By ELLA KOTOK
On June 10, the Montgomery County Board of Education met to discuss and announce guidelines and regulations for the upcoming school year. These included many rollbacks on restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, most notably the return to in person instruction 5-days a week at 100% capacity. With Montgomery County’s vaccination rate currently at 59.5%, many MCPS teachers are looking forward to the return to normalcy.
“This year was unlike any other,” said Fallsmead Elementary School counselor Rebecca Kotok. She, along with thousands of teachers and administrators across the county, has been working tirelessly throughout the year to ensure that students’ educational needs were met.
Fallsmead principal Lori Sweeney feels similarly. “I feel like I worked harder than I’ve ever worked before,” she said. “Managing the social-emotional needs of our students, staff, and community was probably the biggest challenge.”
Both educators noted that the constantly changing metrics and guidelines made the year especially difficult to manage.
One of Fallsmead’s special education teachers, Jessica Shevitz, found engaging students through a screen to be one of the most difficult aspects of the year. “It was really difficult to keep kids engaged and manage behaviors while online,” she said. “Lots of kids would not complete assignments, or would get frustrated and sign off, and there’s not much we could do when that happened.”
After student engagement became such a prevalent issue during that past year, many MCPS educators are worried about the learning gaps between students created by virtual learning. “I think that there is a large learning gap between students due to online learning,” Shevitz said. “[For] students with disabilities, [there are] even more challenges as it was harder to implement accommodations and services during virtual learning.”
Sweeney believes that there may be greater discrepancies between students of different backgrounds, making the situation inequitable. “I… feel that some families who had additional resources were able to provide learning pods and tutors, so they probably have less gaps in their learning than students whose families were not able to provide these supports,” she said.
Despite these challenges, the educators are optimistic that they are heading towards a brighter future this upcoming school year.
Sweeney has already seen the county begin to take the necessary steps to help remedy the learning gaps. “The county… has spent a lot of time back-mapping what kids have missed, and they have created parent resources that will show parents what their child has missed and what they can do to help,” she said.
Shevitz also said that she saw immense progress in the students who returned to school in person last year, even for simply the last quarter.
When asked what they were most excited for about the upcoming school year, all three educators had the same answer: to see their students back in the building again. “I am completely comfortable returning to school 5 days a week,” Kotok said. “I appreciate the county’s efforts to get school staff vaccinated early.”
Shevitz is excited to have her students back in the classroom, and is prepared to slowly reintroduce in-person learning etiquette. “We can start at the beginning of the year with rules and routines and work on academic, social, and [behavioral] goals within a classroom setting,” she said.
MCPS will begin the 2021-2022 school year on August 30. Until then, teachers will be preparing themselves and their classrooms for the first “normal” day of school since before the pandemic.