How one school is making in-person learning work

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 2:19 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 24, 2020 at 7:14 PM EDT
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TUNBRIDGE, Vt. (WCAX) - When Vermont education officials announced Tuesday that schools could expand in-person learning options and go back to all five-days in-person, Tunbridge Central School is one of the schools that decided to do just that.

“It’s really an equity issue. We felt that it was most fair for most children," said Michael Livingston, the school’s principal.

The school day is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Students are greeted by staff, given health checks, and spend most of their day in outdoor classrooms the community helped build. For the most part, students say they are happy being back full-time.

“Yeah, we come here five days a week. It’s no big deal,” said eighth-grader Jordan Castro.

“We come here five days a week, but I don’t necessarily think it’s the greatest idea. I like to see my friends, but I don’t think it’s the greatest idea corona-wise,” said Emma Morrill, a seventh-grader at the school. But she also says they wouldn’t want to learn through a hybrid model because of how difficult remote learning was in the spring. “We’d look at it and we wouldn’t know how to do it, or the internet wouldn’t come in for most of us.”

The White River Valley Supervisory Union put a lot of planning into how they would make this work. “It has exceeded my expectations in a huge way," said Livingston.

Karen Colby, a math teacher at the school, says she is good with being back and teaching outside. “There are challenges with it, but it’s gone well and we know it’s the safest place for us to be with students, so I think we are all embracing that," she said.

The new school rules are nothing like what students are used to, but for fifth-grader Oren Chapam, the outdoor experience is a benefit to being back. “We have mask breaks because you have fresh air and it’s not all cramped inside," he said.

It’s going so well, Livingston says some students who chose to begin school through a remote learning model, are returning to school instead.

“I honestly really like it. I like being around my friends and stuff and it is hard because you can’t high five and stuff like that," said eighth-grader Ellis Bogardus.

About 100 students go to the school. Livingston says the small size made tailoring the curriculum for students’ in-person return a bit easier. Even if there is no way to prove that being outside is preventing COVID cases within the school, he says it can’t hurt. “We are so grateful for the opportunity to be able to be back here with the kids for whatever amount of time we have. Obviously, we hope that can go as long as possible," he said.

As more schools are returning to in-person learning, they may start looking at schools, like Tunbridge to find ideas on how to make that work.

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Vt. education officials loosen restrictions; inter-school sports to begin Saturday

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