By Elise Marlett, Editor in Chief
The West Bend High Schools have a new approach to limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Last week the high schools began to follow the cohort learning model. In accordance with the model, half of the student body will learn in person while the other half learns virtually, alternating each day with the exception of Wednesday, when all students will learn from home. As of right now, this plan will only be practiced until the end of the first semester in order to combat the spread of COVID-19 during the holiday season.
This scheduling change felt unexpected to many teachers, as it was rumored that the school board would opt for virtual learning only for the weeks after Thanksgiving break and winter break with the intention of otherwise maintaining in-person school. But one week after switching from students being in person five days a week to only two days a week, teachers remain cautiously optimistic.
“My heart broke for the students who have chosen to be in school throughout our school year this far,” West math teacher Amanda Vander Bunt said. “I feel these students realized they learn best by being in class. Many of my students who have been in class are now worried about how to manage the virtual world. But then I thought, it is 2020, we will figure this all out together.”
West English teacher Blaise Arens sees this scheduling change as a step in the right direction.
“After that initial reaction faded and I took another look at this, I figured this cohort model is extremely similar to what we’ve been doing, but it makes school overall more safe for everyone,” Arens said. “Lowering the number of students and contacts in a room should be our number one health priority, so while it may disrupt things a bit as we get used to another new schedule, it’ll overall be more beneficial in the long run as we lower our number of quarantines.”
Orchestra teacher Seth Matuszak sees the cohort model in a similar light, saying that the challenges of the year will have positive effects.
“Change can be uncomfortable for anyone, but it’s important to find the positives and to find the lessons behind all of the challenges the pandemic has created,” Matuszak said. “I’m positive about the change, because I knew eventually we’d be faced with a change. I tell myself what I tell my students, and that is ‘nothing easy is worthwhile.’ I know it will be challenging, but I know there will be positive outcomes.”
Implementing the cohort model mid-semester has inevitably caused disproportionate classroom sizes. Matuszak says that some of his classes are so lopsided that he will need to change his plans of instruction for the semester.
“Balance of instrumentation in an ensemble setting is important for the learning and understanding of music,” Matuszak said. “In some classes I need to alter the music we’re studying to fit the instrumentation, but yet still achieve the curricular goals for those classes and keep students engaged in a performanced-based class without live performances.”
“Many of my students who have been in class are now worried about how to manage the virtual world. But then I thought, it is 2020, we will figure this all out together.”
– Amanda Vander Bunt, West math teacher
For East English teacher Danielle Woodall, this change will allow her to see more students than she is typically used to seeing.
“I’m glad the school is doing more to mitigate cases and physically distance students as the pandemic worsens with the colder weather and holiday season,” Woodall said. “I’m also glad to be able to see a few of my students in person who have been home for many weeks now.”
West social studies teacher Jacqueline Schmoldt thinks this scheduling model should have been followed since the very first day of school.
“I wondered why we hadn’t done that from the start,” Schmoldt said. “It’s easiest for me if I just treat it the same way I’ve been doing it since students began staying home by their own choice. It really isn’t that different. I’m also already used to teaching online from last spring’s experience, so Wednesdays will be fine.”
This school year has left many teachers across the country feeling overworked and stressed. Teachers in West Bend are no different.
“This entire year has been a lot,” Arens said. “I’m doing okay with it overall, but I know many of my colleagues are feeling exhausted as they try to be an effective teacher for their students, both in person and online, all the while still trying to take care of their families and balance their own mental health.”
Arens says that student appreciation provides relief for the burdens of teaching in a pandemic. He urges students to be kind to their teachers and take the time to express their appreciation.
East math teacher Haley Ransom has similar feelings and says that the difficulties of this year have helped her improve as an educator. She says she has grown exponentially as a teacher and acknowledges that the pandemic “forced” some valuable changes.
“Yes, I am exhausted, overworked and worn a little thin, but I enjoy a good challenge,” Ransom said. “I like being pushed to expand my resources as an educator and be as creative as I can within the bounds of 2020. This year I have done so many updates within both of the classes I’ve taught. Overall, I think there are some positive things coming out of this crazy 2020 school year!”
(Top image: West English teacher Blaise Arens leads an in-person cohort on Friday. Photo by Elise Marlett, Current Staff.)