Education

Outdoor learning, cohorts among the changes when Oysterponds reopens for all students in September

Oysterponds Elementary School will be reopening its doors to all students in September, but the children will also be spending a lot of time outdoors.

Superintendent Richard Malone said Thursday during a meeting of the K-6 school’s Board of Education that teachers should plan to educate outside as much as possible in the upcoming school year.

“We’re going to emphasize the importance and the value of outdoor education,” Mr. Malone told the board and a group of more than a dozen parents and teachers who attended the virtual meeting. “The more we have them in the outdoors the healthier we’re going to be … I’m hoping that we can really keep the kids outside as much as we can.”

Students will begin each school day with their teacher and classmates for attendance and a morning meeting under pop-up, open-air tents that will be set up outside classrooms on warm weather days, according to the district’s reopening plan, which was due to state officials for review Friday. Mr. Malone said teachers will be encouraged to use those tents for instruction as much as possible, though learning will also take place in the classroom and instructional labs that are being set up throughout the building. The cafeteria, for example, will be converted into a learning lab.

Board vice president Janice Caufield said the district will need to look into treating the property for ticks to keep students safe.

Perhaps the biggest change this school year will be in how students receive a mix of in-person instruction and digital learning within each school day.

In an effort to social distance, classes will be divided in half into cohorts, which they will remain with for the day. Those cohorts will remain intact for about a month, Mr. Malone said, so that students are limiting contact to just half their classmates during that time. Daily schedules will also minimize those groups’ movement throughout the building, according to the reopening plan. Each morning teachers will send cohorts into different spaces to maintain distance, Mr. Malone said.

“The teachers will assign a cohort to either the classroom for in-person teaching or to the learning lab for digital learning,” Mr. Malone said. “The next day it could flip-flop.”

He added that cohorts could also move from in-person to digital learning several times throughout each school day, so they don’t go long stretches within a given day without having contact with their teacher. While in learning labs they will be supervised by another teacher.

Remote learning will also be incorporated into the in-person teaching so vulnerable students, and children whose parents request for them to say home, will be able to connect face-to-face with instructors throughout the day.

“We’ve got to concentrate on developing the understanding that you’re learning whether it’s the teacher in front of you or whether you’re working on your digital device,” Mr. Malone said.

All after-school activities, including sports, chorus, band and art, have been canceled for 2020-21.

Many of the safety measures being implemented for the upcoming school year relate to how home interacts with school. Cloth masks will be required and should be cleaned at home every day. Students will keep certain materials in a lockbox at school, and things brought in from the home will also be kept in those boxes. Lunch will need to come from home each day and, while transportation will be provided and safety measures will be taken by the bus company, parents are encouraged to drive students to and from school. Each child will be assigned a staggered arrival and departure time.

The district has also established measures for protecting student health when a child is showing symptoms of COVID-19, including establishing a quarantine room and requirements that must be met in accordance with the Suffolk County Health Department for re-entering the classroom. The district will also follow the state’s contact tracing program.

Mr. Malone said these plans will be monitored throughout the school year so adjustments can be made. He also suggested the board push back its September meeting one week so it can use that time to assess how the new system for learning is working out. The Oysterponds school year begins on Wednesday, Sept. 9, though the first three days of the school year will be early dismissal days.

Mostly status quo in New Suffolk

Not as much will change when school reopens in New Suffolk, the North Fork’s smallest school district serving only elementary students, district officials said.

With only 15 students in three classrooms, Board of Education president Tony Dill said social distancing will be easy.

“We have nowhere near the issues other districts have because of our small enrollment,” he said. “We can safely apply all the guidelines on social distancing and other measures, as our 15 kids can easily be placed in our three classrooms.”

He said the district will be “100 percent, five days a week, in-person, in-school teaching, with no fundamental change in the schedule.”

Everyone, students and staff, will wear masks; temperature checks will be done every day.

“We don’t have buses and we don’t have food service; kids bring their own lunches, so we don’t have the issue of students sitting together in a cafeteria,” he said. “Our small number of students works to our advantage.”

— Steve Wick