Staying the course: How Hadley has kept schools open during pandemic, giving families a choice

  • James Kinchla walks down the hall to find his place in line as Michelle Wojtowicz’s second grade class at Hadley Elementary School goes to the gym for morning meeting. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Students raise their hand during a math lesson in Michelle Wojtowicz’s second grade class at Hadley Elementary School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michelle Wojtowicz, a second grade teacher at Hadley Elementary School, helps Henry Morrow during class Wednesday morning. Left is Zadok Kopec and in white is Ellie Kim. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Julian Vinard raises his hand for help in Michelle Wojtowicz’s second grade class at Hadley Elementary School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Front, Zadok Kopec and Henry Marrow, second graders in Michelle Wojtowicz class at Hadley Elementary School, get the math assignment out of a plastic bag full of work. The students keep the bag in their back packs since they never know when schools might get shut down again. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Second grade students in Michelle Wojtowicz’s class at Hadley Elementary School enjoy the movement part of morning meeting. The class meets in the gym for group activities so they can stay six feet apart. “We practice the Responsive Classroom philosophy which stresses interaction, community, and team building through group activities which has been adapted as much as possible to the gym,” explained Wojtowicz. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Second grade students in Michelle Wojtowicz’s class at Hadley Elementary School enjoy the movement part of morning meeting. The class meets in the gym for group activities so they can stay 6 feet apart. “We practice the Responsive Classroom philosophy, which stresses interaction, community, and team building through group activities, which has been adapted as much as possible to the gym,” explained Wojtowicz. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michelle Wojtowicz, a second grade teacher at Hadley Elementary School, begins the school day on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Darrow Pfannenstiel answers a question during morning meeting in Michelle Wojtowicz’s second grade class at Hadley Elementary School. To the left is Yairaliz Martin Rodriguez and Henry Morrow. The class meets in the gym for group activities so they can sit six feet apart. “We practice the Responsive Classroom philosophy which stresses interaction, community, and team building through group activities which has been adapted as much as possible to the gym,” explained Wojtowicz. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • April Camuso, the principal of Hopkins Academy, talks about the model of remote instruction with in-person support offered at the high school during the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jenn Dowd, the principal at Hadley Elementary School, talks about how they have continued in person education during the pandemic. “There is not one right side. I have never said no to a family who wanted to come to school or one who wanted to stay home,” Dowd said. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Rachel Shlosser,17, signs into her psychology class while Sara Beauchamp attends a study hall and Francis Fazio teaches band in his office at Hopkins Academy in Hadley. Superintendent Anne McKenzie, calls the model remote instruction with in person support. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michelle Wojtowicz, a second grade teacher at Hadley Elementary School, helps Anna Damon during class Wednesday morning, Feb. 24, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anne McKenzie, the superintendent of schools in Hadley, talks about how the district has stayed open during the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Josiah Beck,17, in his environmental science class, Rachel Shlosser,17, in psychology, and Sara Beauchamp attends a study hall while Francis Fazio teaches band in his office at Hopkins Academy in Hadley. Superintendent Anne McKenzie, calls the model remote instruction with in-person support. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sara Beauchamp attends a study hall while Francis Fazio teaches band in his office at Hopkins Academy in Hadley. Superintendent Anne McKenzie, calls the model remote instruction with in-person support. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anna Damon works on her math in Michelle Wojtowicz's second grade class at Hadley Elementary School. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Francis Fazio teaches band in his office, at Hopkins Academy, while three students in his cohort attend classes being taught remotely on the other side of the glass. Superintendent Anne McKenzie, calls the model remote instruction with in-person support. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A water fountain taped off so it will not be used by students who have decided to come to school for the remote instruction with in-person support option at Hopkins Academy in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Students at Hopkins Academy in Hadley attend remote classes in a classroom with Mark Scott, the physics and geology teacher. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cameron Wade, 16, attends remote class with other students in a room with Mark Scott, the physics and geology teacher at Hopkins Academy in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Norah Zarzecki, a paraprofessional at Hopkins Academy in Hadley, walks through the empty hall ways during the day of remote instruction with in person support which goes from 7:20 to noon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/28/2021 7:21:15 PM

HADLEY — In the band room at Hopkins Academy, three seniors wearing headphones and face coverings sit at desks spaced six feet apart, participating in high school classes via laptops as most of their peers learn from home.

Rachel Shlosser, 17, says she appreciates being in this so-called cohort with Sarah Beauchamp, 18, and Josiah Beck, 17.

“I came back because I wasn’t getting as much work done at home,” Shlosser says. “I can get much more work done with human interaction other than just my family.”

“My parents wanted me to come back, but I also like being in the classroom,” said Beauchamp. “I’ve been in the house for the last year, so it’s nice to come in just to get out of the house.”

While all Hopkins students have been eligible to return to the school building since October, these seniors are fewer than 40 of the 218 Hopkins students who have returned. All instructors, though, are teaching from classrooms, including music teacher Fran Fazio, whose office is at one end of the band room.

“A lot of families are at the point where they are comfortable at home,” Hopkins Principal April Camuso said.

Less than a mile away at the Hadley Elementary School, most of the 21 second-graders Michelle Wojtowicz teaches are in class every morning, washing their hands as they arrive and placing their backpacks with all materials, including individual whiteboards and water bottles, on the back of their chairs as the day’s lessons begin.

“It’s been fine,” said Sarah Miller, 8, comparing the experience to when she was in first grade when school went entirely remote last March. “I like my teacher a lot, but it’s hard to wear a mask. We also have to stay 6 feet apart.”

“I like to be in school and that makes me happier because I can see my friends in person,” said Ben Brugger, 8. Like Sarah, Ben said it can be difficult wearing a face covering, though he quickly observes that he and his friends “just go with the flow.”

In-person support

Hadley’s public schools are among the only ones in the region that, since last fall, have given families a choice as to whether their children, from preschool through 12th grade, will be in the school buildings every day, or continue to be educated remotely.

At the elementary school, 213 of the 253 children are back for in-person learning while at Hopkins, the middle and high schoolers have mostly remained remote.

Students who have returned at Hopkins for the second phase of reopening are getting what Superintendent Anne McKenzie calls remote instruction with in-person support.

Camuso said that students stay in what is homeroom from 7:20 a.m. to noon under the supervision of a teacher, with some mask breaks outdoors where they also remain with their “cohort.” Camuso said these constraints are viewed as the safest way to not mix students.

When students go home for lunch, the rest of the day is remote and spent, from 12:30 to 2 p.m., in the My Career in Academy Planning or MyCAP, program.

For the four to five classes each day in school, everyone wears headphones and uses Chromebooks, with the ability for breakout rooms from the classes Google Classroom, Google Meets and Zoom. Though Shlosser and Beauchamp sit next to each other and in the same math class, their participation is done virtually just like students at home.

Jason Burns, the head teacher at Hopkins and former union president, said administrators and teachers worked closely on the plan design.

“Overall, the staff is fairly happy with how it functions,” Burns said. “It runs as smoothly as it can, and it’s what staff felt was the safest way to get back into the building.”

Reading the room

He said it can be a challenge with students to whom he is teaching U.S. history or philosophy, who are mostly at home, not being able to read the room and get a response.

“You can’t do that with the Hollywood Squares on the screen,” Burns said.

At the elementary school, the more than 200 students are in the building from 8:25 a.m. to 1 p.m., with parents dropping off their children entering and exiting the school using multiple entrances as a protocol to enhance safety.

“We’re relying on the skill set of trying to be flexible,” Principal Jennifer Dowd said.

The dismissal comes so children can go home for lunch and for art, music and physical education to be taught remotely. This is done to limit interaction among different staff members and students.

Wojtowicz, who is part of the reopening team that has kept a collaborative environment open for teachers and administrators, is able to give individual attention to students, going to a child’s desk when a question arises.

She also is able to bring her class into the gym to lead Responsive Classroom, where students have the chance to practice what is known as full-body listening and self control, as well as sit in a large, socially distanced circle to share thoughts.

Multi-step tasks

Wojtowicz said that second graders have had to follow many multi-step tasks in their studies and shown a willingess to try new things.

“It’s a big expectation for second graders, but it has worked well,” Wojtowicz said.

When there is downtime, the children might do coloring or work with Playdough. “I’ve got a pretty artistic class,” Wojtowicz said.

Five additional students are learning via Google Classroom, and they have the same materials with them at home. For them, Wojtowicz carves time out of her day to interact via the computer and make sure they are getting the support they need.

Rebecca Gelinas, fourth-grade teacher and vice president of the Hadley Education Association, said she has appreciated that all but one student are present daily.

“It’s nice to see them and work with them directly,” Gelinas said.

Though infection is always possible, Gelinas said the students understand the need to protect each other. “Kids have been really good about following the safe and healthy guidelines,” Gelinas said.

What both Gelinas and Wojtowicz lament is that group instruction, a core part of working with young children, is not possible. “It breaks up the day in methods of instruction,” Gelinas said.

Recess is masked and zoned. Children can have snack at their desks, under 15 minutes in duration, while they use straws to drink from their water bottles.

McKenzie said many of the protocols are based on information from Harvard University professor Dr. Joseph Allen. To reduce risk, no lunch is served at either school and at least one air purifier is in each classroom.

The next phases at both schools begin Monday. This won’t be a significant difference at the elementary school, though one school bus is being added. At Hopkins, the first three face-to-face classes will be offered, while the rest of the days will remain in the cohort model to reduce mixing.

About 156 students are committed to being back in this staggered approach that will still allow all students to be at least 6 feet apart.

Dowd said she has been in touch with other principals in the Pioneer Valley to provide input on how to safely reopen buildings, but when she began her tenure in fall 2018 she didn’t expect to become an expert in this.

“I didn’t anticipate we would have to problem-solve around COVID,” Dowd said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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