WEST MIDDLESEX — While some school districts have chosen either to hold classes online or in person, officials at West Middlesex Area School District has chosen both.
The district has undertaken a one-to-one technology initiative students from kindergarten through 12th grade and Superintendent Raymond Omer said students are learning at home using their Chromebooks with every Wednesday designated an all-virtual day.
West Middlesex has invested in devices and systems that allow the district to hold virtual and in-person with different groups or even simultaneously.
At its December meeting, West Middlesex School Board accepted a $90,500 grant in federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to help offset costs associated with carrying out the health and safety plan. The CARES Act funds were administered by the Mercer County commissioners.
Omer said the district also is employing other grants, including the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant, that it has used in past years.
In the elementary school, the hybrid system includes social distancing within classrooms, and opening new classrooms to decrease the number of students in each class. Omer said the district is using aides who are certified to teach to cover the additional classrooms.
At the high school, students are divided into “A” and “B” groups, which alternate weekly between in-person and virtual instruction to reduce the number of students in the building at any one time.
Students who have difficulty maintaining access during virtual instruction at home or other issues are permitted to attend school in both groups. Omer said that covers only a “small” number of students, so the school can maintain social distancing.
The district takes other steps to help improve safety while students are in school.
Some classrooms have installed wide-angle cameras that allow teachers to instruct classes normally while students learning virtually can follow along at home. The district also uses “Elmo” devices, which allow teachers to write on a document projected onto students’ devices, Omer said.
“None of this is ideal for how we operate or are accustomed to operating, but our students did a fantastic job of staying engaged, and our teachers worked very hard to keep the students engaged and on par with curriculum calendar,” Omer said.
The accommodations forced expenses on West Middlesex, so Omer said the grant funding has come in handy.
Since the CARES Act funds can basically be used to offset any cost associated with COVID-19, school officials decided to follow ESSER grant recommendations which allows reconfiguring large spaces for instruction, Omer said.
To that end, school officials are considering installing equipment to make it easier to teach in larger rooms, such as an auditorium, to allow social distancing. By installing devices like projectors or voice amplification system, Omer said teachers will be able to interact with students without shouting and walking all over the room.
“If you were to use a large room at the university level, everything would have to be seen and heard from the back of the room,” he said.
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