WHAT SHOULD THE NEXT WPS SCHOOL YEAR LOOK LIKE?
By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee
Throughout the country and the world, the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic continues – and with no end in sight. Everyone has their opinion on what to do or not to do but, remember, there is no manual written on what to do next. We are all trying to figure this all out and hopefully listen to what health professionals are telling us on how to be safe.
When it comes to education, everyone has an opinion on how we should educate our students as we move forward. These last four months of the school year in Worcester – and America – were traumatic for our parents, students and teachers. Now everyone is trying to figure out how we educate our students for the coming school year. The new normal …
Whatever Worcester decides to do, it will have to be a new normal for our public schools. School districts everywhere are grappling with whether they continue with virtual learning, use a hybrid model (a combination of face to face instruction and online learning) or take a chance and go back to school full time – with many restrictions.
In Worcester, our school superintendent Maureen Binienda told the Worcester School Committee at a special July meeting that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has asked state school districts to prepare three plans for the new school year: One plan would be for students returning to school, the others are remote learning or the hybrid model which is a combination of both. The plans are due in August, with additional informational guidelines being sent out later this month.
📚DESE guidelines include the stipulations that all students in grade 2 and up wear a facial mask …
📗📘 … and there must be at least 3 feet of space between all students.
After a long discussion and looking at the school budget as presented by WPS Chief Financial Officer Brian Allen $12.7 million more would be needed for a reopening of our city schools.
🖊Our school district would be hampered by having only 20 students per school bus …
… additional materials including PPE – personal protective equipment – cleaning supplies, more custodial staff, school nurses, school bus monitors, childcare programs and technology equipment are all part of the cost increase.
The school committee, due to the cost and the safety factors, did not see this as a viable option and suggested that the hybrid model would make more sense. This model combines face to face instruction with online learning. Students may be in school one week, with another group of students coming in the second week. In the off-week students would be home doing on-line learning. This model can lend itself to individualized learning, collaboration via online discussions and several modes of interacting with course content for various learning styles.
Other ideas with this model could be having K to grade three come Monday and Wednesday and grades 4 to 6 come in to school on Tuesday and Thursday, with all students participating in distance learning on Friday.
There could also be many other combinations as well.
To assist in the planning, Superintendent Binienda will put together several teams to review all the options for our school district.
In the meantime, Superintendent Binienda will continue her quest for connectivity via online learning, as well as trying to get every student in the district a Chromebook. She has also sent out a survey to our parents for their input about the next school year and their experience with remote learning. Questions are asked about access to the Internet, student support at home, access to food, transportation to school and more.
Depending on updates to the COVID crisis these plans may change.
However, no matter what plan we adopt, it will not take the place of a normal school day, for there is no substitute for learning that takes place in a school setting. Personally, as a former WPS school principal (Belmont Community School), the shutdown must be especially difficult for our K to grades 3 children to overcome. These school years are the developmental periods in a child’s life and cannot be replicated by on-line learning.
Many in education feel that due to the COVID slide and lack of summer learning, many students will return to school in the fall with around 70% learning gains in reading achievement and less than 50% in math.
Learning is at the core of any school, but learning also has social and emotional aspects – and that is another area that will have to be addressed. Yes, this will be a difficult school year for our students and our teachers, but rest assured: Worcester’s Superintendent Binienda, who is such a tireless worker, will do her utmost to have our students, with the assistance of their parents, succeed academically, emotionally and socially this coming school year!