As Indiana schools end COVID rules, new students and teachers adapt

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The last lesson Alexis Kashman taught before COVID shut down his class was fractions, with his students making diagrams with tape on the floor.

A recent college graduate, she had started her teaching career at Chapel Glen Elementary School in Wayne Township just three months earlier and found herself returning to her textbooks to translate the fraction lesson for learning. from a distance.

“We’ve been taught that the most important thing is to get your kids together on the mat and read to them,” she said. “And then as soon as I started, the pandemic hit and everything I had learned up until then, we had to throw it out the window.”

After two years of interrupted classes, Kashman has come full circle as Indiana schools return to a pre-pandemic state, without masking, distancing, quarantining or – teachers hope – major upheavals amid the pandemic. ‘year.

For seasoned teachers and older students, it’s a return to normal. But for some young students and new teachers like Kashman, it’s one of the first times they’ve experienced in-person learning without restrictions or interruptions. And schools like Chapel Glen are tasked with helping both groups adjust.

Solutions range from a mentorship program for new teachers to incorporating new and old learning strategies, practicing patience and experimenting with new ideas.

“We’ve all learned that we can do really hard things,” Principal Shatara Smith said. “When we think outside the box and come together to solve problems, it’s not as bad as you think.”

Schools like Chapel Glen Elementary have adopted new programs and strategies to help teachers and students adjust to in-person learning.
Aleksandra Appleton / Chalk Beat

Learn about classroom expectations

Like schools across the country, Chapel Glen has closed and reopened multiple times in two years as it weathered COVID cases and changing health guidelines.

During building closures, the Indianapolis District offered an online program where teachers taught alone from their classrooms while students followed at home.

Alexandra Offutt, who started teaching virtual students at Chapel Glen, described her first few months as a bit lonely.

When teachers and students were able to return to their classrooms, they saw changes. Gone are the basics of elementary education, like circle time and morning high-fives, replaced by spaced desks and nudges.

Offutt students had to stay in pods, spending their day doing activities with the same four or five peers to help with contact tracing. Masking and distancing made essential early literacy lessons a challenge, especially for students learning English as a second language.

“For kindergarten, it’s hard because you’re learning how to shape your mouth when you learn those letters,” Offutt said.

“We should be like, okay, step back and take your mask off and tell me what you’re saying,” Kashman said.

A young teacher sits at the front of her class, while her students listen while seated on the carpet in front of her.

Alexandra Offutt began teaching students virtually at Chapel Glen and found that masking and social distancing created challenges with early literacy lessons.
Aleksandra Appleton / Chalk Beat

Simultaneously, students also needed to build stamina, focus, and interpersonal skills that had been dropped during home learning. And once school became optional, Offutt also had to teach students to respect their friends’ choice to wear a mask or not.

“The way you talk at home isn’t necessarily the way you can talk at school,” Offutt said. “And you can’t just hit and push and grab something because you’re going to hurt another kid if you do that.”

Now that the restrictions have been lifted, the children in Offutt’s kindergarten took advantage of their freedom to move around the room with their friends on Thursday, while dancing to a St. Patrick’s Day song.

Then Offutt brought them together on the mat to say the words. On “creek,” some students made the leap to a more familiar word.

“No, not COVID,” Offutt said.

“Ewww,” the students said.

Teachers learn from each other

New teachers at Chapel Glen are also learning the ropes.

The school’s mentorship program, dubbed the New Teacher Academy, paired new teachers with veterans in an effort to familiarize them with the school and the expectations of in-person teaching, said Smith, the principal.

“Many of our new teachers not only started remotely, but also completed their teaching internship remotely,” Smith said. “Looking at classroom management, procedures, a lot of the basics needed to get started, we thought, ‘How can we help address some of these areas of concern?'”

But mentees noted that the pandemic has also led to a two-way street with mentors they might not have encountered otherwise.

“I’m helping a veteran teacher create an online assignment, but the veteran teacher is helping me figure out what’s going to work for one of my specific learners,” Kashman said.

A young teacher works with a boy at her desk, who waves to her as she puts her hand on her chin.

Chapel Glen has a mentorship program called the New Teacher Academy, which pairs early career teachers like Kashman with seasoned educators.
Aleksandra Appleton / Chalk Beat

The way forward likely combines the experiences of new and veteran teachers, as they all work to improve skills that have died out during the pandemic.

Teachers of all types are working to help fourth-grade students who can read at the first-grade level, said reading facilitator and mentor Megan Graybosch.

“There’s probably some hesitation in wanting to choose a book that they know they can be successful with,” Graybosch said. “These books may not be like what their peers read.”

Graybosch said she helps new teachers think about how to incorporate “old-fashioned” activities into 21st-century classrooms.

Proven strategies like reading in small groups and rotation centers can complement the online curriculum and personalized lesson plans that define pandemic learning, she said.

There are other pandemic-inspired changes the school would like to keep as it steadily returns to normal.

Virtual parent-teacher conferences and drive-in awards ceremonies are here to stay by popular demand, Smith said.

All Chapel Glen students now have a tablet or laptop and spend some time each week brushing up on the skills they had to pick up during virtual schooling.

“I joked that they had trouble holding a pencil, but man, they can cut and paste, they can upload documents,” Smith said. “The skills that we maybe introduced them to probably a bit later, they were initiated and did very well.”

Preparing for the future of the pandemic

Three students are seated at their desks during an indoor recess.  A young girl in the middle shouts insistently as a boy next to her gestures with his fingers.

Chapel Glen students watch a movie during indoor recess. Their manager, Shatara Smith, feels her staff are better prepared to deal with unforeseen challenges after two years of the pandemic.
Aleksandra Appleton / Chalk Beat

As Kashman prepared to send his first-graders to recess on Thursday, an unexpected announcement came over the school’s public address system: recess would be held indoors due to lingering smoke from a nearby fire.

Kashman pivoted, offering Play-Doh, coloring pages and time to watch “The Secret Life of Pets,” aware that her students would be inside all day.

“They will be anxious at the end of the day,” she said.

His students said they didn’t mind staying indoors.

“Because you’re sweating outside, and I don’t want to sweat,” said student Aaliyah.

It’s hard to predict how COVID will affect schools in the future, but it will likely involve a series of adjustments.

Principal Smith said Chapel Glen has plans in place for future school closures, whether due to COVID, snow storms or other unforeseen circumstances. After two years, her staff feel better prepared to deal with the uncertainty, she said.

With case numbers low and pandemic protocols completed, teachers are feeling cautiously optimistic about the upcoming school year, said Graybosch, the reading interventionist.

“I’m not a virologist,” she said, to laughter from her peers. “But I think next year is looking pretty good.”

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at [email protected]

A young teacher dances with her students in their class.

As cases remain low and schools relax their COVID protocols, many teachers are feeling cautiously optimistic about the upcoming school year.
Aleksandra Appleton / Chalk Beat

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