On Wednesday, March 11th, U32’s faculty attended a meeting focused on planning for a possible school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting began with a video from the WCUUSD superintendent Debra Taylor in which she talked about the current cases of COVID-19 in Vermont and how the district will handle closure.
School administrator Amy Molina took over after the video: “I think Steven said this is when I should make the joke, ‘remember when we only had to worry about water.’”
With the recent news of many Vermont colleges closing, U-32’s population has been speculating about whether U-32 will stay open.
Principal Steven Dellinger-Pate discussed the school’s plan for closure.
“U-32’s first plan is to stay open,” said Dellinger-Pate. Big group gatherings and field trips may need to be canceled to avoid contamination, but the goal is to stay open.
Dellinger-Pate emphasized the uncertainty of the situation. “We are one domino is a gymnasium of dominoes; we’ll either be the five hundreth one or the five thousandth one,” he said. “At some point, we’ll have to make decisions.”
New paper towel dispensers in the boy’s bathroom
If the school does close, there are two possible versions. The first plan is “school dismissal.” Students would stay home, but teachers and faculty would come to school and continue to provide all the things students need and receive in a regular school day: food services, special ed, general ed, IT, and SEL/nursing, etc. There are committees working on how to deliver these five services to students if there were a school dismissal.
The other plan is full closure. This means both students and teachers would be at home and only essential personnel are in the building. Online learning would continue to happen from students and teachers individual houses.
After the general faculty meeting, the teachers were sent to their separate department meetings to brainstorm how they could teach their curriculum online.
Dellinger-Pate told the teachers to keep it simple: “What’s essential for kids to learn if we go online?”
After the meeting in the auditorium, the departments broke out to separate classrooms to brainstorm.
A lot of communication between teachers and students already takes place on Google Classroom. In the event that we resort to remote learning, teachers can create assignments and post resources through that preestablished line of communication. Other things like live Google documents and Google Hangouts could potentially serve as tools to help fill the gap of class discussion and peer interaction.
Many teachers voiced concerns about students’ lack of motivation if U-32 went online. “There’s a kid sitting right next to me I can’t get to do work,” Margaret Keys said during the English department meeting. “How am I going to do it over the computer?”
Teachers felt confident in their abilities to develop an adapted curriculum for online teaching but had doubts about how kids would handle it, especially kids in the younger grades “I couldn’t imagine coming up with something that seventh-graders would take seriously and be able to do,” Adam French said in the language department meeting.
Global Studies and Psychology teacher Nicolle Schaeffer shared her thoughts on the meeting.
“I felt a combination of worry and relief. This very serious situation that we face is unprecedented,” she said “I worry about kids getting the nutrition that they need. I worry about the kids that don’t have a good home life and what their next bit of time is going to look like.”
UVM intern Anna Garrettson shared her concern that the school closing, “ …intensifies the inequalities that exist. If you’re a student who has parents that can help you with homework you’re going to have an easier time.”
“Or if you’re a student who needs to be watching siblings all the time then you don’t have a lot of time to devote to schoolwork if 24/7 everyone is at home.”
Geoff Green, another social studies teacher, was also concerned about equity. “I think access [for students] is one of our main concerns at this point,” he said. “Internet access is spotty even at my apartment sometimes.”
Students, however, did not attend the meeting and only know what teachers decided to share and the contents of the email sent by Steven Dellinger-Pate Thursday afternoon.
“Mark, my chemistry teacher said [in the event of a closing] that we would be working out of a textbook. Other teachers have speculated about using something like Twitch (a live video streaming service) to do video classes,” said junior Bradley Benedict. “There haven’t really been that many details on it. I’ve just heard that it could happen.”
“I’ve heard that we might shut down the school for a few weeks and do virtual learning,” said senior Bruno John. “Teachers have told me that they don’t know very much yet. If it [the school closing] is a measure against getting people sick then I’m okay with it.”
Some big questions remain for teachers and students going into the next few weeks:
Will teachers and students follow a regular school schedule while doing “remote learning”?
How will isolation and extended screen time affect the mental health of students?
However, all teachers that spoke to the Chronicle agreed that public health is the most important thing moving forward. Nicolle Schaeffer shared why:
“The most vulnerable among us are going to be even more vulnerable and we as a community have to look out for them.”