‘I get to see my friends’: Sanderson Academy kindergartners meet classmates with start of hybrid model

  • Kindergartners at Sanderson Academy in Ashfield play on the piles of snow outside the school last week. The Mohawk Trail Regional School District’s youngest students entered a hybrid learning model on Jan. 19. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ashfield kindergartners slide on the piles of snow outside the school last week. The Mohawk Trail Regional School District’s youngest students entered a hybrid learning model on Jan. 19. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Kindergartners at Sanderson Academy in Ashfield venture outside for part of their day. The Mohawk Trail Regional School District’s youngest students entered a hybrid learning model on Jan. 19. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/8/2021 6:13:14 PM

ASHFIELD — Donning face masks and bundled in snow gear, the kindergartners of Sarah Forbes’ class trudged up the hill outside Sanderson Academy for their turn sliding down the hill on a sled.

Those who chose not to sled climbed the different heaps of snow that formed after the previous week’s snowstorm, enjoying their time away from the computer after several months of remote learning.

“I get to see my friends,” said 5-year-old Ursula Tobin.

On Jan. 19, the Mohawk Trail Regional School District began the process of phasing students back into their classrooms after nearly 10 months of remote education. The process began with the youngest in the district.

“It’s been great to have kids back in the building,” said Sanderson Academy Principal Emma Liebowitz. “Everyone’s been so conscious about being safe.”

At Sanderson Academy, the kindergarten students spend the mornings learning remotely and the afternoons in-person. The afternoon portion is split in half — one hour is spent in classrooms that have been set up to allow for social distancing, and the second hour is spent outdoors.

Families have the option to send their students in for the latter half of the day, Forbes explained. In her class, there are a few students who don’t come into the building for the first part of the afternoon, but who do join their peers for the outdoor lessons.

“It’s a nice model, because they’re able to still participate in a way that feels safe for the families,” she said.

Building community

Forbes said she was surprised at how much community her students managed to build during the months they spent in a remote learning environment.

“I’ve had parents saying (their students) were talking about their friends, even though they hadn’t all been together at school,” she said.

Forbes said overall, the students did well with remote learning and continue to do so in the hybrid model.

“They’re little kids, they don’t have a long attention span to be online,” she said. “Is it as ideal as being in person? No, but I think we’re making the best out of the situation.”

Before the pandemic, which took students out of the building last March, Forbes used sign language in her classroom — a tool that became especially useful when conducting class from behind a screen.

“They can’t have their microphones on at the same time,” she said. “We do a lot of sign language, so that way they can all respond at the same time. And they can let me know if they need something — they know the sign for hurt, excuse me, bathroom, yes and no, water.”

She recalled a time when one student was doing the sign for “hurt,” and although Forbes didn’t notice, another student did and was able to alert her to that student. At the end of the day, a third student wanted to recognize his peer for noticing the first student in what Forbes called the “gem ceremony.”

She explained that the classroom has six values: safe, friendly, brave, responsible, respectful and flexible. The students, now that they’ve learned all of the values, can give each other “gems” for demonstrating them.

“Over time, it builds their awareness of each other,” Forbes said.

A smooth transition

Although Forbes was eager to return to the classroom and be with her students — who up until mid-January she had only seen once per week on an individual basis to distribute materials — she said the time and preparation resulted in what she considered a smooth transition into the hybrid model.

“We really took our time planning things, and our school provided a lot of training,” she said. “It was the preparation time that made the big difference.”

She said she’s found a system for keeping her students safe in the classroom, including arranging play spaces to allow for space between the students.

The hybrid model, she said, offers a “nice interim step” for when it is time to return to the classroom full time.

Liebowitz said the smooth transition was a credit to the teachers as well as the families, who have been flexible and understanding throughout the process.

As for the students, although their favorite activities in the classroom differ — for Addison Porter, 5, it’s the building blocks; for Hayley Porter, 5, and Ursula Tobin, it’s the dramatic play area — there’s one thing they can all agree on: It’s nice to see the friends they made in their online classroom.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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