BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The district is just a few weeks into hybrid mode after starting the year off completely virtual, and Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association President Laura Kress said it’s going fine.
The district opened the school year completely virtual, and moved to a hybrid model as of Oct. 12, with students being able to opt for in-person instruction or stay completely virtual. Students have been split into cohorts, and attend school two days a week in grades kindergarten through eight, with Wednesdays being virtual for everyone while the schools are cleaned.
The high school has three cohorts because of the number of students in the school.
Kress said the hybrid model has been a bit more difficult for the primary schools than the older kids, but that everyone is making the most of the situation.
Kress said it is also fairly uneven across the district with regard to the distribution of students present.
“The distribution of opt-outs across the district is not even, and streaming in at that level does not come without issues as well,” she said of the teachers dealing with just a few students in class while also managing the rest of the students virtually.
For switching classes in the older grades, Kress said, the teachers are actually switching and the students are staying where they are.
“So we have to pick up our computers and things and move to different classrooms,” she said. “Kids move for physical education, World Language and one other, but otherwise they are sitting there for four hours.”
Kress said that many of the students are excited to be back even though things are still not normal.
“This is not life as it was,” she said. “There are no lockers, no separate homerooms, no bathroom socializing.”
In addition, Kress said, they don’t have a lot of group work because it is hard to match the students together based on who is in the classroom and who is on Google Meet, plus the students can’t get close enough in person to work together because of social distancing.
But despite everything, Kress said, they are making it work, and the teachers are excited to have their students back in the classroom.
“It’s not optimal, it’s mostly doable,” she said. “But we will adapt as we always do.”
Kress said that fortunately the teachers have a lot more planning time, and they are getting that by virtue of the way the schedule is. The students are in school until around 12:30 or so, depending on the grade level, and then the teachers have time in their classrooms through the afternoon for planning purposes.
“Everything I’ve taught, I’ve had to now make it a virtual lesson,” she said.
Kress said the teachers wish they saw their students more than once a week in the older grades, but with the number of students allowed and only having some of the classes each day because of block scheduling, there is no other way to make it work.
“If we were to do a whole day, it would be too much for the kids and for us,” she said. “And there would not be enough time to continue planning.”
Kress said she understands there is more onus on the students at home to make sure they are understanding and keeping up with the lessons.
“There is more onus on the children at home to be responsible for themselves,” she said. “There’s a lot more responsibility put on the individual student to maneuver the situation.”
For those students doing hybrid learning now, Kress said, it’s a much better personal connection, and the teachers are happy to see everyone.
“For the students who are coming in, even for a day, the cohorts are not filled, so the kids are getting really great attention,” she said.
With the school having extra time between the start of school in September and the start of hybrid learning in October, the needed personal protective equipment and all other work on ventilation and more was taken care of, Kress said.
“All the ventilation in the district is now pretty much at manufacturer’s specs, with a few exceptions, as opposed to the reverse,” she said. “Not to say there aren’t problems, the buildings are old, but this has moved us in the right direction.”
The district will remain in hybrid mode for the time being, although there were three reported positive cases recently, one at Hillside Intermediate and two at Bridgewater-Raritan High School. In a message to the community, interim superintendent Thomas Ficarra said they are following all health guidelines and those who need to quarantine have been contacted and given directions for moving forward.
And anyone who is currently on full virtual can choose to switch to hybrid starting with the second marking period. The district is expecting to remain in hybrid until at least the beginning of February.
Overall, Kress said, the administration has upped its game to make sure all safety measures are in place.
Still, Kress said, the district can’t operate in this fashion long term, neither hybrid nor virtual. She said there is no way the students are getting everything they need to be successful, and they will have to figure out a long-term solution if necessary.
“Schools can’t operate in this fashion long term,” she said. “It’s too much stress on us as teachers to do all this juggling and jostling, and it’s too much for the kids. We have to up our game as a county, if not a state.”