School Lane Charter Goes Hybrid

Gene Thornton, Centurion Staff

School Lane Charter in Bensalem welcomed back students to its two campuses on a hybrid schedule that started Nov. 30. That is, for those who felt comfortable returning to school amidst a global pandemic.

Surveys were sent out to parents that resulted in a near-even divide between those eager to have their child return, and those reluctant that preferred to remain with full-time online learning until the time a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

During the School Board’s meeting Oct. 22, CEO Karen Schade told those logged into the virtual zoom meeting that the survey results were key to being confident to reopen safely while following CDC and Bucks County Health Department guidelines.

“For us to be able to properly social distance in the classrooms, we needed nearly half of our students to continue with remote learning,” Schade said.

Both K-6 students at the Bristol Pike campus, and 7-12 at the Street Road IB campus ended last school year with remote learning that began in April per Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandate to close schools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s been long enough,” said Alexis Junez, mother of a seventh grader. “She has loved this school and all of her teachers since kindergarten. She has always been enthusiastic about going to school and has always excelled academically and socially. Now it’s her bedroom and a computer screen. I worry about her mental health. She needs to be back in a classroom. She is no longer enthusiastic, and I can tell the joy has left her.”

Board member Bharvin Patel, the lone member opposed to re-opening, indicated that the timing of returning students into the buildings is a realistic risk.

“Not only do we have COVID, it’s flu season, and the holidays are coming. I’m sure families will be gathering indoors for different celebrations like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It may be better bringing them back in January, after the holidays,” Patel said.

The hybrid model will have students in the buildings four days a week, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays will be an anytime learning day from home with no live instruction, and students must complete assignments. Full time online learning will still be available for students not returning.

When students return, it will look and feel much different than what they’ve been accustomed to. Adherence to strict safety protocols will be a daily routine beginning with students and staff wearing a mask at all times and frequent hand washing.

In classrooms, students’ desks will be spaced six feet apart from one other and face forward. Teachers will not be permitted to go to a student’s desk for assistance always maintaining a six-foot distance.

Hallways will be divided by a rope to enforce single-file social distancing. While in the cafeteria, students will sit two per table facing forward and may not speak to one another, however, cell phones will be permitted to “chat” with friends. Lockers will not be used and congregating in the hallways is prohibited.

“I do want to go back, but not like that,” said seventh grade student Peyton Geisler after playing in her last soccer game of the season. “That’s like worse than being at home.”

“Let’s just try it for now and see how it goes,” her father Pat Geisler said as he reassuringly patted her back. “I definitely want her and her sister to go back… they have to.”

Peyton’s mother Gina Geisler agreed. “I’m fortunate to be able to work from home and be with girls, but I think they really need to get back in school. Just getting out of the house and being around friends while learning is better than staying home,” Gina said.

COVID-19 cases are surging throughout Bucks County, averaging 66 new cases per day which is double from the previous two weeks. Hospitalizations and death rates however remain low according to the Bucks County Health Department’s website.

“That’s an excellent sign,” Health Director David Damsker stated. “Despite seeing some cases in teachers and students, reopened schools themselves are not contributing to levels of community spread.”

With ever-evolving COVID-19 cases and CDC guidelines, many teachers are reasonably concerned to return to face-face instruction. Seventh and eighth grade teacher Jessie Peterson would like nothing more than to be with her students in a classroom, but there is still concern.

“I have been impressed from the start of the pandemic with how well our administration has handled it,” Peterson said. “They keep us up to date with recommendations and case numbers. I think they are doing their best to think of every scenario and have a plan for each.”

“I guess you could say I’m cautiously optimistic about students returning to school without a vaccine. For some students it’s really needed as remote learning is not working. For the majority of students it has worked out well, but for others not at all. I want them all here in the building and cannot wait for a vaccine for that to happen,” said Peterson.

Kate Pascucci, a mother of a sixth and seventh grader is also waiting for a vaccine before she will send her girls back.

“The communication this year compared to last year when all this first happened has been incredible. They are there to answer any question you have about what’s going on,” Pascucci said. “I’m just waiting on science to find a vaccine, that’s probably the only thing that would make me feel right sending them back.”

PHOTO CREDIT: School Lane Charter’s Twitter (@SchoolLaneCS)