This summer Baltimore middle school teacher Elisabeth Budd is developing a website with a very specific purpose, one that arose after online learning challenges in this year’s pandemic.
Budd will use the site to post the content that she teaches her students, so parents can see and help their child if they have any questions or issues at home. She hopes it will help her students and their parents ease into the school year when the city announces its decision about the fall semester.
Easing into the fall
Both public and private schools are considering the best way to teach students this fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues and the world awaits a vaccine. Not knowing what the next school year will be like has left many teachers like Budd working around uncertainty as they prepare.
“So for me, (I’ve been) troubleshooting and saying ‘How can I have better parent communication if we are completely virtual, or even hybrid,’” she says.
Budd hopes to begin accumulating more resources to improve family communication as well as prevent such problems as students who don’t participate or online classroom environments that don’t function well.
Bobby Mezewski, a special education teacher at North Bend Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, has dedicated the summer to helping other teachers develop online lessons while also bettering his own understanding of technology.
“I feel like I’m maximizing my time off in the summer to build systems that will support my own teaching, but also other teachers,” he says. “I’m planning on doing more Google certification this year as well. I’m going forward with the concept that virtual learning is going to continue to happen.”
Ready for anything
Other teachers, however, are using the summer to prepare content that pertains to events happening across the nation. Michelle Ardillo, a language arts teacher at St. Jude Regional Catholic School in Montgomery County, is writing lesson plans to include the Margot Lee Shetterly novel “Hidden Figures” in her class’s curriculum.
“I think this book will work well with the current focus on diversity and racial equality. I am hoping to offer it to my colleagues who teach math, science and social studies, as a cross-curricula unit,” she says.
While school systems haven’t rolled out official plans, certain proposals have been discussed, such as an A/B day schedule, hybrid learning (a mix of online learning and in-person learning), and recorded class lessons for those who don’t feel comfortable going back.
Mezewski heard from friends in other states who have told him that their school districts will use hybrid learning in the fall.
“I can only predict, but I see something similar happening in Maryland,” he says, adding there are a lot of complications. Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon laid out a blueprint for the fall return that included a number of suggestions. “But it left the ultimate decision on how learning was going to look next year to the specific school district,” he says. “So, all of the districts are kind of scrambling right now, trying to make sense of the document.”
Without knowing what the fall semester could hold, Ardillo says that she has felt the need to over plan in case of any situation.
“I feel like I am doubling up on what I would be doing already. I am worried that we will go back in the classroom and then have to close again due to a resurgence of the virus. The uncertainty is stressful, and the planning for both scenarios is time-consuming,” she says.
As the start of the school year grows closer, many teachers, including Peter Ruhno, a special education teacher at Aberdeen Middle School in Harford County, felt that time was running out to make an official decision on the fate of the coming school year.
“There’s a lot of different plans, but nothing has been told to us as even like the preferred option yet,” Ruhno says. “I think that this month will be OK, I think the anxiety for teachers will start once the calendar switches to August, if we still don’t know.”
This week, in fact, Harford County Public Schools announced that learning in the fall will be online. The good news, Ruhno says, is that this past spring’s sudden switch from in-person learning to online learning will prepare students and teachers for this upcoming semester.
“We had a trial period where we could see what didn’t work and what we’d want to tweak,” he says.