Recently, Mayor Walsh and Boston Public Schools released a return to school plan called the Hopscotch Model, a hybrid model of instruction in which students would be broken into two groups. While Group One attends school in person Monday and Tuesday, Group Two will attend virtual classes simultaneously. All instruction is held virtually on Wednesdays while the buildings are deep cleaned and sanitized. Groups One and Two switch places Thursday and Friday.
This plan is not tenable.
Our student body is diverse and complex. Above all, the students we serve bring energy and curiosity for learning to the classroom. They come with wide-ranging levels of readiness. We have students who are content-hungry, finish their work quickly, and excel in all aspects of academia. They look to us for the next step — the next challenge — almost as soon as they begin. We also have students who require additional support to meet academic learning needs. On any given day, this might include explicit pre-teaching of vocabulary or working to find appropriate scaffolds for those who are reading several grade levels behind or more. With such a diverse array of needs, this often means that each lesson we create needs to be differentiated in a dozen ways and more.
Under the Hopscotch Model, teachers will have to double the teaching, simultaneously teaching unique lessons to half of the students joining via Zoom and another half in person. Not to mention, a significant number of students will attend school asynchronously as they balance new homelife obligations. These students will also need academic and emotional supports.
In addition to academic concerns, we know that some of our students are facing social-emotional challenges. Many have experienced trauma. As teachers, we work to find ways to support their needs while respecting their privacy and not compromising our expectations.
We miss our students. And, we recognize the importance of kids having a community and coming together to grow. But we also know that kids hug, touch and laugh. We know masks will come off; social-distancing rules will be difficult to enforce.
Recently, the Boston Teachers Union surveyed over 2,000 teachers. The results were clear: teachers support a safe reopening that begins with remote learning. Similarly, the AFT-MA and MTA have also made clear that they do not support sending students back into crowded classrooms in outdated buildings, potentially being responsible for a spike in disease, and consequently new deaths.
There is no need for the city to continue to defend a poorly thought-out proposal and suggest that teachers are making this a political fight. There is no need for a fight about whether or not students should go back to poorly ventilated, windowless classrooms
in the fall.
The answer is no.
Now is the time for the district and teachers to re-imagine a more equitable education system. In the weeks that remain before we restart school, there is an opportunity to be reflective and proactive about reforming an inequitable and fractured system.
We propose three ideas that would tinker toward reforming the current system.
First: Revise the antiquated curriculum. Now is the time to convene groups of teachers from across the district to design smarter, culturally-relevant and responsive skill-based curriculum.
Second: Re-imagine collaborative teaching and learning in our schools. This year, students and teachers will periodically be leaving our learning communities due to illness. Traditionally, educators teach in silos and employ rote pedagogical models. Now is the time to adopt new academic structures.
Third: Implement cross-curricular, real-world projects that build on social movements, including Black Lives Matter. Co-constructed with local institutions and community members, these projects model how students can imagine and affect change at the local level. Research has shown that Project-Based Learning (PBL) experiences that are engaging and relevant work to improve educational outcomes for all students.
Now is the time to prioritize real innovation. Our students deserve nothing less.
Christopher Madson has taught for 17 years, the past eight in the Boston Public Schools. He will be teaching 11th and 12th grade English at the John D. O’Bryant High School this coming year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher. Katherine Petta has taught for 15 years as an English teacher at Jeremiah E. Burke High School. She is a National Board Certified Teacher.