Tuesday, August 4, 2020


Coronavirus Remote Education and Dancing 

Day 137  Tuesday August 4

Well, it has been over a month since I last wrote in this blog and, in light of what the city is planning for the start of the school year, I felt it was necessary 
to chime in with my opinion.


But before I do that I want to mention that I just finished running a totally Virtual Arts program for the Brooklyn Arts Exchange (BAX). It was a blended model with both live and taped content that was synchronous and asynchronous. We were charting new territory and I learned an immense amount about what was both possible and successful in online education for elementary aged children. I was also amazed to see how our youngest learners were able to adapt to this environment with the proper leadership from their instructor.

While being online is not ideal for most of us in the arts, I do feel as a temporary measure for this particular time, that there are ways to make the online experience very successful and not sacrifice learning in the process.


Which brings me to NYC, Mayor DeBlasio, and the Department of Education (DOE). This past week the DOE rolled out its plans for a blended learning models. There are a number of different scenarios and the idea is to give students as much time live in the classroom as possible while following CDC guidelines for protection from transmission of the Coronavirus. From what I can tell the only plan that will work and at the same time keep students and staff safe is totally remote learning.


The scenarios of blended learning with rotating schedules are at the very least laughable and at the worst a total nightmare inviting all types of chaos to ensue from figuring out child care to outbreaks of transmission and large group quarantining of students and teachers. While some of these sound good on paper, I have to wonder if the everyday logistics have really been thought out. In my school, depending on the size of the classroom, there would be 9 to 15 students in a room with one teacher. If it is a class that require two teachers there would need to be less students. Students will be required to be at their desks, which are 6 feet apart, and wear a mask all day. They would be served lunch in the classroom and any Specialist Teachers (Art, Dance, Music, Theater, Technology, Science, and Gym) would be traveling from class to class. Everything will happen in that 1 room.


So in this scenario, what happens when a 6 year old needs to use the bathroom. Will an adult monitor be in the hallway to accompany them and make sure that they get to the bathroom and are following all of the sanitizing protocols. I would not be able to just send them with a partner as I might usually under normal circumstances.


And what about small group instruction?  Which the blended model says I will need to do. Am I going to push 4 desks together or have the students yell at each other from 6 feet apart while wearing a mask? If I were virtual, I could put them in breakout rooms and have them discuss or partake in an activity together and never have to worry about contact. So do I only do small group instruction when we are remote, because I will be remote at times with a class even if I am in person.


As a Dance Educator there is nothing I want more than to be back in the classroom with my students and having them take part in activity that engages them physically, cognitively, emotionally, and artistically. That said, as the Director of a Summer Arts program at BAX , I was able to do this all online with a blended model. While not ideal, it was successful and a good model for something that we may need to do for a short period of time. It is important to keep in mind that it is temporary and when we are ready and feel safe we will return to the classroom.


I totally believe that I can be successful in a remote environment but it takes a lot of planning and thoughtful use of the online platform, especially for elementary age children . We as teachers should be getting ready for that now and not thinking of it as an emergency situation. It requires a different way of thinking about your classroom and a facility in the online environment that can only come from sufficient planning and preparation. What we should be doing right now is that planning with tech and professional development support and not this crazy in-person, not in person, part live, part remote, and/or full remote.


How do I as a teacher plan effectively for all those scenarios and how can students feel any sense of stability and routine if in person education can be interrupted at any time when someone tests positive in your classroom. As a specialist instructor, who will be traveling from class to class for up to 25 classes a week it is possible that I would need to quarantine and go remote on a weekly basis.


Personally, after discussing this with a number of colleagues, I think that students with disabilities that get mandated services should be given priority. They should be in person in the building as much as possible and remote part of the time. Everyone else should go remote full time. Most schools would be able to accommodate their population of students who get services while practicing  all of the CDC guidelines. It may very well create an ideal environment for those children as they would get the attention they need without worry of transmission due to exposure.


I was listening to NPR today and they were interviewing High School students from different parts of the country and one of them said that they hope we learn something from this about the inadequacies of our educational system and that we may need to rethink how we educate students in this country.


Just imagine if we limited classes to a maximum of 18 (which is what we do with Pre-K) having to switch to 9 students in a class in person would not be as big of an issue. More importantly how much more could we accomplish with our students if we changed our  perspective on class size and professional development. Studies have shown over and over again that size matters and when coupled with meaningful, productive professional development for teachers, student learning improves dramatically. Maybe a revamping of the entire system is what is needed and as a society we need to finally value education that goes beyond producing a product and produces creative, caring, productive, and engaging individuals with a social conscious.


I will leave you with that thought to think over and hopefully ,in the meantime, our officials will come to their senses and declare remote learning for all until we have a better handle on this devastating pandemic.

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