But for many top high schools, the adjustment went off without a hitch, often because they were prepared with the technology necessary to pivot at a moment’s notice.
When schools reopened for a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning this academic year, they equipped their classrooms, teachers and buildings themselves with the resources to adapt to the new reality.
At Holy Cross High School in Flushing, Fei-Wen Pirovolikos, director of instructional technology, said the school has been using Google Classrooms since 2014. As a result, teachers are “very proficient” with the technology.
“It was like turning on a switch, we were instantly on,” she said. “Back in March and April, I felt we transitioned into it quite smoothly.”
Like most other schools, Holy Cross has adopted both remote and hybrid models. Teachers are teaching students in the classroom, as well as virtually through Google Meet.
As the lead on technology, Pirovolikos said she was primarily focused on teachers having adequate devices to bring home. She noted that every student was already given a Chromebook, but initially wasn’t sure if she had enough extra Chromebooks for teachers.
“Teachers have to be well-equipped,” she said. “And we were able to do that.”
Pirovolikos said she is still continuing to improve extra accessories for teachers, like adding stylus pens for the Chromebooks and microphones for the classroom because “teachers aren’t always tethered to their desks.”
“There are many things we are still fine tuning,” she added, “but it seems to be working better than I had anticipated.”
In terms of safety procedures, Holy Cross is using SchoolPass, which allows touchless cameras to detect students’ temperatures on the spot. Students also have to present their IDs on their phones and scan in to enter.
“I think the first week, we had to straighten out some things, but now it’s routine for everyone,” Pirovolikos said. “It’s flowing pretty well.”
According to Jill Infante-Colgan, technology coordinator at Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School, the East Elmhurst school spent the summer upgrading its internet to a dedicated line. It also switched some of its older equipment as it prepared for the school year.
“That gives us a little more bandwidth instead of sharing it with the neighborhood,” she said.
The classrooms were adjusted for spacing and are cleaned every period, Infante-Colgan said. Hand-sanitizer stations are placed all over the school. Stairways are now either up or down to avoid too much interaction.
Even lunch has changed for the students at McClancy. Infante-Colgan said big lunch tables were placed with desks that are spaced out. Students have to pre-order their lunch and pick it up.
As for the morning, students and staff alike go through kiosks that conduct temperature checks.
Despite all the physical and procedural changes, McClancy’s technology has already been in place for a while. Infante-Colgan said in the past, teachers were all given an iPad. Grades, assignments and even attendance have been put up online.
“Everything was already in place from the past before this happened,” she said.
In addition to their iPads, teachers are given a desktop computer. Now that the hybrid learning model is in place, teachers use their iPads for Zoom. Each classroom is set up with a tripod so students at home can watch lessons virtually.
Infante-Colgan said the school has had to make some tweaks to the wireless access points in each classroom, but overall, their new normal is working well.
“For the most part, it’s going well and I’m hoping it continues,” she said.
For The Kew-Forest School, age-appropriate technology has always been at the forefront of its classroom model. All classrooms are equipped with projects and internet-enabled computers. Recently, it has added conference room speakers and cameras to display shared materials and unite remote learners and teachers with those on site.
The school, which borders Kew Gardens and Forest Hills, adapted a 1-to-1 “bring your own device” program for its Middle and Upper School divisions long before the pandemic. That means most students have previous experience using tools like digital textbooks, online resources and collaborative applications.
In fact, some faculty members have already been using a hybrid-style curriculum, with both in-class and online resources to teach. Resources like EdPuzzle, Seesaw, Padlet and Kami are familiar to both Lower School and Middle and Upper School divisions.
For their daily arrival routines, The Kew-Forest School uses the health check app HealthCheck by Stratum Health to survey students and staff on daily temperatures. They also ask questions about important health questions supplied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Additionally, the school holds all hybrid classes, large gatherings or meetings and open houses through Zoom to limit teacher, student or visitor interactions.
Meanwhile, Martin Luther School in Maspeth has leveraged its 1:1 iPad program, as well as the Blackbaud Learning Management System and Zoom, to transition to both remote learning last March and hybrid learning this year.
Since iPads are managed by the school, MLS is able to control and install apps that teachers and students use to complete classwork and projects.
Like the other institutions, Martin Luther School’s classrooms have been outfitted with iPads dedicated to webcasting through Zoom. The Maspeth school has also upgraded its wireless network to handle the extra internet demands.
Teachers are also given bluetooth headsets for better audio quality to reach students at home.
Martin Luther School is using Google Forms for its daily health screenings as required by the Department of Health. A temperature kiosk has been installed at the entrance, and all students and staff must wear masks and follow one-way paths in the building.
Cleaning and disinfection are aided with the addition of electrostatic sprayers to sanitize classrooms and touchpoints.
Anthony Tricarico, the director of technology at Saint Saviour High School, said the Park Slope institution was already a Google Apps for Education school, and has been using those programs for years. Teachers also received professional training consistently.
When they first heard in February that schools might close due to the virus, Tricarico said they mobilized quickly, using Google Meet as their primary interface with remote students.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I’m really pleased with how the teachers responded in their ability to scale up their learning.
“Teachers have been integrating other technologies in Google, such as Jamboard,” Tricarico added. “Doing things I never expected they would do.”
For example, an English teacher whom Tricarico described as “terrified” when the pandemic struck was still using chalk and flip phones earlier this year. A month and a half into the pandemic, she had created an Instagram account, got an Android phone and learned how to record students reading poetry to share.
“It was just a really interesting view in how technology enabled us to continue learning almost seamlessly in a really trying circumstance,” he said.
Saint Saviour High School outfitted every room with multiple systems, Tricarico noted. Most classrooms have iPads on mobile stands for virtual sessions. Teachers also have either Chromebook PCs or Macs to interact with students in the classroom.
According to the director of technology, 60 percent of students at the Park Slope school are learning remotely, while roughly 40 percent are learning in person.
Like Holy Cross High School, Saint Saviour High School is using SchoolPass to check in students in the morning. Other safety measures include hand-sanitizing stations “everywhere,” paper towel dispensers and even a UV spray, recommended by the EPA and CDC, that eliminates COVID-19 on surfaces.
Tricarico, who also teaches Python and Java courses, has also been using a platform called Edhesive for his classes. The entire course content is on the platform, he said. Students, who are given a class code to log in, engage with the content for class, including videos.
“They do assignments, quizzes, tests, all on Edhesive,” Tricarico said. “I’m here to see any trouble spots.”
If any student doesn’t understand the content, Tricarico noted, he will jump in and push them along. He encouraged more teachers to use technology like Edhesive.
“A lot of schools can take advantage of it,” he said. “There’s so much digital content teachers can assess and use in their classrooms.”