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‘Hybrid Classes’ and ‘Blended Learning’ in the Era of COVID-19

Hedge fund managers threaten public schools.
The ongoing coronavirus crisis is presenting New York City Public Schools with profound educational challenges.

New York, NY – Hybrid classrooms are in full swing in New York City and some of the teachers in the Integrated Co-Teaching and the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math classes have managed to adjust to the new normal due to their specialized programs. 

Karen Miller is a second-grade teacher for in-person blended learning and the ICT program at P.S. 15 in Manhattan. 

ICT is a program that mixes general education and special education students in the same classroom, which is served by two teachers – one for general education and the other special education.

“I have a passion for children,” said Miller. “The biggest concern that I had besides COVID-19 was the climate of the country. Our students’ lives have been lifted into disarray. I know what the little ones need is to not feel abandoned by their teachers, but a sense of calm and a sense of consistency.”

As an ICT teacher, Miller had experience working collaboratively with another teacher and the school did not have to seek for someone to teach the remote classes. 

“She took the ICT partnership and one-person was the in-person teacher, that will be me and the other was the remote,” said Miller, a nearly seven-year UFT member. “We don’t look at it that way though, we are the second-grade teachers. My children need to see me whether they are remote or in-person. The children in the classroom need to see her. We stand by that, we strive for that and we work for that. At our 9 a.m. meeting, we Zoom the children in.”

Miller takes pride in her school and is thankful that her principal Irene Sanchez listened to the teachers’ suggestion that educators “looped” with their students, especially those that need special education lessons and utilized the ICT two-teacher method. 

“She made a very smart decision,” said Miller. “Looping means you move up with [the children] into the next grade.”

Two things happen in the process of looping, teachers don’t have to spend the first two to three weeks getting to know students or re-explaining the rules of the classroom, and they already know where each pupil is learning-wise, therefore they jump right back into academics, according to Miller, a 16-year veteran teacher.

The late start to the school year gave educators more time to work out kinks in the technological devices that the children needed and to ensure that all students received them in the first place. 

“A lot of the city is using a Google platform or iLearn, but we are using a platform called Otus,” said Miller. “We found it to be a little more user-friendly. It is approved by the Department of Education and it lines up with all the nuances, like space for attendance and report cards.”

Miller’s 19 students are also using the Seesaw platform, which allows them to not simply answer questions, but it gives them the room to draw their answers, take a picture of their work or even leave video recordings for their teachers to explain their process on solving a problem. 

“It’s a differentiation on how they can respond to their lessons,” said Miller. “We are also an ICT class, so some in this group learn differently. So we are already giving them options on ways to response.”

Amy Sacks, the technology coordinator for P.S. 15, is also the STEAM teacher for the school’s 190 students and the Computer Science for All teacher for fellow educators who need to be updated on the technical aspect of using the devices. 

“I train teachers in computer science, I am responsible for the Makerspace education and I’m the tech access person at the school,” said Sacks. 

As a STEAM teacher, Sacks Makerspace has room to teach children how to use three different types of robotics, 3D printers, stop motion and a sewing machine for fiber arts, cricut machines and silk screening, according to the 19-year veteran teacher. 

The extra days that teachers’ fought for helped Sacks a lot. 

“In terms of technology, the extra days were extremely helpful because it gave us an opportunity to help families update devices, fix devices that weren’t working, fix broken devices and to get devices to students that didn’t have devices,” said Sacks. “We were able to open our back school yard to schedule appointments with families so that they can work with it.”

The students and teachers weren’t able to get a hand of all those devices until late September, according to the STEAM teacher, who is teaching grades three to five in-person and one to two remotely.

“Our devices are being used for teaching, but the other ways it is being used is for is parent engagement – office hours are also opened up to the parent every day. Every teacher has it for 20 minutes in the afternoon. That gives them the opportunities to ask questions on Zoom. It is also used for emails as our other way of communication,” said Sacks. 

The devices can also be used by teachers to get alerts from the school dismissal people that a parent is on campus to pick up a child and later use that information to escort a child to the proper exit outside the school using social distancing, according to Sacks. 

Teachers also spent their summer coming up with an entry plan for students to get back to school, safety procedures that even included how to use the bathroom and how to use the electronic devices at the school, according to Sacks. Some of their ideas were brainstormed as far back as the March 15 shutdown. 

“The DOE iPads were great because they came Wi-Fi-enabled, had sim cards and a lot of data on it,” said Sacks. “Now when they come into the school, they don’t have to use our internet they have their own network that starts automatically.”

Other than updating devices, new students needed to be outfitted with the a device, students that were using their parents’ tablets had to get a DOE device, all the devices need the current apps for new lessons and a homepage was put on their iPads, according to Sacks, an eight-year UFT member. 

“We are finally at a point where we had enough devices for our school,” said Sacks. “At one point we ran out and needed more or had devices that belonged to the DOE, but were not central or Wi-Fi enabled. So then we had to figure out who had the ones that were Wi-Fi enabled or not. Families had to shuffle and we would trade them out for another one.”

Less than half the student body will have in-person classes, according to Sacks. 

“For my younger students who are getting my synchronized lessons, who won’t necessarily be in my student meeting, I have time in my schedule that is called in-person check-in, where I will go to there classes and check-in on them,” said Sacks. “It is a cool way that my principal designed my schedule. Not everybody sees me in-person, but everybody gets seen.”

COVID-19 has resulted in Sacks rethinking how she teachers her engineering and design classes in her Makerspace. 

“I have to teach it with equity involved,” said Sacks. “The students are still getting everything that the in-person students are getting, it’s just a little different.”

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