After The Valley Reporter and Waterbury Roundabout interviewed Harwood Unified Union School District superintendent Brigid Nease along with school board leaders on return-to-school plans, it made sense to talk to Harwood Union Education Association (HU-EA) vice-presidents Justina Boyden and Stephen Rand.

Here are their thoughts.

VR: How do you feel about plans to keep kids in one place at their desks for seven hours a day?

HU-EA: We live and work in a beautiful place. Our schools already utilize nature as a classroom and enjoy outdoor spaces for learning so it will be important to ensure that students move around in a way that is safe and in line with health and safety guidelines. This will be a paramount part of the school day because students’ emotional, intellectual and physical health depends upon a balance of play, kinesthetics and scholastics. 

VR: What are your thoughts about a hybrid model with a few days in-person and remote learning?

HU-EA: Nobody wants to return to school more than educators and school staff. We also know that we need to do so in a way in which the safety of students, educators and the community is at the forefront of our thinking. We need to get reopening right. We have to do it right and that requires collaborative work. We are looking forward to working with the administrative team to provide input on the hybrid model. Teachers learned quite a bit about remote learning this past spring -- what worked well and what could be improved. We spent quite a bit of time at the end of the year exploring and learning more about online platforms and ways that we could improve the student experience and increase engagement. A hybrid model will provide for some in-person interactions with our students as well as time away from our buildings and campuses to allow for disinfecting and thorough cleaning.  

VR: What health concerns do teachers have?

HU-EA: The health concerns of our educators are like that of many others in our community. We have staff who are immunocompromised or may have family and loved ones with health challenges. We also have students in similar situations. The ability of young children, teenagers and young adults to spread this virus is not yet fully known. We have confidence that our staff, our school nurses and our administrative team will be paying close attention to this and following the guidelines that have been provided.

VR: What pedagogical concerns do teachers have about teaching this way?

HU-EA: We need to attend to the social-emotional needs of all of our students and provide support for all families. Plus, we need to be clear about academic expectations in a hybrid model because it will feel alien to everyone in the beginning. We should look at this as an opportunity to be creative in our curriculum. Teachers, by nature, tend to be creative and, inevitably, find ways to engage students. We are going to have to continue to find the best way to meet the needs and spark interests of students in a developmentally appropriate way. A hybrid model will require outside-of-the-box thinking. It will take time to work out all of the logistics of this new model while balancing screen time. It will be important that we continue to build positive relationships, build a positive climate in our schools and build new and unique classroom cultures.