THE HUB - Feature Article

  • Navigating a ‘Messy’ Return to School

    Posted by George Arlotto on 10/22/2020

    Messy.

    That’s the word I have used most often to describe the hybrid learning model that the Board of Education recently approved and which is set to be implemented in November for students in ECI programs, prekindergarten, kindergarten, and first through fifth grades. I’ve used it because I want to be up front with our families, our employees, and our community.

    A hybrid learning model – any hybrid learning model – is going to be accompanied by complexities and limitations that cause consternation and discord. Ours is no exception, and we must rid ourselves of the notion that any initial return to our school buildings will be a re-entrance to an environment identical to the one we left in March. It will not.

    There are, of course, things that will not change. Our amazing educators, administrators, support professionals, and other AACPS teammates will continue to be just that. The work they did to pivot on a moment’s notice last spring and enhance their capabilities over the summer in order to deliver creative, quality instruction and support to students this fall has been both phenomenal and inspirational. They will continue to rise to the challenge, because that’s who they are.

    However, we have students and families in many different places today and their needs vary greatly. Meeting those varied needs is difficult in any plan. The introduction of multi-modal family choice (hybrid, virtual for the first semester, or virtual for the full year) combined with the variety of scenarios for employees means that there must be change.

    Students – even those who will engage in a hybrid format – may not have the same teacher with whom they began the year. Because we will be transporting students to and from schools and need to allow for middle school and high school transportation in the future, start and dismissal times for those enrolled in hybrid learning will revert to the school hours of last year. Those students learning virtually for the remainder of the semester will also see their school hours change. Students who will remain virtual learners for the entirety of the school year will keep their current school hours.

    There will be health and safety adjustments as well, most notably the wearing of masks and physical distancing. We will utilize outdoor areas where possible and allow as much student movement, albeit limited, as we can. Circle time will not look as it did in March, and the use of shared supplies and spaces will also be limited for safety reasons. Meals will be served in classrooms, and cultural arts instruction will continue to be delivered virtually. We will ask families to screen their students for COVID-19 symptoms before sending them off to school and employees to screen themselves before heading to work.

    I firmly believe that the model we have worked on since last spring at the direction of our board is a good one, and it will work for many of our students. That said, however, we are akin to a boat in a stormy sea, rocking with the waves as we chart the best course for 85,000 unique learners. We are grateful for the input from our families and employees that have helped shape this plan, and we will continue to adjust it to the best of our ability as circumstances dictate.

    As we do so, we will rely in part on the lessons we have learned throughout this process about instructional creativity and student and family engagement. We are teaching students in ways we never envisioned a year ago. Our virtual Back to School events and parent-teacher conferences were incredibly well attended, and our schools have employed creative methods to engage families and staffs for the betterment of students.

    As we embark on this course, we must band together to work through the messiness. We must also acknowledge that the mess doesn’t eliminate the magic, and that’s what our educators bring to students and families every single day.

    George Arlotto is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@aacps.org.

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