be made on a school-by-school basis
During the subsequent question and answer period, two members inquired about potential volunteer opportunities to provide on-line tutoring of students. Rob explained that there was a rigorous process for being vetted before they could go on an on-call list of tutors.
When asked about the students’ acceptance and usage of masks, particularly in the younger grades, Rob mentioned that throughout the system, properly worn masking by students was not a problem … and, in fact, just this morning he watched more than 1,000 high school students all arriving with their masks. There are occasionally brief “mask breaks” for students.
When queried about mental health issues resulting from the at-home and hybrid educational models, he was sympathetic to the suffering many students have experienced from a lack of social intercourse with their peers. However, the school system does have a number of counsellors, social workers and other resources available when needed.
For the one-in-three children who were eligible for free meals (an annual family income of less than $60,000), “grab-and-go” meals were made available … a program expanded to all students.
When asked, Rob explained that every student has been equipped with a Chromebook, iPad or other laptop and that in pockets of the district where high-speed connectivity was poor, Comcast and Verizon stepped-up to ensure all student’s homes had such available connectivity.
Challenges created by the new hybrid models of education facing seniors going on to college next academic year are as yet still an unknown. Such an evaluations will begin to be made after the college acceptance date of April 1, 2021.
However, Rob believes that the pandemic has created a new paradigm in which both teachers and students are likely going to be living with increased levels of mixed in-school and on-line learning.
Some concerns have become apparent when the results of some at-home tests displayed evidence of undo parental influence.
One result of the hybrid learning models COVID-19 has necessitated is that many students seem to have a much greater appreciation of the importance of learning.
Tas to the long-term impact and effects of the learning models presently being used is still unknown and may not be able to be fully understood for several years to come.