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To Learn In School Or Not To Learn In School: How Longmeadow’s Teachers’ Union Grappled With The Difficult Decision

“‘One size fits all’ does not fit when it comes to education,” says Ms. Kathleen Russotto, President of the Longmeadow Education Association (LEA). The decision of which model the Longmeadow Public School system would adopt, the hybrid model, took a lot of consideration. Consideration in which everyone thought about factors like the suburban environment of Longmeadow, the class sizes, and the population of different schools within the district. Starting in early June the LEA started looking at all different models from fully remote to fully in-person knowing that school for the 2020-2021 school year would not be the same as everyone is accustomed to. They knew, though, that full in person would not work because of the size of the district as well as class sizes. Due to the number of students usually in each class, there would not be able to maintain the recommended six feet distance. When coming to the decision of which model the LEA would prefer Ms. Russotto had to take into account the views of over 300 teachers. As a leader and representative, she strives to “listen to all the members and try to then figure out which way is the majority and finding the right balance.” Though, it can sometimes be difficult to have one solid answer that can please everyone. Partly because when representing so many different levels, pre-k to 12th grade, the opinions will be so different. A situation that will work for a high school student and their teachers will most likely not work for an elementary student and their teachers. 

On November 9, The Jet Jotter sent out a Google Form to the Longmeadow High School faculty to get an idea of the opinions, given the reality of the pandemic, of the faculty on which model they would prefer. With about 70 responses the results told that 47.1% of LHS teachers who took the survey would prefer total remote learning, 22.9% of LHS teachers who took the survey prefer the current hybrid model we have now, 18.6% would prefer in-person learning, and 11.4% would prefer another hybrid model, like cohort A for a week, than Cohort B the next week. 

This pandemic has been very difficult for everyone, but especially for teachers. They have had to balance being normal people exposed as much as everyone else with the added aspect that they have to think about how to keep students educated. When the Commonwealth deemed teachers “essential workers” it was something expected yet unexpected for teachers. That teachers are “essential workers” is mostly agreed upon. “The work of education, the work of learning and teaching, thinking critically, and challenging ourselves, that it is really vital and essential work and any long term interruption of that is really problematic,” says Mr. Jonathan Weil, an English teacher at LHS. Many teachers believe that teachers are essential workers because they help their students learn and during a chaotic time like this education is definitely a priority to continue some type of normalcy. With teachers being deemed essential workers it added a very different dynamic into a situation that was stressful from the beginning. Most teachers can agree though that in the Spring school was very interesting due to the little time to prepare and this school year it is very important to make sure that students are progressing even during the pandemic. 

On November 9, The Jet Jotter sent out a Google Form to the Longmeadow High School faculty to get an idea of the opinions, given the reality of the pandemic, of the faculty on which model they would prefer. With about 70 responses the results told that 47.1% of LHS teachers who took the survey would prefer total remote learning, 22.9% of LHS teachers who took the survey prefer the current hybrid model we have now, 18.6% would prefer in-person learning, and 11.4% would prefer another hybrid model, like cohort A for a week, than Cohort B the next week. 

The opinion of the teachers on which model that Longmeadow should be is very mixed. Most teachers like hybrid because “the hybrid model, for us, works in the case that it has allowed us to keep not only students but staff safe in the building with numbers,” says Ms. Russotto. Though some teachers would prefer one or the other, either completely in or completely out. Seeing half in person and half online creates an inequity in the classroom that makes it hard to make sure everyone is understanding the concepts and material. Hybrid also makes it harder for science teachers to do their labs as usual. Mrs. Angela Courchesne, a science teacher at LHS, really misses being able to have labs in person and says that, “there is nothing like being able to get up, walk around your classroom. Be able to manipulate objects in your hands.” Though she tries her hardest to help students experience the closest she can to labs by assigning Gizmos. Gizmos are very similar to physical labs but they are virtual so they are able to be done on the computer.

One of the toughest parts of hybrid is making sure that the students are engaged both in the classroom and from home. The biggest thing that makes hybrid sometimes difficult is “making sure students can sign on to things and the internet aspect. Making sure students have stable WiFi,” says Ms. Angela Moskwa, a world language teacher at LHS. There has to be a balance, though, because even though having students inside the building is so valuable, keeping everyone safe has to be a priority. A continuous theme among all the teachers is that they just want to make it through the pandemic with as little damage done as possible. There are definitely pros and cons to every model and each model has its own amount of safety but many teachers believe that we have approached all models very well in our execution. 

“I hope we keep the same mindset. I hope we don’t get complacent or lax with what we do,” says Mrs. Courchesne when talking about her hope on what she hopes to see in the future for Longmeadow schools. Part of the reason that Longmeadow Public Schools has been doing so well at preventing Covid transmission is because of the strict rules they have set in place. These strict rules are a large majority of the reason LPS is currently doing so well but that doesn’t mean that they can stop doing what they are doing. Teachers and administration hope that the vaccine that came out is effective so come September we can go back to how school was a year ago when we didn’t know any better. “Only time can tell and until then we have to stay the way we are,” says Ms. Russotto. Every teacher hopes that LHS continues prioritizing the safety of everyone while also maintaining a connection of community and academic rigor. They also hope that they continue to stay in good communication with students, family, teachers as well as being able to continue to be flexible and make the changes that need to be made. 

The decisions during this pandemic for the Longmeadow School system have been so complex that it is important to keep in mind the behind the scenes planning that no one can see. “None of this has been easy,” says Ms. Russotto, “we are all doing the best we can and no answer is perfect.” 

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