One of the keys so far to a successful school year at Everett’s Pioneer Charter School has been keeping teachers in the classroom, even as students tune in remotely on computers from their homes.
Pioneer has taken a different approach than some other schools to try to give some continuity to the students working from home, and also to make teaching easier and from a familiar space. While other schools like Everett Public Schools don’t require teachers in the classroom – though some choose to do so – Chelsea Schools have required teachers to teach from the classroom two days a week. However, Pioneer has taken the approach that if the students can’t be at school, at least they can watch their teachers there.
“We thought it was a good idea with all our students being out of the building a long time and not having a school structure in place,” said School Executive Director Sanela Jonuz. “Teachers had everything they need right here – everything from whiteboards, laptops and high-quality internet. Also, the students are tuning in and seeing their classroom and teachers and it gives some sense of normalcy. I am a firm believe that by having our teachers in the classroom, it allows for teachers to all be on the same page for student progress. It’s taken time to adjust, but it’s certainly better for our students.”
After some summer orientations, and putting a rigorous health and safety plan in place, teachers were welcomed back earlier this fall. Teachers said it has cut down on distractions for themselves – i.e., the dog that won’t quit barking – and for their students, who see a classroom setting and feel “at school.”
“I love being in the building,” said Alina Artyunova. “It’s much more encouraging to wake up in the morning. It just feels different than last spring when we were at home. I am more productive here than last spring when things were so disorganized. I couldn’t organize myself at home. At school, I have two plenty of room and two screens for the computer.”
Lisa Hanson, an English teacher, said one thing that she has noticed is the students are paying closer attention to her for longer periods, and particularly because she isn’t dealing with home-life distractions.
“It’s really satisfying to have my desk at school and my big whiteboard and laptops,” she said. “Being here has been a game-changer. I have a dog and he gets upset when I’m not paying attention to him at home. When I get up in front of my classroom, I’m in my zone and everything is controlled and that’s helpful.”
Added Artyunova, “I can say the students are more organized and are more accountable for their work.”
Jonuz said they have even kept the bell schedule going, and that has helped teachers, but provided a small comfort sound for students who hadn’t heard the familiar school bell in months.
“I feel like the bell is wonderful to get everyone’s attention and set the tone that we’re in school,” said Jonuz.
Science teacher Joe Paone said one thing that has been valuable to him is to be able to use the SmartBoard – a computer connected chalk board – to teach directly onto the screens of students at home. That equipment wasn’t available when he taught from home, and it made things harder. Likewise, he also has space to do lab experiments on the camera to show students demonstrations – something virtually impossible when teaching from home.
“One thing I’ve also been doing since I’ve been in the building is making videos of the class and then posting them and kids can go back and watch them later,” he said.
He also has used simple principles in his classroom, using things like a spinning chair or a spinning egg, to demonstrate scientific ideas in conjunction with the SmartBoard.
“The spinning chair – that principle is the same exact principle for how satellites work up in space,” he said. “It’s also how the Hubble Telescope makes turns to look at a new planet.”
Right now, teachers are mostly in a bubble environment. Though they are in the classroom, interactions are limited and there is no “teacher’s lounge” situation. Staff have been very good about monitoring their symptoms and staying home if not well, plus Jonuz said there is a protocol in place every morning for the teachers to follow before they go to a classroom.
That plan, so far, has worked, and until the time when the kids can come back in person to class, at least they can see their teachers there in person.
“We’re trying our best to make the best of this situation,” said Jonuz. “It can be difficult, but our team is trying as hard as they can.”