COVID-19 a Year Later: Teaching and Learning

Teaching and learning changed profoundly over the past year at Spring-Ford due to the pandemic.

Psychology+teacher+Susan+Miscavage+instructs+her+virtual+and+in-person+students+during+class+on+April+13.+

Staff Photo

Psychology teacher Susan Miscavage instructs her virtual and in-person students during class on April 13.

Jackie Vickery, Managing Editor

The year 2020 had been one of the most distressing and defeating of our lives, bringing illness, grief, and new ways of living through the unprecedented Coronavirus pandemic.

It all started locally last year on an overcast Thursday afternoon shortly before the end of the school day March 12, when the Montgomery County Office of Health announced county schools would be closed for a minimum of two weeks.

“I remember when Dr. Nugent announced we would be closing for two weeks vividly,” Psychology teacher Susan Miscavage said. “One of my students threw his hands in the air in celebration, and I told him, ‘This is not a time to celebrate.  This is serious.’”

Serious. Unfortunately, that was the absolutely correct word as unprecedented and profound changes to teaching and learning transpired at Spring-Ford over the past year.

The very next day after that fateful decision, Gov. Tom Wolf expanded school closures statewide March 13. Since then, Spring-Ford students have seen it all: Community COVID-19 outbreaks that stopped school, various different learning models, and a transition from Google Classroom to Canvas.

Little did anyone know at the time just how different things would become for Spring-Ford students, faculty, and staff.
“It felt surreal, I don’t think anyone ever expected that last year would have looked like this,” Spring-Ford 10-12 Center Principal Robert Colyer said of the initial shutdown. “As school closures continued to extend past the two original weeks, I still could not have imagined what things would have looked like.”

Spring-Ford students learned remotely the rest of the school year last spring, with big events such as prom canceled due to safety concerns. Graduation did not take place in its traditional format, either, as students arrived at staggered times over several days for individual walks across the stage to receive their diplomas.

The start of the 2020-21 school year began virtually as well, with most in-person students not returning to campus until the middle of November.

Starting Nov. 16 at the 10-12 Center, students were given a choice of cyber learning, virtual learning, or returning in building two days a week under the hybrid model. In the hybrid reopening, students returned in-person to the school in two groups two days per week, with Wednesdays remaining an asynchronous day on Canvas for all students.

Some students chose the option to return to the building.

“I chose the hybrid model because it was better for me and my grades,” said Spring-Ford junior Avery Amerine.

When in the building, all students were required to wear masks and stay six feet apart from each other. These requirements were set for the safety of students and staff and continue to this day.

In January, the district transitioned from hybrid to the in-person, four-day model it currently resides. Students still had the choice of a cyber, virtual, or four-day model.

While learning has gone through multiple changes, teaching this year has been challenging as well. Educators manage both an in-person group of students and virtual group of students via Zoom.

“Teaching to a bunch of black screens (on Zoom) can be so defeating” said Miscavage. “You have no idea if your students are grasping the material or even listening for that matter.”

A year later, has anything changed? Let’s take a look.

Last year we saw no end in sight. We did not even know where our next roll of toilet paper was going to come from. Hand sanitizers and disinfectants were only available at obscene prices.

This year, we are receiving vaccines at an exponential rate and there is hope in Pennsylvania that most people will be vaccinated by May.

While most hope every student and teacher will be back in the building sooner rather than later, flexibility is as important now as it has been the past year.

“We all need to focus on how far we’ve come and give ourselves some grace when reflecting on this past year,” said Miscavage. “The pandemic has shown me what truly is important.

“Sometimes it’s OK not to follow the lesson plan.  My mental health and the mental health of my students has been a focus more than ever this past year.  … Flexibility has been the key to success this year.”

Normalcy is what the Spring-Ford community strives for, but it has been admittedly difficult.

“(We) never got back to normal,” Amerine said. “But after being in this format for a year it is kind of routine by now.”

Students are not the only ones managing difficulties presented by online learning. Teachers are feeling the brunt of big change as well.

“Maintaining safe distances while trying to offer support and assistance, and being mindful of everyone’s safety was (and is) foremost in our minds,” English teacher Jen Farischon said. “Yet, we teachers are also responsible for teaching students skills and content. It’s a juggling act, and we have to constantly reprioritize based on the situations at hand. Flexibility is key!”

Although this year has had its ups and downs, students must look forward to what is right in front of us: the 2021-2022 school year.
Students are hopeful this upcoming fall will bring a more normal-looking school year.

“I think after this summer, when vaccines are distributed, everyone will be back to in-person school,” junior Jack Kolesa predicted.

While it’s unsure what next year will look like, there is a bit more hope this year than a year ago. We as a Spring-Ford community hope that we can all return back to the building safely and efficiently.

The lessons learned this year can only strengthen the community’s resolve.

“I believe what makes any method of instruction successful is the relationship between the student and teacher,” Colyer said. “There is no doubt that connections and engagement has been a challenge in the on-line environment, but our teachers and students have adapted and continue to implement strategies to engage students and find success.

“There has never been a time in which we (teachers, staff, administration and students) have faced the types of challenges we have and been forced to work so hard to overcome them. I am impressed with what our teachers have been able to do over the last year. While I am not sure what next school will bring, I know we will be ready.”