HyFlex teaching poses challenges

by Bella Ishanyan, News Contributor, Eva Zacharakis, News Editor & Alexa Zou, News Reporter
photo by Hedi Skali

South and its crosstown counterpart North will begin HyFlex learning on  Jan. 25. In a survey due  Dec. 13, students selected either HyFlex, which would allow them to learn partially in person, or the fully remote option. Students should anticipate that the selection made in the survey will be in place until at least February vacation, Vice Principal Christopher Hardiman said.  

In the HyFlex model, there will be two cohorts that will alternate between attending school in person and remotely depending on the day of the week, Superintendent David Fleishman said. The remote students will Zoom into the classroom while in-person instruction is happening. Plans for asynchronous work on Wednesdays are currently being discussed by the School Committee.

The HyFlex model was created to improve students’ mental health and give students a chance to return to school without disrupting their current school schedules, School Committee Chair Ruth Goldman said. 

Director of Information Technology and Library Services Steven Rattendi said that the district will provide teachers with supplemental cameras and lapel microphones to maximize the experience of online and in-person students alike. 

Amy Anderson, an English teacher at Wellesley High School who has gone back and forth between remote and hybrid due to community transmission this year, said that the stress of teaching in the hybrid model lessened the more time she spent in the classroom. 

“The first couple of weeks of hybrid learning were rocky and anxiety-producing, but it did feel good to see students in person, even though I felt completely incompentent managing the in-person-Zoom split,” she said. “I gradually began to feel less anxious about coming into the building and about the technology.”

English teacher Deborah Bernhard said that the in-person aspect of HyFlex will be good for students’ mental health. 

“For kids to have a place to go, even if it’s only once a week or twice a month, for kids to be able to wake up, get dressed, go into the building and be around other people is really good psychologically,” she said. 

“I am a little worried about if the anxiety and the paranoia and the fear would outweigh that, but at least in the beginning, just getting up seeing people in a building, having that feeling, even if it doesn’t feel like normal school, that’ll be positive and beneficial.”

Math and physics teacher Ryan Normandin, however, said that the hybrid model will further prevent students from learning the required material. 

“It is worse as a learning model than full remote, and the district has acknowledged this,” he said. “They said they estimated that teachers are covering about 60% of content right now, and they’ve acknowledged that going to a HyFlex model would mean that there’d be a significant reduction in that number.”

Eighth grade Oak Hill social studies teacher Carol Bolton Kappel said that balancing online and in-person students is challenging. 

“I’m trying to keep all my classes on the same pace during the day, because in the afternoon the classes are only 30 minutes, in the mornings they’re 45,” she said. “The bottom line is I could potentially be planning three different lesson plans, and I just can’t do it. I physically cannot do it.”

Bernhard said she does not feel safe with the current precautions that have been announced by Newton Public Schools. 

“I am worried about the safety. I haven’t yet heard of a safety plan that I feel comfortable with. I haven’t heard much of a safety plan at all, even for just teachers who are now being asked to come back in more regularly,” she said.

Anderson said that when it comes to learning during the pandemic, there is not one solution. . 

“There is no perfect learning model under our current pandemic situation, even though everyone is certain a town nearby is doing it better than the way their town is doing it,” she said. “I’m a parent in a nearby town — my 12th grader is fully remote and my 7th grader is attending in a hybrid model, and there are ups and downs to both situations.”

Fleishman said that he has high hopes that this model will be long-term. 

“I expect and hope that this would be the plan for the rest of the year,” he said. “Changes are hard, particularly on teachers, which we’re sensitive to.”