Smith Voc students return

  • From left, health and technology teacher Tara Sherman and librarian Leslie Skantz-Hodgson stand with other teachers and staff at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton to welcome students back as they drive in for the first day of school. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kristen Keane, a special education teacher at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, stands with her two children, left, Myles, 7, and Nolan, 10, to welcome students back to school on the first day. Keane and other staff hired tutors to help their children with their remote learning on the Smith Voc campus so that they can bring their kids to school with them. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • From left, health and technology teacher Tara Sherman and librarian Leslie Skantz-Hodgson stand with other teachers and staff at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton to welcome students back as they drive in for the first day of school. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kristen Keane, a special education teacher at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, stands with her two children, left, Myles, 7, and Nolan, 10, to welcome students back to school on the first day. Keane and other staff hired tutors to help their children with their remote learning on the Smith Voc campus so that they can bring their kids to school with them. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/14/2020 6:50:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As most students in the city and surrounding areas begin their school year fully remote, students at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School had the now-unique experience of returning to school for in-person instruction on Monday.

As some students arrived back to campus for the first time since March, staff members wore school colors and waved pom-poms in the air “to really set that positive tone that we’ve been looking forward to our students coming back for a long time,” said Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker, “and today it finally happened.”

Smith Voc is enacting a hybrid learning model in which two cohorts of students will rotate through a week of in-person learning followed by a week of remote learning. All traditional academic classes will be completed remotely, while vocational classes will take place in person.

Only seniors returned on Monday, where they completed an orientation designed to familiarize them with the social distancing regulations and shop protocols that they will need to follow at school. Over the next three days, juniors, sophomores and freshmen will also have their own day to acquaint themselves with their school during the era of COVID-19. Additionally, teachers for academic classes met with students to talk about what their remote classes will entail.

About 50% of students will be on campus at any time during the school day.

Like other area school districts, Linkenhoker said, school officials agreed that traditional academics should be taught remotely at the moment due to public health concerns. But for vocational classes, a quality education is “next to impossible” to conduct virtually, Linkenhoker said.

“We really felt that as a vocational school, how do you conduct the hands-on learning in a shop remotely?” he added, noting that many vocational schools in Massachusetts have needed to tailor their reopening plans around this consideration.

Linkenhoker said that the first day went “extremely well” overall, noting that students were respectful of social distancing rules. Many held jobs over the summer that enacted similar protocols, Linkenhoker said, which made the transition less abrupt.

The school day itself has also been adjusted under the hybrid model. Due to concerns about the ability to maintain physical distancing in the cafeteria, students will receive a grab-and-go lunch and return home at midday. The remainder of the school day will be dedicated to remote opportunities to follow up with teachers or other school services.

The school is providing Wi-Fi hot spots for students who do not have reliable internet access at home, Linkenhoker said, noting that some come to Smith Voc from communities where internet options are limited. The cafeteria will also be stocked with technology and accessible to students who do not have adequate internet service during their remote learning weeks, providing a space where they can physically distance with reliable connection.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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