Brookfield Local School District has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but not in terms of positive cases.
Since Oct. 2, three students and one staff member have tested positive for COVID-19, which is not a lot when compared with some other districts. The latest notification came Nov. 19, a middle school student.
However, staff members have been unable to come to work because they are quarantining after being exposed to someone with COVID, or because they have been tested for COVID or are showing symptoms of what could be COVID, said Supt. Toby Gibson.
“When you have 12 teachers out and four subs, and you don’t have adults to watch kids, you have an issue,” Gibson said at the Nov. 18 school board meeting. “It’s issues outside of the school.”
That was a primary reason why Gibson shut down in-school classes on Nov. 17 and instituted remote learning for all students, he said. Students are supposed to return to school Dec. 1. However, if the staffing issues continue or other factors are present to prompt school officials to shut down the school for a longer period of time, officials are working on a backup plan to boost the quality of education.
“We looked at what we did the in the spring, things that worked there and things that did not work so well there, and just some of the lessons that we have learned, probably over the past 10 weeks or so that we’ve been in school, as far as the engagement of our students, particularly when they are not in school,” said Adam Lewis, director of teaching, learning and accountability.
The district would use a “synchronous learning model” if learning remains remote, he said.
“Basically what that means is that our students will log in at a certain time and they will receive direct instruction with their teacher via Google Meets or Zoom,” Lewis said. “It will be a video interface, so that the teacher and the students both will be able to interact.”
Officials still were discussing the amount of time teachers and students would be interfacing, based on the ages of the students, and working out scheduling issues, particularly with the middle and high schools sharing staff, he said.
“We’ve got a pretty good plan, I think, in the works right now,” Lewis said. “It holds our students and families a little more accountable, where our kids will be able to log in, they will receive that time with that teacher, which we think is very important.”
Lewis said he knows there will be legitimate reasons why some students will not be able to log in to a lesson at a set time.
“There will be other options for these kids,” he said. “The lessons will be recorded and they can look at them later in the day.”
This plan keeps teachers involved, Lewis said, noting that some schools are hiring vendors to provide remote learning for students.
“I know our teachers want to teach these kids,” Lewis said. “They want to be engaged with our kids. We just feel that that is probably the best model for us moving forward.”
The district is planning a training session for teachers on Nov. 23 by the Trumbull County Educational Services Center, but some Brookfield teachers have done these kinds of lessons already and will assist in training their colleagues, he said.
“They will have a decent amount of time to prepare, should we remain in the situation that we are right now,” Lewis said.
The school will post video tutorials and other information to help parents learn how to get their children access to Google Meets and Zoom, and might offer a chance for parents to come to school and be trained in person on a Chromebook, the kind of computer students use, he said.
That was good to hear, said board member Sarah Kurpe.
“I would hate for us to make an assumption that the parents are quickly going to adapt to this,” she said. “I know some will, some won’t, some will reluctantly raise their hand to say, ‘I need help.’”
Lewis said he knows there will be “hiccups” in implementing a new way of learning, but Brookfield as a community has come a long way in adapting to the sudden changes in education.
“Both students, families and staff, they’re doing things now that, if you would have told me this two years ago, that we’re able to do these things, I never would have believed you,” Lewis said. “It’s out of necessity, but I think we’re pretty comfortable using the technology.”
It sounds like Mr. Lewis and the teaching staff deserve a large raise for the hard work and extra hours they are putting in.