Summer is peeking over the horizon for Vermonters, and after more than a year of turmoil in public education amidst a pandemic, experts around the state are hoping for a more “typical” learning atmosphere.
“A lot will depend on vaccination status and numbers,” said Missisquoi Valley School District Superintendent Julie Regimbal. ”We still have cases [of COVID-19].”
Administrators say despite the hope for a return to in-person full-time instruction, hard decisions are still in the air and all are still waiting for guidance for reopening schools for the fall semester, especially parents like Heather Legge Grimm, who’s student will be graduating from Georgia Elementary/Middle School.
But her son won’t be attending BFA Fairfax next year.
“We’ve chosen to go to Essex for high school, because we know that they will be full-time in-person,” Grimm said.
Grimm said her student was participating in the hybrid model and struggled immensely to concentrate on remote school work during the year.
“I felt like our kids were getting a very condensed version of the curriculum,” Grimm said.
Grimm said fellow parents have expressed concern about the fall return to school, and what students from Georgia will experience when transitioning to schools that have had more in person instruction and potentially more retention.
“We’re worried our students will fall behind,” Grimm said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, schools closed in order to try and reign in infections that blossomed in environments where large concentrations of people — such as students and teachers — were gathered close together.
“There was a lot of learning that happened throughout this process,” Regimbal said. “It was very difficult for families. For some, completely remote learning made sense, but there were so many where their children needed to be in school.”
Though educators and paraeducators turned on a dime in order to meet the needs of their students, nationwide, districts and teachers reported high levels of stress and frustration over how to do exactly what they were trained to do for decades: teach in-person.
This fall, educators say they’re looking forward to seeing their classrooms full again, though Regimbal, Maple Run Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Bill Kimball and BFA Fairfax Principal John Tague said they’re eagerly awaiting more guidance from the Agency of Education.
“It’s early,” Kimball said. “Things look promising, and we all want to have all of the kids back in as was in previous years.”
Kimball said BFA St. Albans is, however, going to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies for their kindergarten through eighth grade students and an outdoor high school graduation ceremony at the Collins Perley Complex.
Like many administrators, Tague, who will soon be serving as interim superintendent of the Franklin West Supervisory Union, said he’s trying to look at the technologies implemented during the pandemic with a critical eye in the hopes that the district can continue to use their new tools to expand opportunities for students.
“For some students, the virtual model was beneficial,” Tague said. “What we’ve learned is that we can be flexible. We want to focus on what works for students.”
This could include future plans to co-opt college models for high school students, and implementing social and emotional learning tools for students in-school and otherwise.
“(The methods) have to have an impact,” Tague said. “Students have learned differently this year. What we want to do is leverage the skills they’ve acquired this year ... We want to harness what the teachers have learned and implemented. To take the best of the best things that came from the shift, and look at how to utilize those moving forward.”
Regimbal said there are no plans for MVSD to have a remote option for learning this fall, but that decisions on a case-by-case basis will be team based.
“We need all of our students in front of us and in person,” Regimbal said. “We are working through a recovery plan ... but we have been led to believe we will all be returning in-person full-time.”
Regimbal said that teachers already had access to a lot of the technologies that ended up being instrumental to teaching in hybrid and distance learning models, such as Seesaw, Google Classroom and Class Dojo.
The big difference was the massive increase in how those technologies were utilized.
“We learned an awful lot about what needs to be taught in person,” Regimbal said. “What is equally effective for instruction. There is more flexibility at the high school level to try and expand learning and educational opportunities, but I’m still someone who believes the best way to teach a struggling first grader to read is to do so in front of them.”
The American Psychological Association issued guidance aimed at supporting educators as they reunite with their students and some of the behaviors they may encounter, such as delinquent, withdrawn and erratic behaviors and regressions such as thumb-sucking or clinging to adults.
As far as vaccinations and requirements, Regimbal said MVSD would be deferring decisions around student vaccinations to public health authorities and the AOE, but were looking forward to a school year that looked “far more typical” compared to last year.
“We want things to feel as normal as we are allowed,” Regimbal said. “The teachers have been remarkable...Our teachers need to change things on a dime sometimes. It’s a whole other way of thinking.”