Hybrid learning a toss-up, Northampton school survey shows

  • Screenshot of survey results

  • Bridge Street School parents wait outside the Northampton elementary for the dismissal of students shortly after noon on Friday, March 13, 2020, at the end of a previously scheduled half day. Superintendent John Provost announced Friday that Northampton Public Schools would be closed to students from March 14 to March 28.

Staff Writer
Published: 10/18/2020 9:00:13 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Students, caregivers and staff are divided over whether city schools should transition to a hybrid model, a survey shows.

The survey, with more than 2,000 responses, shows 40% against the proposal, 38% in favor, and 22% unsure. Of the survey respondents, 46% are caregivers, 12% staff, and 38% students, according to the survey data obtained through a public information request.

The School Committee plans to vote on whether the district will move to a hybrid plan — meaning students would get some instruction online and some in person — at its meeting Thursday evening. Certain prioritized students, such as those with individualized education plans, have already been able to come in person for services.

The School Committee is also meeting Tuesday evening to discuss recommendations from the Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC), which includes school nurses, teachers, and a School Committee member. The JLMC is voting on those recommendations at its meeting Monday, according to the agenda.

In the survey, caregivers were split on whether to move to hybrid: 42.4% said yes, while 41.6% said no and 16% were unsure.

“I am a nurse. I worked during the pandemic. I saw a lot of horrible sights from the virus,” one respondent said in the survey’s comments section. “It’s still uncertain how it will affect each person. I, as a parent, don’t believe this would be safe for all children.”

Another person wrote in favor of hybrid learning, saying that “my children are BEGGING to go back to school ... It is infuriating to me that the town is opening restaurants and stores but not schools. Our children seem like they are the lowest priority. I would give up any right to go out to dinner if it meant the kids were allowed back in school. Please!”

The survey was sent out electronically and posted on the district’s website, and the district followed up with a robocall, according to Superintendent John Provost. He is working on a presentation of the survey results and said he was not ready to share his conclusions until he met with district leadership this week.

Lonnie Kaufman, vice-chairman and spokesman for the School Committee, said he has looked at the data. “I would hope that this data is part of our conversation and part of our thinking about where all our stakeholders’ minds are at,” he said of the committee.

‘Better than in the spring’

Of the staff who filled out the survey, the majority, 60%, did not want to move to a hybrid model, while 16% were in favor and 24% were unsure.

When asked about what was working about remote learning, one student wrote: “Better than in the spring. I feel like I’m actually learning.”

“Well, for starters I don’t have COVID-19, and I do not think I could confidently say that if I was in school right now,” another student said. Others echoed that point: “My child, school staff, and the teachers do not have COVID-19.”

A staff member wrote, “As someone with a compromised immune system, I am very grateful for the opportunity to continue teaching during the pandemic.”

Compared to spring, many staff members said school is going better. “Students are logging in each day and attendance has been much better than in the spring,” one wrote.

Many commended teachers for their efforts. “The teachers are trying hard to create a robust curriculum and a class community,” one parent wrote.

But, parents, students, and staff also cited problems with remote learning. Many, particularly parents, complained about too much screen time. “Kids are fried by end of day due to staring at screens,” one person wrote.

Another said their 11-year-old “complains of head and eye aches almost daily.” One put it frankly: “My child loses their f---ing mind after staring at a screen for a couple hours a day.”

Others said remote learning wasn’t effective. “Remote kindergarten is borderline useless, though big kudos to our teacher for genuinely making an effort, making the best of it,” one caregiver wrote.

Changed behaviors

Another concern: mental health. One parent said their kindergartner started chewing on his shirts. “I consulted a doctor and child therapist who both said this was a sign of anxiety,” the parent wrote. “I have talked to many other parents who are seeing their own children struggle. He had never exhibited this behavior.”

A lack of socializing is also difficult. “It’s my first year in middle school and I don’t get to make friends or interact with anyone,” a student wrote, “and I will never have a real first year of middle school. And there were so many clubs and things I wanted to do but now I’m unable to do them, and I think I’m going to barf if I look at one more computer screen.”

Remote learning is difficult for working parents. “As a single parent with 3 kids in elementary school, trying to work from home,” one wrote, “nothing is working well.” Another said, “I work nights and staying up all day with them while mom works is very difficult.”

A lack of strong internet connection was an issue for some. Several staff members said the Wi-Fi at JFK Middle School is not strong enough.

“I can barely get in contact with those students,” one staff member said. “It is really a shame that students who need the most help do not have reliable internet in school buildings.”

Provost said the school had connectivity issues for several hours after a windstorm caused a power outage, but he was not aware of other problems.

Some teachers expressed other frustrations. “I (a teacher) am working 12+ hours per day during the week, and several hours over the weekend. The workload feels continuous, and there seems to be no end in sight.”

“Students do not learn this way,” another said. “As a teacher I am killing myself trying to provide more than just ‘talking at students.’”

Information about how to join Tuesday’s and Thursday’s Zoom School Committee meetings can be found on the city’s website.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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