Burlington High School programs and classes reconvene in person

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Jory Hearst’s Journalism 1 class works on their articles in small groups outside BHS Photo: Jory Hearst

Rebecca Cunningham, Staff writer

While most students’ bedrooms now double as their classrooms, Burlington Technical Center (BTC), a class of English Learning (EL) students, and Intensive Special Needs (ISN), have found alternative spaces to meet with students in person. Through September and October, several teachers found ways to hold their classes outside. Due to the season, these classes can no longer meet, however, the Burlington School Board and Superintendent are working to establish more permanent solutions.

Burlington Technical Center Dispersed Throughout the City 

As of Wednesday October 14th, 10 of the Burlington Technical Center’s 12 programs resumed learning in person. The remaining two automotive programs, Automotive Science and Technology, and Auto Body Repair, began in person Monday November 9th. 

BTC Culinary Arts students follow a recipe
Photo: Jason Gingold

Finding these alternative spaces was not easy. BTC Principal, Jason Gingold, contacted over 80 organizations and colleges to find available space in the community for temporary classrooms. The task was difficult due to Covid-19 safety policies that prevented many from sharing their space. 

The BTC technical education programs use hands-on teaching strategies often which require students to be in-person. 

“In technical education it’s really important to have hands-on learning,” Gingold said. “[Students] are expected to either go out into the career world and do that, or continue along to college or training or the military and demonstrate those skills.”

Teachers and students also value the personal connections they form through face-to-face interaction. 

“Teachers and students need to have a connection,” Gingold said. “I think what we all learned from remote learning in March to June was that if we hadn’t established prior relationships with students it was really difficult to establish a new relationship through remote learning.”

BTC Aviation & Aerospace Technology students meet again in person
Photo: Jason Gingold

BHS junior, Ella Ambroggio, agreed.

“I definitely like being in person better, at least for BTC, because I can actually talk to my teacher in real-time while I am doing the work. And I also get to meet kids in my class which is nice,” a junior in the Design Illustration program, Ella Ambroggio said. 

This plan was not free from challenges.

Teachers had been preparing all summer for hybrid learning in the fall. They had finalized teaching plans, and even decorated their classrooms when they were shut out of the building. 

“Now is just a mind-shift, and a challenge that we have had to overcome, of taking what we had and putting it in a new location,” Gingold said.

Despite the setbacks, Gingold maintains an optimistic attitude about the future of BTC, where each class will continue in their new location for the foreseeable future. 

“It’s a continuous set of improvements That’s our philosophy here. If we keep doing that…students will be fine by the end of the year, better than fine, students will be great!”

English Learners at Edmunds Elementary School 

At Edmunds Elementary School (EES) eight BHS English Learners attend class from 9:00-12:00 Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.  

Immediately following school closure, the EL teachers agreed that their newest students required in-person learning to succeed. EL Director of Programs, Miriam Ehtesham-Cating, worked with administrators to establish a classroom at EES and communicate the information with families. 

“This group of students we’re working with are newest to the United States so their lack of English and computer skills makes it amazingly difficult for them to learn, and for teachers to teach them through the computer,” BHS EL English teacher, Jill Jacobelli, said. 

Jacobelli also said that she finds it is easier to help her students, with any task, in person.

“If their internet is not working what can they do?” Jacobelli said. “Then to try to, through the computer, say, ‘Let’s call Comcast together?’ That’s so hard.”

Jacobelli is grateful for this opportunity. She not only believes teaching her students is more effective in person, she values the social emotional connection that is lost over Google Meets. 

“It feels so nice to be away from the computer and laughing and talking in person.” Jacobelli  said. “The other day I tripped and almost fell and we all laughed.”

Her students agree. 

“Yes of course I like it, I miss everyone school,” EL student Chance Yaya enthusiastically said when asked about her new classroom.

“I love go to school because on [Google] Meets I don’t understand anything,” another EL student, Riziki Alimasi, said. 

In the coming months, EL students will continue to learn four days a week at Edmunds elementary school.

ISN at Edmunds Elementary School, Lyman C. Hunt Middle School, and Appletreebay Medical Center on North Ave

ISN is a BHS program for students with intensive special needs. The program, previously located in the BHS F building, provides additional support services specific to each student. 

ISN teacher, Tracy Rubman, started looking for a new space immediately after BHS made the transition to full remote learning. 

“Many students haven’t yet learned the skills to look at a computer and manipulate a mouse, they could be nonverbal,” Rubman said. “They may not have motor control to access a touchscreen. They need the support of another human being to access remote learning.”

Rubman began looking for a commercial space located near the existing high school so that her students could receive transportation, administrative support, and meals. She also needed a place that was accessible for all her students. 

Rubman succeeded quickly. 

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and replacing space is not a new activity in my kind of profession,” Rubman said. 

With these conditions met, students returned to Edmunds Elementary, Lyman C. Hunt Middle School, and Appletree Medical Center on North Ave in late September/early October.

Now, each student in the ISN program works in person with a designated adult who assists them through their online classes.

Rubman did not reply immediately regarding the inquiry about the future location of the ISN program. 

BHS Classes Outside 

Until late October, when the weather turned cool, several Burlington High School teachers held in-person classes outside the BHS building. These classes included, but were not limited to, PE, band, chorus, orchestra, chemistry, Journalism 1, and English. 

BHS Band Director, Clayton Hamilton, hosted rehearsal for his Wind Ensemble about once a week on the patio outside the music department. When he surveyed his class regarding this opportunity he received positive responses across the board. 

“Overall, I’m definitely excited as long as it’s as safe as it can be,” trumpeter Jacob Hilleman said. “I’m excited to have social interactions again and to see teachers in person so that my education is back to somewhat normal.”

Hamilton’s primary reason for hosting rehearsal on the Burlington High School lawn was that students could not play together over Google Meets. He also said that he finds teaching easier in person and believes his students are able to learn at a faster pace. 

“Teaching in person allows me to be a lot more technical and a little more hands on,” Hamilton said. “I just did a one-on-one trombone lesson [via Google Meets] with a student and he’s like, ‘Am I hitting the trigger the right way?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know? I can’t see.’” 

Clayton Hamilton practices a hip hop chart called Arange Drake with his Wind Ensemble
Photo: @seahorsespirit802

Another factor that is helpful when teaching band students but often lost over a screen, is body language. 

“In-person there’s body language. I read body language a lot better,” Hamilton said. “For me, I connect with students a lot better. I can read people better like, ‘Oh hey this isn’t vibing with you. What’s going on? How can I help you?’”

Jory Hearst is another teacher who arranged classes outside BHS. She teaches both Journalism 1 and works as the 504 plan case manager, which means she helps students who need extra assistance completing assignments. She met with her Journalism 1 class every Tuesday and her 504 plan students every Wednesday.

Hearst loves teaching in-person. 

“[My students], can meet so easily and if they need help they can just ask me a question,” Hearst said.

Hearsts’ students similarly enjoyed these classes, however, social interaction could be awkward at times. 

“I think students aren’t used to engaging with each other, especially ones they don’t know well. In my journalism class, the first time we met, everyone was so excited to meet and then it was really quiet when they all first got there.” Hearst said. “A lot of students said we haven’t really seen each other since last March.”

Teaching outdoors is no longer an option, however, on November 2, Superintendent Flanagan announced a plan for students to meet again in-person on Wednesdays at the Edmunds complex. According to the plan, “A day” students will attend classes in the morning, and “B day” students will attend classes in the afternoon.

In the same email to BHS families and teachers, Flanagan also said that the district has secured a place for students above the LL Bean downtown which will be called the BHS Community Center. The BHS Community Center will serve as a space where students can meet with teachers, complete work, or attend their virtual classes. This space will also be used by Student Support Services, the Succeed program, ISN, Early EL, the school nurse, administration, and school counselors. 

Both the Community Center and the Wednesday in-person learning opportunity are expected to begin around November 18th. 

The School Board and Superintendent hope to find a space for the whole school to learn again in person by the second semester. With this goal in mind, they are exploring alternative spaces such as UVM, Macy’s, or a portable trailer park on the BHS property. Although no location has been confirmed, a decision is rapidly approaching.