School has been in session in Jordan Public Schools (JPS) for a little over a month, and though no one could have predicted the changes from last September, teachers like Lindsay Johnson say they’re just happy to be back in the classroom.
Johnson, a Jordan graduate who moved back to the area in 2019, has been teaching fourth grade at Jordan Elementary for two years.
In some aspects, Johnson says, this school year has been a major change from the last one, especially in terms of preparation, where she’s forced to be more mindful of allowing for spacing needs and running two physical classrooms.
“On the other hand, teaching is teaching,” said Johnson. “I just love being back in the classroom.”
Elementary students get priority in terms of building space, but teachers have still had to be creative about using that space wisely.
Each morning when Johnson’s fourth-graders arrive, they check in and find their seat before “morning meeting” begins. From there, the day’s schedule is normal, but not -- Johnson teaches math from the space between her two physical classrooms. At snack time, kids are asked to social distance and read by themselves. Students are dismissed on a staggered schedule at the end of the day to safely distance everyone out.
Ashley Hyatt, an eighth grade science teacher at Jordan Middle School, used to be able to plan and prepare lessons weeks in advance, but this year, apart from her general plan for each unit, she says “it’s a day by day thing.”
Jordan middle- and high-schoolers operate on a hybrid schedule, meaning most learn both in the classroom and online on staggered schedules.
On a typical school-day, Hyatt spends time connecting with both groups of students. She devotes a block of time each morning to answer emails from off-site students and Zoom with her students in the Jordan Virtual Academy (JVA), who opted to be completely online.
“We are constantly making adjustments to ensure we are doing what’s best for our students socially and academically while also following safety guidelines,” said Hyatt.
Hyatt, a Jordan grad who has lived here for her entire life, says witnessing teachers rise to the occasion during the pandemic has made her proud to say she works in Jordan.
“This district is willing to try new things and think outside the box,” Hyatt said. “Everyone has done a great job of adjusting to this new way of education, [and] the teachers are amazing.”
Though everyone is doing what they can to adjust to new circumstances, there are definitely still challenges.
Margy Schipper has been teaching for over fifteen years, the past three of them at Jordan High School. For her, the drastic increase in reliance on technology within education has been “uninvited and poorly timed.”
Still, she is choosing to view it as a growth area.
“This pandemic has forced us to change, kicking and screaming, perhaps, but I have found unbeatable support from the administration here in Jordan,” said Schipper. “They have been flexible, generous and have given staff the opportunity to ‘drive the bus’ in many ways.”
It’s not just district teachers and staff who are going through growing pains -- whether they’re in kindergarten or entering senior year, the altered learning environment undoubtedly poses challenges for students, too.
“It is definitely an adjustment for these kids on an academic and social level,” said Hyatt. “Some students are really thriving in this setting while others are not.”
Relationship-building in compliance with the need for social distancing has proved to be one of the more difficult aspects of the hybrid learning environment.
The need to wear masks and stay six feet apart, as well as the reality that not all students share in-person learning days with the friend groups they are accustomed to, can make the social aspect challenging, Schipper said.
“The social adjustment has been a challenge,” said Schipper. “However, I see students making new friends as well as building stronger relationships with their pals at home.”
The resounding message from students and teachers alike -- it’s good to be back, period, and the growth that comes from this unique year won’t necessarily be a bad thing.
“In many ways, school is school,” said Johnson.
Now one month in, her fourth-graders are settling into the school year, and lightbulbs are going off, Johnson says.
“I get the sense that this will be a tremendous growing year for many of our students,” said Johnson.