Elementary schools in the Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) recently returned to a four-day, in-person learning schedule for the first time in over a year.
Prior to the switch to in-person learning, the district’s schools alternated between in person and remote learning every other day at limited capacities. Now, elementary school students learn online on Mondays and go to school in person the rest of the week.
Jack Silva, assistant superintendent of BASD, said making the switch took time to figure out and get used to.
“It’s put us to the test—every school district to the test—of our management and adaptability, but we’re in good shape,” Silva said.
Joseph Anthes, principal of William Penn Elementary School, said so far, students have been loving the return to school.
“I think seeing their friends, seeing their teachers, is the number one benefit to being back all the time,” Anthes said. “And even though they may have seen their teachers a couple times a week or on Zoom, seeing them every day is nice for them.”
Courtney Stambaugh, principal of Fountain Hill Elementary School, said the enthusiasm from their students has been one of the greatest parts about returning to in-person learning.
“The excitement that the kids bring to be back to school everyday with us, for me that’s been the most rewarding thing because that’s what we want as educators, we want our kids with us,” Stambaugh said. “We don’t want anything—including a pandemic—to stand in the way of us being with our students. So just seeing how happy the kids are and the interactions between the staff and the kids, it’s great because we’ve missed that for so long.”
Silva said teachers are delighted to be teaching their students in person again.
Silva said when a child feels secure and happy in their learning environment, they often become “itchy, distractible and social.” He said distraction is a common difficulty for teachers under normal circumstances, but comparing that to months on Zoom, a bit of chaos is an easy pick.
Stambaugh said specifically the switch from every other day to consistent in-person learning has been a great experience thus far.
“I think one of the biggest challenges for our staff was not being able to see our kids every single day,” Stambaugh said. “Because that’s something we’re so used to and it didn’t sit well with us. We knew they were coming two days a week, but it’s everyday we love to see our kids.”
In addition, learning in person one day and remotely the next can be tough for young children, Anthes said.
“It’s hard on a child’s brain, their executive function gets thrown off a bit because they’re always wondering what’s coming next and having to plan for what to anticipate,” Anthes said.
Anthes said now that students are back to learning in person on a consistent basis, the district has seen the rate of learning take off, especially regarding reading.
He said there are certain things that can be taught through online instruction, but everyone benefits from face-to-face engagement and in-person learning.
Aside from the academic piece, BASD has also been focusing on helping the social-emotional aspect of student’s lives throughout the pandemic.
“There’s no substitute for the human connection that you have,” Silva said. “The toll of the pandemic, not just in education, but in people’s lives overall has created greater levels of anxiety and isolation and frustration in people, that the remedy for that is connection.”
To help students recover from the isolation they’ve experienced during the pandemic, BASD is running free programming for children throughout the month of July to ensure that students have the opportunity to reconnect with their communities.
Silva said the BASD plans to start the next school year with every student in the classroom, something he knows the community is universally looking forward to.