WESTFIELD, NJ – The Westfield public school community continues to adapt to hybrid learning, nearly two months into the academic year.

“This is certainly a year none of us envisioned, but the fact is that there are a lot of people very focused on making sure we are doing the best we can regarding teaching and learning,” Superintendent Margaret Dolan said at Tuesday’s virtual school board meeting. “There is no doubt our students, our teachers, our administrators, our staff and our families are working very hard on this.”

Dolan said that the district has allowed certain groups of students to return to class four or five days a week, such as self-contained special-education classes and English language learners who are in the beginning of the process. The district is working to see if additional students, such as those who receive special education, could be brought back for more classroom time as well, she said.

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Meanwhile, Dolan said, the district continues to work closely with the local health department. “We are in constant contact with the Westfield Regional Health department to monitor COVID cases, and to ensure that all possible measures are taken to ensure the safety of the school community,” she said.

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Feedback from parents has also been vital, Dolan said, adding that the district is considering a change to the middle school schedule as a result of parent feedback.

“We continue to listen, and we continue to try to make things better and better,” Dolan said.

Several of the district’s academic supervisors also joined the meeting to discuss how teachers and students are adapting to this new way of learning.

“Teachers have worked tirelessly to adapt their teaching into this hybrid model,” said Elizabeth Reilly, the English language arts supervisor for grades K-5. “It’s been really wonderful to see all the hard work, and how it’s created a really wonderful community.”

One major change is the inability to conduct hands-on experiments or lessons.

“Our ability to do that effectively has been changed significantly,” said Tom Paterson, the district’s science supervisor. “We are pivoting and making changes to the resources that we use to implement the curriculum, so that they best fit this current learning environment.” Paterson said this includes having teachers demonstrate experiments while in-person and remote students observe.

“The hands-on learning experiences in social studies is kind of what is missing, and what we’re trying to figure out is how to simulate that experience in the hybrid model,” said social studies supervisor Andrea Brennan. “Students are still working collaboratively … but it definitely looks and feels different.”

Supervisors noted that the new model makes it more hard to understand when a student is having difficulty.

“Figuring out when a student is struggling based on body language has become difficult or impossible, both in-person and remote,” Paterson said.

However, the supervisors agreed that students are reaching out for help when they need it.

“Students, even at the elementary level, are learning to self-advocate,” Reilly said.

“Students are really being, for the most part, dedicated, flexible, understanding and definitely reaching out,” Brennan said.

Some students are using office hours, when they can meet directly with their teachers.

“They have that direct connection with the teacher in those virtual hours that they wouldn’t have had outside this hybrid model,” Reilly said.

Teachers are seeing the benefits of these hours as well.

“Teachers are using those office hours as really enriching opportunities for students,” said mathematics supervisor Elizabeth Delasandro.

The adjustment has also been difficult for teachers, the supervisors said.

“This year is kind of like running a marathon in a maze. You literally can’t really tell what comes next. And that’s really hard if you’re a teacher whose career hinges on routines,” said Warren Hynes, the English language arts supervisor for grades 6-12.

Despite these challenges, the supervisors said, teachers have worked hard to adapt.

“They are making it happen with extraordinary hours put in, and incredible grit and resilience,” Hynes said.

“I think some of them really need to hear that they’re doing OK, and that they are doing good things,” Reilly said, adding that complimenting a teacher can go a long way.

As the school year continues, Dolan said that teachers and administrators will remain focused on making the learning environment the best it can be for students.

“This is impossible, what we’re asking them [teachers] to do. And they’re working on it,” Dolan said. “We know we’re not done, we continue to work, but boy have we learned a lot in these last several months.”

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