by Doug McClure
CRAFTSBURY – Six weeks into a school year unlike any before it, Craftsbury Academy (CA) Principal Merri Greenia said “education in Craftsbury Schools continues to go well.”
Greenia said the morning screenings for temperature and symptoms are “running smoothly” with ample cooperation from both students and parents. She said the school is now up to 85% full-time attendance, a 4% increase in two weeks. Some students are learning remotely, some in-person, and some a hybrid of the two. With as many classes held outdoors as feasible, the weather has become a factor, but has cooperated so far, she said. “There were only two days in the first five weeks that we could not use outdoor classroom spaces or have lunch and recess on the Common.”
On Monday, the weather was perfect for outdoor activities: bright sunshine, crisp air, and plenty of foliage for students and staff to take in while enjoying lunch on the Common. In between bites, several students and one teacher spoke about their experiences so far this year.
Megan Reed, a high school science teacher, said this year’s teaching experience had thrown her a bit at first, “It started out a little like I felt in my first years of teaching,” she said in describing the adjustment to changes to in-person teaching and the addition of remote teaching. She said that the pandemic protocols in place that seemed foreign on day one are now becoming routine. Reed said the “exuberance” of the students on the first day of returning to school had brought some chaos, but “things have calmed down.” She said that, for the most part, the students have been very mindful of physical distancing protocols and “really good about masks, 100%.” During the flexible periods, such as lunch and recess, following pandemic protocols is sometimes more challenging, she said.
Reed is teaching both virtually and in-person. Some of the students she is teaching remotely are CA kids, and others are from the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC). The VTVLC is a statewide online alternative high school that the Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU) has partnered with to provide additional remote learning capacity, as well as new subjects. OSSU teachers also teach some VTVLC classes for students around the state, in addition to their own students.
“I’ve never taught online before,” she said. “That was a new platform for me.”
Reed said the VTVLC classes for her own students have sometimes allowed for a hybrid approach. She knows that if absolutely necessary she can check in with the students in person. She feels the virtual teaching has improved her skills because her non-CA students can’t contact her in person with questions. One area she said required extra work was making sure her teaching is accessible to all students. “I think it’s making me a better teacher, making sure of the clarity of my written instructions.” Reed said that with virtual learning the willingness and ability of students being able to ask follow-up questions has been somewhat reduced. She said that having to teach in two different universes required some extra preparation, and the fact CA still has early dismissal for its students afforded her proper time to prepare and made the extra work “manageable.”
As for adapting to work in a changed environment, Reed said “given the circumstances, which is a pandemic, it’s going well.” With her classes, she said the forty-minute blocks meant that taking the classroom outdoors ate into valuable class time, so generally she avoided that unless the focus of that day was a lab.
She said “I think [the students] feel good to be here.”
Evan LaMare is entering eighth grade and is thirteen years of age. He said that at first he worried about what school would be like during the pandemic, but now that classes are underway, “I like it a lot. The six-foot-distance is kind of hard to get used to. But we’ve learned to take it seriously.” He said he felt like the school was doing everything to keep him and the other students as safe as possible. “I feel like we’re starting good, but it was hard to adjust.”
Alan Moody is fifteen and in the tenth grade. Speaking in a relaxed tone, he said “School’s been pretty good.” He said he “really appreciated” having the outside time on the Common, such as today for lunch, which didn’t happen before the pandemic.
“I really like that we’re able to [attend school] in-person,” he said.
As for the pandemic, Moody said that back when it all started “I was pretty skeptical of it lasting this long.” He said some in his family were in the age group more vulnerable to COVID-19, which was “scary. We stayed home a lot, only went out every two or three weeks to go the store.”
When school returned, Moody said he was “definitely worried a bit” and expected every class to be “a bunch of COVID, but it’s been pretty normal… I’m pretty excited to back in school.”
As for the precautions, Moody said if anything the school may be going overboard with the sanitizing in between every class, “I feel like it may be a little too much, no one’s ever caught this from touching something, as far as I know, it’s in the air.”
He said he had a bit of trouble last spring adjusting to the totally virtual learning because he was used to being able to speak to teachers in person and had relied on that for effective learning. “I had a lot of trouble getting stuff done.”
His classwork now for CA is all in-person, but the VTVLC partnership has allowed Moody to take a class he never would have been able to before, Digital Photography.
Moody said he “loves digital photography” and thinks the VTVLC platform is “pretty great.” Beyond photography, he is studying AP environmental science and said for now he’s looking to the future with some idea of where his plans will take him. “I really want to help people… maybe as a physical therapist,” he said.
Asked to sum up these first weeks, Moody said “Everything so far has gone pretty well.”
Tenth-grader Rachel Bjerke, who is also 15, and senior Anna Phelps, 17, said the year was going pretty well. Phelps said “I think the first day we came back [to school], that was pretty intense, but it’s eased back in intensity. I’m enjoying it, I missed being in school.”
Phelps said back in March, when word started going around that school might be shut down, she didn’t at first believe it. “And then it shut down.” She said as far as coming back, CA’s preparations had given her peace of mind.
“I think this school has done a really good job.”
Bjerke said “I was very nervous to see everyone [with the pandemic], being in-person, and being back here was kind of weird. A lot of the teachers worked and made it comfortable.”
Both Phelps and Bjerke are taking in-person classes. Bjerke said she had started as a hybrid student, but the combination of not being able to socialize and dealing with poor Wolcott internet service made that experience too frustrating, so she returned to full-time, in-person school.
Phelps said that she is taking a couple of VTVLC classes that otherwise would not be available to her. “[I’m taking] AP Psychology and AP Statistics. We didn’t have that at CA [before]. We’re such a small school.”
She said that she has worked at a camp for children with special needs in the summer, which couldn’t happen this year, and hopes to go into special education once she graduates. She said one thing she misses is “interacting with the fourth- and fifth-graders” that she used to help. CA now separates older students from younger ones due to the pandemic.
Bjerke said of the year so far “I think things are definitely going smoothly. I like the outdoor [classes], but that depends on the weather,” she added.
Phelps said the biggest adjustment for her was “Not being able to physically touch people. I miss hugging people. I haven’t hugged a person in months.”
As Greenia surveyed the students eating their lunches on this bright October day on the Common, she mused “This is one of those things I think will stick.”