Gabby Tirado will be a sophomore at Cheshire High School this fall and is looking forward to attending classes in person for the first time since March.
“I can’t wait to get back,” she said. “We have to wear masks and a lot of restrictions, but I am excited to go back.”
In a plan set to be submitted to the state Friday, Cheshire schools have outlined a strategy that would allow students to return to the classroom this fall. It incorporates mandatory mask usage and social distancing measures. Traditional grading practices will resume and backpacks will be used instead of lockers. Courses such as chorus, band and PE will be limited.
Also included is a concept called cohorting.
“We’re trying very hard to keep students together, in small groups, to the greatest extent possible,” said Cheshire Superintendent of Public Schools Jeff Solan.
Using cohorts, schools aim to keep students in clusters, reducing interaction between groups as much as possible. It will be done mainly in elementary and middle schools.
With classroom changes between periods, this practice will not be done in the high school. Still, interaction between students will be limited.
“In the hallway you can’t stop and see your friends. You can’t talk to anybody really close up,” said Tirado.
In a parental survey, 88% of 3,000 people in Cheshire said they’d prefer in-person learning.
“It’s important for their well-being, physically and mentally, to get back at it and have that normalcy,” explained Gabby’s mother, Alison Tirado.
The school system is also providing the option of learning remotely, offering what it calls synchronous learning. To enhance the experience, speakers and microphones, along with a camera fixated on the teaching area, have been installed in 56 classrooms district-wide.
“Students can see what’s presented at the front of the classroom on their own computer screen and basically have full engagement in the class,” explained Solan.
Cheshire has invested $180,000 into technology designed to improve its distance learning program. Solan says the investment will have practical use beyond this experience.
“We didn’t want a bandaid. It’s not cheap to do this so we didn’t want something that would be useless after COVID,” he said.
Solan says the goal is to provide a safe environment and an education on par with the experience before the pandemic.