EHS prepares for upcoming virtual school year


Photo courtesy of Canva.

Caitlin O'Brien

August is normally an exciting time for students — from fall sports beginning to school supply shopping to finishing (or starting) summer reading, this month is often a busy period filled with anticipation for the new school year. Yet, this August looks a little different; in a year punctuated by uncertainty due to the coronavirus epidemic, the East Penn School District has been working tirelessly to formulate a safe, supportive plan for its students as they return this fall.

Earlier in August, parents selected either a fully remote or hybrid model for their children; however, due to an insufficient number of nursing staff, learning is fully remote for district secondary schools until Oct. 28. Should the hybrid model resume in October, students whose last names begin with letters A through K will attend school in-person Monday, Tuesday and alternating Wednesdays. Students with last names L through Z will attend every other Wednesday, Thursday and Friday each week. 

All instruction, whether in-person or online, will be either synchronous or asynchronous — the former requiring students to engage normally or via Zoom during the scheduled class time, and the latter operating similarly to the “Continuity of Learning” plan implemented at the end of last year, in which students completed coursework at their own pace. The nature of this learning will be at the teachers’ discretion, although three options outlined by the district entail varying combinations of synchronous and asynchronous teaching, with core courses predominantly using live instruction. Fully online and designated online hybrid students will be expected to log into their classes remotely via Schoology, Emmaus’s new learning management system, every day to complete assignments. Due to the semester block schedule and hybrid learning plan, LCTI and Emerging Health Program students have unique schedules with coursework almost exclusively online. Otherwise, grading, attendance — both online and in-person — and course pacing will resume normally. 

While all learning is fully remote until late October, hybrid students should still expect to attend school in-person one day the week of Aug. 31. Students with last names A through E should attend on Monday, F through K on Tuesday, L through Q on Wednesday and R through Z on Thursday. During “off” days students are still expected to participate in their classes remotely using their district-issued Chromebooks. Fully online students have designated times to pick up course materials each day, assigned based on last name and grade level. The first week will follow a half-day schedule, with dismissal at 11:00 a.m. The block schedule is also modified the entire week for the shorter school days: Block 1 is 73 minutes long, and the following blocks are each 38 minutes long.

For synchronous and in-person learning, a normal school day will consist of four blocks, each 60 minutes long except for Block 3, which includes an additional 82 minutes for lunch and an advisory period. Students now have up to 10 minutes of transition time between classes in order to minimize the number of students in the hallways for in-person days. The day will begin with Block 1 at 7:23 a.m. and end with Block 4 at 1:15 p.m., in contrast to the 2:25 p.m. end time of previous years. This shortened school day will better enable teachers to plan remote instruction and accommodate online students.

In early August, students should have received a list of their scheduled courses, and on Aug. 24, full student schedules were released on PowerSchool. Implementing the new semester block format created some scheduling conflicts in many students’ schedules, so anyone with questions or concerns regarding course scheduling should contact his or her counselor. Prior to the start of school, students and parents should also familiarize themselves with Schoology, through which many teachers have already begun posting course information, materials and Zoom meeting links.

Once in-person learning resumes, the district has established a number of procedures to ensure the health and safety of its students during the pandemic. Students must wear a mask at all times once they return to school, including on bus rides, except during monitored “mask breaks” and during lunch. All desks will be placed six feet apart, and special seating arrangements will be enforced in art rooms and science labs. Students will eat lunch in either the cafeteria or the main gym, where strict social distancing will be implemented, and staff will sanitize lunch tables between each of the four lunch periods during Block 3. Students are also encouraged to bring with them a refillable water bottle to school each day, as only the refilling stations — not the water fountains — will be open. Each classroom will also be equipped with wipes and other cleaning supplies, and every night the custodial staff will sanitize each room as well.

Graphic courtesy of Canva.