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Elementary and Middle School Teachers Weigh in on District Restart Plans

hybridmodelPhoto Credit: The NotebookAt a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday August 11, the community heard from four members of the Scarsdale Teachers Association. They primarily discussed plans for hybrid learning at the high school. This week, we have the comments below from teachers represenatives for the elementary schools and middle school. Here is what they have to say about the Restart Plan:

Michelle Mangiamele, 2nd Grade Teacher at Edgewood Elementary School

My name is Michelle Mangiamele. This September starts my 15th year at the Scarsdale school district. I am currently a second grade teacher at Edgewood School and an STA officer. I write about the past, present and future of the perception, hope and goals of the elementary teacher.

The Past: Eleanor Roosevelt once said “We learn from living.” We have all learned something from the past five months. Remote learning was challenging for EVERYONE. Teachers were learning how to teach in a way in which they never had before. Parents were learning how to help their children academically. Children were learning how to be students at home. Everyone was anxious. Everyone was learning. Everyone was struggling. We were in a pandemic and we still are.

As we continue to live in this pandemic, we need to remember that we must learn from our past. There was a great deal of rhetoric, and unfortunately, in some cases unfair criticism regarding remote learning during the Spring. We should be looking closely at our current plan to evaluate whether it meets the Scarsdale vision statement. The statement that was agreed upon by the entire community, consisting of administrators, faculty and families. The statement was as follows, and I quote- “The Scarsdale Schools Restart efforts commit to providing an educational environment that is physically and emotionally safe; to establishing and nurturing connections within the full school community; and to fostering meaningful learning opportunities for each student regardless of the structure of schooling which takes place in the future.”

The Present Time: The best efforts of all the stakeholders, working endless hours, resulted in the AB plan. Benefits of this plan included but were not limited to the following:

Everyday contact with teachers would happen through a morning meeting that would include the entire class whether it was in person or zoom.

Twice weekly in person instruction with four uninterrupted hours would give teachers more opportunity to create nurturing connections as well as foster meaningful learning opportunities.

On days spent out of the classroom, children would have opportunities for independent studies, both synchronous and asynchronous, preparing them should the district need to suddenly pivot to remote learning.
When this plan was presented to the community at large, the vocal outcry resulted in the hasty adoption of the AM/PM model prompting the following conclusions:

Allowing two cohorts into the building on the same day poses a greater risk of a viral transmission to both students and teachers. The AM/PM model results in less actual instructional time for students. The AM/PM model does not prepare students for the remote learning experts believe to be inevitable.

Many questioned the Wednesday planning day for teachers in the AB model. This day was so that teachers could concentrate on a variety of eLearning opportunities for students. Its purpose was also to help teachers and students stay aligned with those who would solely be engaged in remote learning. Teachers need the time to plan collaboratively in order to provide meaningful learning experiences either synchronous or asynchronous, and support students for the transitions into and out of distance learning. The opportunity for a few summer planning days is NOT enough to sustain a year of lessons. Teachers do not feel prepared for another year of remote learning. Teachers need the opportunity to collaborate and plan, so they can improve remote learning experiences that students receive.

The pandemic remains unchecked in so many parts of the country that we can predict that we will all be back to remote learning at some point, and we need this time to prepare. In the AM/PM model teachers have 30 minutes of planning time and 60 minutes for lunch. It looks good on paper but teachers must leave their classrooms, possibly the building, during that time so that proper cleaning can take place in order for cohort B to come to school safely. How will this work logistically? Where will teachers prepare lessons and do their work? Where will teachers eat their lunch? The A/B model provided more instruction for students and more common planning time for teachers.

As we look into The Future: Our goal as educators is to provide our students with the best possible education. Moving forward, our hope is that the community continues to recognize us as professionals who possess the expertise and knowledge of how best to support our students’ academic needs. As we begin to prepare for the inevitable, we also hope that the community will strive to remember that remote teaching during a PANDEMIC is a unique situation, filled with its own specific set of challenges for parents and teachers alike. We need to remember THIS IS A PANDEMIC. Yes teachers are filming lessons, teaching lessons over zoom, providing independent practice, but we also need the help from our families to support the child’s educational needs. No elementary school student can teach him or herself. We must remember that no matter what any teacher does from any screen, elementary students need physical human contact to check in for understanding and possibly review a lesson. The elementary teachers of Scarsdale want to work and have a partnership with our families so that the child receives the best education possible. We all know that it takes a village, so let’s begin planning how to work together.

Will Maldarelli, Eighth Grade Teacher at Scarsdale Middle School

My name is Will Maldarelli. I have taught 8th grade social studies at the middle school since 2014 and have worked in the building in other roles and departments since 2007. On behalf of the teachers at Scarsdale Middle School, I have written the following.

In a typical year at this time in August, when I am thinking about my classroom and the start of a new school year, I excitedly plan for the group work, simulations, and collaborative lessons with colleagues that enhance the curriculum for my students. I drive to the Middle School and begin to set up and imagine a room full of students mingling and connecting, both socially and academically. I set up the pods of desks that at times define the space in Fountain 177, and I feel that sense of (at times, admittedly nervous) anticipation for the year that is to come.

When the school year starts and we hit the ground running, my students and I immediately begin establishing the relationships that I value so much and that allow for thoughtful, meaningful, honest work to take place. I drop-in on students (individually and when they are working together) at their desks, providing feedback for them as they work. I welcome casual lunch drop-ins for conversations about my class or life in general. I enjoy before and after school extra help sessions during which I am able to engage with my students in smaller groups and on an individual basis, again, getting to know them more deeply on academic and personal levels.

The developmentally appropriate moments between students that I often encounter in the hallway, the passing micro-interactions and small-talk amongst us that build rapport and comfort, the encouraging smile or a high five...these moments paint a modest glimpse into the middle school experience. And all of us want nothing more than to return to it. Having said all of that, we find ourselves in the midst of an immensely atypical August in what has been a most challenging year in the lives of many people. The anticipation that we teachers usually feel in August has the added stress of genuine concern and fear. I want to make it clear that in a hybrid model, though students will be physically present in school for some time during the week, state guidelines prevent my classroom (and anyone’s classroom for that matter) from even faintly resembling what it was back in February or in the descriptions I detailed earlier.

The unfortunate reality is that anything short of a return to five full days a week following the distribution of a vaccine or treatment inherently means less can be accomplished in our classes. These realities not only sadden me, they fill me with anxiety as I struggle to reimagine all that I know.

Working and speaking with middle school teachers regarding reopening over the past weeks, I can assert that most do not feel comfortable with the way school will look in the fall. That is a hard thing for me to say as their representative but also as a fellow teacher who will have to live in that reality. Unfortunately, this truth also applies to our students and the community - this will not be school as ANY of us know it, and that is a profoundly distressing thing to say. Middle School teachers are concerned - about their ability to teach as effectively as they have done in the past, about their health, about the health of their families, about the health of their students, and about the health of the families of their students.

We see ourselves as part of this community. We understand the needs of middle school students and methods of best practice. We understand concerns about curriculum coverage and depth and breadth of content. We understand the desire for a return to the physical building, both from a professional and deeply personal level. We understand that this community deserves the best education that we can provide and are used to providing.

And so I feel it necessary to say, if SMS opens in a hybrid model, that no one can or should expect a “return to normalcy” in September, as much as we all (and I mean ALL), want there to be. We have used our imagination. We have put in the deep, thoughtful work necessary to iterate and reiterate how Scarsdale Middle School will look in the fall. Despite all of this, we still cannot make it feel normal. This is a function of life during a pandemic.

The hybrid model may seem to solve the challenges that are facing us, particularly when it comes to in-person contact between teachers and students; however, in order to maintain social distancing and other procedures necessary to protect students, teachers, and families at home, no model will allow us to overcome the pervasive problems the pandemic presents to schools. Students will not be able to interact or socialize with each other as they have done in the past.

As teachers, we will continue to reimagine how we will most effectively engage our students in this new reality this Fall and beyond because that is who we are as people and as professionals and because we care deeply about your children. Teachers at the middle school continue to reach out to us as STA Officers, to their department chairs, and to each other throughout the summer, searching for that magic recipe that will allow us to do what we love in the way we are accustomed to doing it. Sadly, no recipe (short of an effective treatment or a vaccine) exists that could make that desire a reality. No model, hybrid or remote, can recreate what we have dedicated our careers to building. No model provides for a return to our most recent memory of stepping foot in the building back in March.

So in a few weeks, when school “reopens” (in whatever form it takes), please know that we are working to do all that we can to not only teach your children but also to make them feel that sense of community that is at the core of the SMS experience. The Middle School may be the “middle child” but (like any child) it is our child and we want it to be all that we know it can be and has been. The unfortunate reality is that a hybrid model cannot accomplish this goal. A final, personal note: I often refer to myself as a “cautious optimist.” I continue to hope that all stakeholders do their very best in this moment as we move forward into September with understanding, humility in the face of an immense challenge, and hope as we work through this crisis and look forward to a time when we can all, together, confidently and safely return to all that a Scarsdale education has to offer.

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