With just weeks left in the term, area schools are adjusting to in-person learning

  • Concord High senior Sophia Guay (center) gets a hug from Bow junior Alyssa Mullarid as Kimberly Hannon, CRTC cosmetology instructor helps them prepare for the Friday afternoon rehearsal.

  • Erika Roberge helps Alyssa Mullarid get ready for the Friday afternoon rehearsal of the Hair Fashion Show. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • CRTC Hair Fashion Show contestant Alyssa Mullarid gets her hair dyed red Friday morning for the evening competition at Concord High. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • CRTC Hair Fashion Show contestant Alyssa Mullarid gets her hair dyed red on Friday morning, May 14, 2021 for the evening competition at Concord High School GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/15/2021 2:30:16 PM

On Friday morning at Concord High School, a group of students sat in the sunny courtyard, chatting between class periods. Students walked the halls in pairs and small groups on their way to in-person classes. In some ways, the school building looked like it might any other year, although safety protocols like masks, hand sanitizing stations and spaced-out seating arrangements remain as a reminder that this singular pandemic school year isn’t over yet.

In instructor Kimberly Hannon’s CRTC cosmetology classroom, which has been operating in person since September, students were busy brushing, dyeing and curling in preparation for the Hair Fashion Show and Competition Friday night. The event, which is usually annual, is back this year after being canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Hannon said holding the event this year is “bringing normalcy back” for her students.

“It’s been really great because last year, my junior year, got cut short,” said Concord senior Sophie Guay, 18, a student in the cosmetology program. “We were online every day still doing practicals and all of that. We made it work, but not being in school really was difficult because this is such a hands-on trade.”

It’s been a month since New Hampshire schools returned to in-person learning, and area superintendents say both students and staff are happier now that they’re back in the buildings.

“I've been out visiting the schools, walking around visiting classrooms talking to staff and students,” said Concord interim superintendent Kathleen Murphy on Thursday. “I ask them, ‘are you glad to be back?’ and their answers are always, ‘we’re glad to be back.’”

While all schools now offer in-person learning five days a week, some students are still learning fully remotely. In both Concord and Merrimack Valley school districts, about 80% of students are back in the building full time, while 20% remain remote.  

“There's a renewed enthusiasm and it feels more like school,” said Mark MacLean, superintendent of Merrimack Valley and Andover school districts. “We still have masks and we’re cognizant of spacing, but walking into a classroom with 20 students instead of 10 every day is a lot different. It's really been invigorating.”

In districts like Concord and Merrimack Valley, the remote students at the elementary level are taught in fully remote online classrooms, while remote students at the high school level typically Zoom in virtually to classes that are being taught in person.

At Concord High School, where 1,169 students are in person and 332 are remote, Murphy said some teachers have Meeting Owl cameras mounted in their classrooms that capture 360-degree video footage of the teacher and students in the room, which creates an immersive experience for the remote students watching virtually.

MacLean said that although in-person learning is improving face-to-face communication between teachers and students, the new technology skills gained during remote and hybrid learning will continue to come in handy.

“We can hold on to those communication strategies we were using during the pandemic,” MacLean said. “In some ways, we are even more connected now than we ever were.”

Most of the teachers who have been leading the fully remote classrooms at the elementary school level this year have stayed remote as the schools reopen. Hopkinton’s four remote elementary school teachers have continued to be remote after April 19, while only one of Concord’s 18 remote elementary teachers switched to in-person teaching.

However, at the middle and high school level, where many remote students are Zooming into in-person classes, most formerly remote teachers have returned to in-person work. Hopkinton Middle High School had nine fully remote teachers before April 19, and now has two. Concord had 30 fully remote middle and high school teachers before April 19 and now has 4.

In order to accommodate more people returning to buildings, many districts had to reduce their six-foot distancing requirement to three feet. Space was a topic of discussion at Hopkinton School Board meetings leading up to the April reopening, as school officials tried to determine how many students could safely fit in the buildings.

“I was in the hall yesterday in the elementary school and 20 students walked past me and I said ‘wow that’s a big class,’” Hopkinton superintendent Steve Chamberlin said Thursday. “A class of 20 looks bigger now than it used to.”

Chamberlin says he feels better when the weather is nice, and students and teachers can utilize outdoor tents for classrooms and lunches. Concord schools have also been using tents to bring students outside on sunny days.

Districts are thinking ahead to addressing pandemic-related learning gaps, or what MacLean refers to as “unfinished learning.”

“There been a lot of fatigue. People want to have a summer and get outside and enjoy things,” MacLean said. “But we have many things we are planning for as we attend to unfinished learning.”

Hopkinton has used grant money to do intervention and assessments in the elementary schools, and plans to add instructional supports and interventions next year to help boost social-emotional learning, literacy and numeracy.

“At this time of year, we’re really trying to discover the present level of performance, but we’re already discussing using grant funds to address learning gaps next year,” Chamberlin said.

Both Merrimack Valley and Concord are planning summer programs that can help with academics and social-emotional learning. Concord is planning summer programs that provide support for special education students, English language learners and low-income students as well as a program to help eighth graders transition to high school, and some regular fun summer art activities.

“I think we anticipate we will need to do some work. We know some youngsters didn’t get all their needs met, especially during special education,” Murphy said. “We are picking up areas that need to get addressed while we were out, and making sure the youngsters get their services.” 

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