After having the equivalent of nearly a full school year out of the classrooms, students returned to Orange Schools on August 31. Given the option to remain home and learn remotely or go back to in-school instruction, 88% of families opted for their children to go back.
Under what the district refers to as ‘key mitigation strategies,’ there will be mandatory face coverings, cleaning/hygiene protocols, cohorting, social distancing, a thorough cleaning of the HVAC system and families encouraged to drive students to school.
Re-opening schools was a plan that has been in the works throughout the summer months. “The summer always passes by pretty fast, but by no surprise, this summer went by in a flash and a blink of an eye,” says Superintendent of Schools Vince Scarpetti. “Administrators, teachers and parents were very busy getting ready for the beginning of the school year.”
He said parents had a big decision to make, whether to send their kids back to school and that one of the biggest concerns from parents was around what remote learning will look like in the first phase. “Another question that’s come up is ‘am I able to change my mind?’ Absolutely, yes,” Scarpetti says. “This is a personal decision that families need to make based on what’s right for them. We support all of you throughout this process. The decision to change will take place on Monday of the following week.”
“I hope that we don’t enter Phase 2, which is hybrid, or Phase 3, which is total remote. Why do I hope that? Because that means the metrics have changed. But in case we do, we need to be prepared,” he says.
Evelyn Russo, curriculum director for the district says the plan, whether in school or not, focuses on social emotional lessons with consideration of the well-being of all children. “We have to teach students the new protocols and procedures. We will teach students how to work remotely, if we do need to make that shift. We know that student achievement is based on staff development,” she says.
Staff has spent the summer learning new tools and resources that they’ll need to use in today’s changed world. “We are going to rely on MobileMind, which has learning paths and micro-courses that teach in minute-long videos and then a task which a teacher engages in and submits for feedback,” Russo explains. “They’re really internalizing the learning by actually doing it and then getting feedback. It will allow teachers to increase their knowledge at whatever level they are. We needed teachers to become familiar with all of our distance learning tools and digital resources.”
While students are learning live from a classroom teacher, remote students will receive a schedule for when to stream in live through Google Meets. Teachers, using a conference webcam, will simultaneously teach students in the classroom and at home. “Ten to 20-minute mini lessons are related specifically to our curriculum. The mini lessons are for small group instruction – so if I’m a remote learner from home, I’m going to know when I need to tune in to get that differentiated instruction as well.”
Today’s environment has undoubtedly added to the responsibility focus of administrators. “We’re usually focused on education as a school system, but now, more than ever, we’re focusing on our facilities, too,” Scarpetti explains.
Facilities Director Mike Gray says that beyond duct cleaning and commissioning the ventilation system, all air handlers and grills have been cleaned thoroughly. “We’ve made certain that all the mechanicals—the dampers, air handlers, rooftop units, univents in the classrooms, motors, computer programs—are all aligned and are communicating and working properly,” he says. “I am feeling really confident in the steps that we have taken to prepare our schools, especially our ventilation system for the start of school,” he says.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent