Despite the challenges put forth by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, instruction has started off on a positive note for the Pine Bush, Wallkill and Valley Central School Districts.
For Pine Bush, the school year began with virtual learning for all students on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
“There are clearly some technological issues that everybody’s wrestling with,” said Superintendent of Schools Tim Mains. “But the participation rate was high and teachers were thrilled to start to get to know the kids in their class for this year.”
Mains added in an announcement on the district website that he hopes that instruction this fall will be true distance learning and for some, later blended learning. He noted that last spring tended to be closer to “crisis learning” rather than distance learning. The district is trying hard to make improvements that result in more meaningful instruction.
“But I ask parents to understand that while we will be doing our level best to refine our delivery, we are learning at the same time we are teaching,” Mains said. “That is one of the reasons we have worked some flexible time into the instructional calendar – so that teachers can continue to refine their craft and also to make sure they are reaching all students.”
In another couple of weeks, the district expects to bring pre-k and special class students to school for some in-person learning. At this time, the district is still scheduled to begin hybrid classes (for students whose parents chose that model) on Tuesday, Oct. 6. When they begin hybrid learning, the flex day at the secondary level will shift from Wednesday to Monday.
“Eventually, it is my hope that we can get all of our students back in school before this school year comes to an end,” Mains said. “We just don’t know for sure when that might be able to happen. Until it does, we will continue to offer you and your children the best we can under less-than-ideal circumstances.”
Like Pine Bush, the Wallkill Central School District began the academic year with all students on distance learning. The school year commenced on Wednesday, Sept. 9 and Superintendent of Schools Kevin Castle is pleased with how the first week went.
“I’m very appreciative and very pleased with how everyone responded,” he said. “From the students and their resiliency to the parents and their patience and to the teachers with their growth mindset and positive attitude that they’ve been demonstrating.”
He added that there have been some technical issues, which are planned to be resolved over the next few days by the district’s technology department.
“I’ve had the ability to visit all the buildings and in fact had the opportunity to participate in some of the Zoom sessions,” Castle said. “Just overall very pleased. And I knew that was going to be the case, I had confidence that that was gonna happen. We have a great faculty and staff and our administrators are doing a heck of a job preparing for this.”
This year, Wallkill teachers are far more equipped to handle distance learning than they were last year. Over several months, teachers and administrators developed a distance learning plan. In this plan, live instruction is taking place every day. This is in contrast to last year, when it was up to teachers to decide whether they wanted synchronous or asynchronous learning. There was no set schedule, where live instruction was guaranteed each day.
Jessica Hall, third grade teacher at Leptondale Elementary School, has been impressed with how her students have responded to virtual learning. She prefers this year’s virtual learning plan, which mimics students being in school.
“Our online learning this year is very structured with their schedule,” she said. “Their schedule virtually mimics them actually being in school for the day. So my students start every single day at 9 o’clock with a morning meeting and they know that after the morning meeting we have our math class at 9:20 so they log live into that meeting and then we do our math instruction for the day.”
The district’s next step is to bring students safely back into school. From Oct. 5 through Oct. 8, students will come in at 25 percent capacity with Oct. 9 designated as an online learning day for groups A and B. Beginning Oct. 13, students will come in at 50 percent capacity.
The first day of school for the Valley Central School District was Friday, Sept. 4 and was virtual for all.
However, after the first day of school, Valley Central began in-person learning.
All Valley Central students have been separated into two teams: Team 1 and Team 2. Hybrid instruction for the district is a combination of in-person at 50 percent capacity and online/remote learning.
Team 1 attends school in person on Monday and Thursday. They receive online/remote instruction on Tuesday and Friday. Team 2 attends school in person on Tuesday and Friday and has online/remote instruction on Monday and Thursday. Teams 1 and 2 alternate in-person and online/remote learning each Wednesday.
Special education (12:1:1, 6:1:2, 8:1:2, Life Skills) and Alternate Learning Center at Maybrook students attend school in person five days a week. Students were also given the option of all online instruction.
Marianne Serratore, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the district, was pleased with how the first week of school went.
“I am very happy with the way the first week went,” she said. “We’re one of the few schools in the surrounding area that opened up with in-person school and I have to say that I am very pleased with the outcome of all the hard work of the teachers and administrators and the support staff because it has gone better than I could have expected.”
Like Pine Bush and Wallkill, Valley Central has had its fair share of technological glitches during distance learning. They are working together as a team to overcome those glitches. The district plans to order more web cameras, which are currently on backorder.
Serratore added that in-person instruction has been easier than virtual instruction, as teachers have more experience teaching in that format.