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How HVRHS teachers are adapting

COVID-19 protocols

FALLS VILLAGE — Last March, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Region One schools closed abruptly and shifted to remote or distance learning.

For the 2020-21 school year, the six K-8 schools reopened for in-person learning, and Housatonic Valley Regional High School (HVRHS) used a hybrid model, combining in-person and online instruction.

Some of the teachers at the high school are in the building, and some opted to work remotely.

Three HVRHS teachers spoke to The Lakeville Journal about their experience in the current school year.

Science teacher Letitia Garcia-Tripp said the problem of doing lab assignments for biology and chemistry students was overcome by a grant from the 21st Century Fund for HVRHS. The grant allowed for the purchase of lab kits that were sent home to students.

Garcia-Tripp is working from home, so she has to maneuver between the students who are in the building and those who are at home.

“We find ways to make it work,” she said.

“It’s very different than last spring,” she continued, referring to the total shift to remote learning. “We were in survival mode then.”

Garcia-Tripp said in an effort to get her students away from the computer and out of the house, she assigns activities that require the students to go outside.

Challenges to
hands-on learning

Agriculture education teacher Rene Boardman, who is working in the building, said one good thing that has come out of the combination of distance and in-person learning is adopting new digital tools, such as the Jamboard, which she described as “an interactive whiteboard.”

One disadvantage is the difficulty of maintaining a high level of classroom discussion, she noted.

She said some students seem to thrive during online discussions, while others remain quiet. 

And because agriculture education relies on hands-on experiences, the department has been looking for ways to combine the practical with the remote.

One example: A seed-starting activity that can be done from home.

Boardman said she has had to make changes on the fly. In a “farm-to-table” class involving food preparation, she thought she had her in-person students at a sufficient distance from each other, but she ended up having to spread the students out over a much larger area.

“We keep a positive attitude, and share it with the kids,” she said. “It can only get better.”

Social studies teacher Deron Bayer is working from home. He echoed Boardman’s observation about the difficulties of class discussion when some students (and the teacher) are online and some students are in the school building.

He said he has found an application in the Google suite of apps that is useful. It allows him to post a question based on assigned reading, and for students to post their responses and react to other students’ replies.

Bayer said when HVRHS shifted to all-remote learning prior to Christmas (and through Jan. 19) he noticed that participation in class discussion improved dramatically. Bayer chalked it up to the students in different “cohorts” interacting with each other for the first time in the school year.

But the improvement was short-lived, he said. “The first week was great, but then it died down.”

Bayer said he is available online for one-on-one work as needed, and keeps his lines of communication open with Google Hangout, another application in the Google suite.

Bayer said he is a proponent of document-based questions, and the online format works reasonably well for this type of instruction.

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