The 2020-2021 school year has begun and teachers and students in the Bordentown Regional School District are beginning the new school year like they ended last year’s – with virtual learning.
That is, until the school district receives the personal protective equipment (PPE) it needs for its schools to start in-person instruction and kick off its hybrid model.
Superintendent Dr. Edward Forsthoffer believes the district will have all the necessary PPE in place to start the hybrid plan next month.
“I think we will have all the operations, PPE and barriers in place to start by Oct. 13,” Forsthoffer said. “We’re still waiting for some supplies [before we] reopen.”
The district was preparing to start its hybrid model when the school year officially began on Sept. 3, but was pushed back a month by Forsthoffer on Aug. 19 because he felt that schools didn’t have enough of the equipment needed to keep both teachers and students safe.
Forsthoffer understands the importance of students needing in-person instruction and said that the district is doing the best it can to make that available to students during this pandemic. As a former elementary school principal, Forsthoffer said he knows firsthand how teamwork and social interaction can help students with their learning.
Right now, however, Forsthoffer feels safety needs to be the focus before that can occur.
“Everybody in education knows it’s better for kids to be in school,” Forsthoffer said. “We have to make sure it’s safe so families can send their kids back to school.”
The hybrid plan consists of students being separated by alphabetical order into two units, Group A and Group B.
Group A will go into school in the morning for three hours of in-person instruction, while Group B will have virtual learning that afternoon for three hours. They will switch the following day with Group B going into school for in-person classes and Group A doing virtual learning.
For virtual learning to start the year, high school and middle school students will follow a normal class schedule like they were attending school, while students attending MacFarland Intermediate School, Clara Barton Elementary School and Peter Muschal Elementary School will follow the hybrid schedule for online learning.
Forsthoffer said using the hybrid plan for younger students during online learning will help them get acclimated to the hybrid model when they start in-person instruction. He also stated it will combat any type of screen fatigue that elementary-aged students can suffer from when doing virtual learning.
As for how the district will go about doing online learning this school year, Forsthoffer said the district has flipped its philosophy to make it better for the students.
The superintendent said there will be more live instruction and interaction between teachers and students.
“It will be more like a classroom setting,” Forsthoffer said. “Teachers will hold live instruction and be available during the class time to meet with students directly with any questions when students are doing an assignment.”
As a Google-based district, teachers will be required to use Google applications for live instruction, course materials and assignments. Forsthoffer said all teachers in the district went through an overview of every Google application during in-person service days last week.
Bordentown Regional High School Principal Robert Walder said in an interview this summer that the high school requested the services of a technology company to help teachers become more acquainted with new resources online that they can use to educate their students.
The company held webinars during August for teachers to participate in and each session was videotaped for staff members who were unable to attend the webinar.
When the hybrid plan begins, Forsthoffer said about 60-65% of the students in the district will participate in the model, while the rest will do full remote learning.
The superintendent said that when the district first sent out the survey last month for parents to choose between the hybrid model and full virtual learning, an average of about one out of five kids would do only remote learning.
That average has since increased for students doing full virtual learning, with now about one out of three students choosing a full remote learning curriculum to begin the school year, according to the superintendent.
Parents will have the choice to keep their children home for online learning until Gov. Phil Murphy states otherwise, Forsthoffer said.
The hope for Forsthoffer and the district is for things to go smoothly with the reopening process, so parents can feel comfortable about switching from online learning to allowing their children to take part in the district’s hybrid model.
Students with special needs will be brought into the schools for live instruction and special education services sometime this month. Forsthoffer emphasized that it was important to bring students with special needs into the schools as soon as possible, since they suffered the most this past spring with not having any type of live instruction.
To help kindergarten students get acclimated to school, the district will hold a Kindergarten Camp this month as well. The camp will be used over the course of a two-week period where students will attend school every other day to give them a chance to build a relationship with their teacher and give them an idea of how school will go when they attend in October.
After seeing the excitement of his faculty being back in session last week, Forsthoffer is looking forward to seeing children back in the school and hopes the students will bring that same type of energy when they come back.
“I saw the excitement that our faculty members had coming back and I want our students to have that same excitement when they come back,” Forsthoffer said. “We need to get them back into the schools.”