As the next school year approaches, districts and teachers are having to make back-to-school decisions they have never made before. Walking into unknown territory, Hays CISD has planned out at least three scenarios as to how its schools will run.
“A normal start to school would be ideal in a perfect world,” said Tim Savoy, chief communication officer for Hays CISD, “but, unfortunately, we’re not in a perfect world right now. So, we are probably looking at some type of hybrid model.”
Schools across the U.S. are already discerning the possibilities of what reopening schools will be like in terms of curriculum and attendance. With the instability of COVID-19 infection numbers and limited knowledge on the virus, the decision will be difficult. Educators have to keep safety in mind, but they also want to ensure students get sufficient education, which has been challenging to achieve through homeschooling. Catching students up for the next year will also pose its own difficulties on teachers.
Superintendent Dr. Eric Wright said he will be meeting with the reopening task force in the next two weeks to develop a cohesive plan and look at intersessional options. He told the Hays CISD Board of Trustees he wants to have something in place by the end of June so people can plan accordingly.
So far, the district has openly discussed three plans.
The first is a normal start to school. Another option is a hybrid model where part of the students attend classes in-person for part of the week, then do another part at home. This model rotates two or three groups of students in staggered days and times. The final option would be to continue at-home learning.
As for summer school, Gov. Greg Abbott said schools may begin teaching in-person courses, starting June 1, while limiting class size to 11 students. Wright said the district has pretty much committed to having virtual summer school. If in-person summer school picks up, Wright worries about bus transportation for students, where social distancing is difficult to achieve.
“We do think we will be in a place in August to allow at least a portion of our students in the buildings,” Savoy told the Hays Free Press. “We bus about 12,000 of our 21,800 students. So, our concerns regarding social distancing are not just in the classroom spaces, but also on the school buses.”
Educators have many factors to consider for this upcoming year. Students of the same grade level will have educational discrepancies when returning next school year – an issue that teachers have to fix.
During the Hays CISD Board of Trustees meeting, Wright said the advisory group is looking at ways to catch kids up, which could be through tutorials, interventions or an extended year option. Extending the year would most likely be tacked onto the end of the 2020-2021 term, keeping children in school an extra 30 days.
“Students will still need to have mastered prior grade concepts before they can truly dive into the material for their new grade levels,” Savoy said. “So, teachers will be spending much of the first part of 2020-2021 bringing students up to speed.”
This task comes with its own challenges because students will come back with different pockets of knowledge, and some may have even caught up with all their at-home work. Heather Russell, third grade teacher at Carpenter Hill Elementary school, said she worries about those who are all caught up.
“I feel like that is a small minority and they may be overlooked,” Russell explained. “The kids who are ready don’t need to be remediated.”
Students were let out of school two months ago, missing a time where they would have received a little more education plus a time to recap everything they learned throughout the year. They have missed these opportunities, and with the summer break coming up, they will forget even more information.
The gaps of knowledge come from different places, Russell said. Some students may have little access to internet and devices, perhaps because they have one device to share amongst three students, or because they do not have strong internet connection in their areas.
Then there are those who have working parents who cannot fully tend to their children’s education. There are cases where parents simply cannot help teach their children because they do not know how to do eighth grade math, for example.
Russell foresees child behavior as an upcoming issue teachers will have to deal with. She said behaviors may be out of control, but does not blame this on the parents or even the students.
The fact of the matter is students will be out of school for five months where they have had less structure, more screen time and less activities to participate in.
Behavior and discrepancies in education are not Russell’s only concerns. Looking ahead, she is afraid some schools might give less attention to the arts, social studies and science in order to put their focus on what is generally considered essential education – reading and math.
If this is how schools will function, Russell said she wants no part of it and would rather retire. Often, it is these courses that bring happiness to the students and drive them through the school day, she added.
She hopes that during these difficult times of catching students up on their education that school administrations will act in grace. Throughout the at-home learning period, teachers and parents have also been bearing the brunt.
In order to catch students up, teachers have to know the curriculum from the previous year. Russell said she is happy that she has been paired with a second grade teacher, who will be able to help her figure out the material her future students missed out on. She hopes that other teachers get a similar opportunity, or at least that schools arrange a similar setup where teachers can work together to under stand what they need for their students.
As for the stress parents have been feeling, she wants to let them know that they are doing a great job and hopes they do not feel anxious.
“I have already felt the panic from some parents, some are feeling inadequate,” Russell said. “I have spent the last two months telling them that they are doing their best, their kids are doing their best and so am I, so give grace. I couldn’t imagine being a parent right now, having to teach my kids and work. That has to be so intimidating and frustrating.”