by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – With school on the brink of a state-mandated start date, Hazen Union School will go into a “soft start” for its opening plans, according to information distributed by Hazen Principal David Perrigo.
At Monday’s informational meeting, Perrigo acknowledged “a very weird and alien environment” created by COVID-19. He spoke of how everyone would need to re-think what school feels like, especially those students who want more in-person instruction than remote. Everything has changed.
“For those of us who have been in the building for the last week, we have to learn new behaviors, all of us, even adults. When I go over to one of my staff members and I want to look at what’s on their computer, I have to be reminded you can’t do that anymore, you have to get to keep away from people.”
Throughout the process of deciding re-opening plans, Perrigo and his staff have been open about the array of unsettling unknowns precipitating a school re-opening during a pandemic. The school, and the entire Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union, are among the districts and supervisory unions across Vermont operating with a hybrid re-opening strategy. Some surrounding districts have chosen different approaches. Orleans Central Supervisory Union, for example, has opted to keep its K-8 fully in-person with a fully-remote option. Caledonia Central Supervisory Union has opted for a hybrid model primarily similar to Hazen’s, and Washington Central Supervisory Union is offering a choice of either in-person or remote. The two Lamoille districts are both following a similar hybrid approach as Hazen.
Students will return to Hazen in a staggered approach. Masks will be required, which some acknowledged could be the simplest major hurdle to the re-opening.
For the coming week, students will come to the school in separate groups, with the school days ending at 11:35 a.m. The seventh-grade orientation will be next Tuesday. September 8, and all seventh graders will return that day (no other students). On Wednesday, only the eighth graders return, followed by just ninth and tenth graders on Thursday, and only eleventh and twelfth graders on Friday. Perrigo stressed that “This is an opportunity for students to return to school in smaller numbers so that we can welcome students back gradually after having been away from school for so long. Much will be different about the way we do things and we need to support students getting used to it.”
The following week, Hazen moves into a heavily revised fall schedule, starting on September 14. Middle school students will be divided into two groups, with one meeting Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursday and Fridays. Likewise, ninth and tenth graders will go on Mondays and Tuesdays, while eleventh and twelfthgraders will go on Thursdays and Fridays. Through at least October 2, the school day will end at 1:35 p.m.
Green Mountain Technology and Career Center (GMTCC) will have a bus shuttling students from Hazen to the Tech Center, with a 2:30 p.m. pick-up time, and bring the students back after classes. If a student’s house is along the return path, the bus may be able to drop them off. Otherwise, students need to figure out their ride home from Hazen. As with Hazen, GMTCC is taking no chances and requiring masks.
The learning experiences Hazen is offering are flexible and, as Perrigo had previously stated, in some cases these experiences expand on the learning opportunities for Hazen students.
Three hybrid options exist. Students can opt for a combination of in-person instruction two days a week with remote learning the rest of the week, or choose specialized programs, or opt for “Alternate Pathways,” Hazen’s “non-traditional, project-based approach.”
The basic hybrid model will have a student meet with a Teacher-Student Advisor daily and work out a course schedule. The offerings include “both traditional classes, which approach learning through specific subject areas … as well as multi-disciplinary learning experiences that focus on projects and integrate the essential learning within the experience of the project.”
Remote learning options will supplement and fill out the students’ learning experiences. A new partnership with the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC) is one major expansion of the school’s core offerings. For example, among the offerings listed on VTVLC’s course schedule are Chinese or Japanese languages, African-American History, Astronomy, Forensic Science, Digital Photography, and Multivariable Calculus. At the end of each day, students will also participate in a “Club” which Perrigo said included “Ultimate Frisbee, Student Council, Stand Up, GSA, Mountain Biking, Green Team, Dungeons & Dragons, Green House, Chess, Career Cafe, [and] Cooking.” He is also asking for students’ input as to what clubs should be offered.
Specialized Hybrid Learning will be available as a second option. As examples, teacher Anja Pfeffer is offering a curriculum entitled “Dare to be Me” for Hazen High School girls. Pfeffer described the course briefly in the letter: “In a small community of young women, you will have the opportunity to play with things like juggling, hiking, biking, journaling, photography, drawing, reading, and much more … If you want to see what you are capable of, this class will help you find the courage to be you.”
The Hazen Arts Academy is another specialized opportunity for hybrid learning, conducted in partnership with the Highland Center for the Arts. This option is described as a largely student-driven curriculum that is “an integrated program encompassing literature, writing, and history, and cultures in the context of and while learning and creating visual arts, dance, music, and theater.” Students choosing this option might spend little to no time at the Hazen campus, but can participate in other classes at the building or remotely, if so desired.
The last hybrid option is “Alternative Pathways, Independent Learning Projects, Work and Site-Based Learning” intended “to offer more opportunities for alternative pathways to learning for more students.” This customized curriculum would be largely self-designed by students in co-ordination with teachers. As an example, at Monday’s meeting, Hazen Union Artisan and Entrepreneurship Academy Coordinator Hilary Maynard described the Academy’s expanded offerings with an “Innovation and Creativity Lab” that “is really an opportunity for kids to think out of the box about what they want to learn and then design your own learning experience and the possibilities are endless.” A key ingredient in this expansion is the new Hazen makerspace, which had only just come to fruition when the pandemic struck in March and shuttered in-person schooling.
For the students who want to go fully remote, the options are a home-Hazen collaborative option, Hazen’s classes online, or the VTVLC options.
Hazen listed VTVLC first in the remote options. “This option is probably the best option for a student who wants to assure some consistency to their education throughout this unpredictable time. It is best suited for students who are highly motivated, able to work independently, and looking for a robust academic experience.”
The VTLVC is a fourteen-year-old, fully accredited Vermont online high-school. Hazen has partnered with VTVLC “for many years,” but in much more limited contexts. “Thanks to the support of the Vermont Agency of Education, we are developing a new partnership to expand and strengthen remote on-line options for students and families,” wrote Perrigo. The expansion now includes middle-school students who will be able to take advantage of VTVLC’s course offerings. “VTVLC has a course catalog of over 200 courses to select from, greatly expanding options for Hazen students. The courses that Hazen students select may be taught by Hazen teachers, or may be taught by teachers from other Vermont schools.”
Work can be done at any time, with flexible schedules, and the VTVLC offerings can be used to augment a Hazen schedule or go full-time with the VTVLC/Hazen partnership.
Hazen is also offering a remote schedule of its own classes with no need to come into the building. “Students can access their teachers during ‘office hours’ on Wednesdays or by appointment. Students who select this option will be expected to participate in a TSA experience, develop a Personalized Learning Plan, and chronicle their experience through a Portfolio.”
Finally on the remote learning experience side is a Home/Hazen option described as “an opportunity for a student and their family to work with Hazen staff to develop a unique and individualized learning program with the support of their family, friends, and neighbors.” With this option, Hazen has taken a large step toward helping students learn within their own ecosystems with relevant skills and knowledge, instead of forcing students to learn things they see little relevance to.
“This is a great opportunity for students who have some interests that they would like to explore, but maybe struggle with the relevance of school. Perhaps the standard school curriculum has never really motivated them. Maybe they have a summer job that they’d like to continue, or are caring for elderly relatives, or providing childcare, or are rebuilding their 4-wheeler and want to figure out how to get ‘credit’ for what they have learned through doing these things. Students who select this option will be expected to participate in a TSA experience, develop a Personalized Learning Plan, and chronicle their experience through a Portfolio.”