Hybrid Learning Model

Hybrid Learning Model: A Guide to the District's Plan for Reopening Our Schools
This guide was developed to answer the most frequently asked questions about the district's adoption of the Hybrid Learning Model. It is available in English, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish

For information shared on August 24 and 25 at the Superintendent's Family Meetings, please reference the presentations and video recordings.

For information included in the report to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, see text below. This report was approved by the School Committee on August 11, 2020 and revised September 30, 2020 as a result of negotiations with the Needham Education 
Association.

Overview

The hybrid model offers many of the benefits of in-person learning while also creating a safer environment with three to six feet of social distance. According to our family survey from July 13 through July 22, families at NHS and Pollard expressed a preference for a Hybrid Model (48% and 47% respectively) over a full In-Person Model (39% and 40% respectively) or a full Remote model (13% for both). About a third of families at the elementary schools and High Rock chose the hybrid model as their survey response.

Under our Hybrid Model, most of our students will spend half of their time between in school learning and remote learning. Because only about half of our students will attend school in-person each day, we will be able to provide six feet of social distancing in most circumstances for all staff and students. The other half of our students will learn at home and participate in class remotely, as students did between March and June.

There are many different hybrid models, and communities around Massachusetts (and the country) are implementing variations of two basic models. As part of our planning in June and July, we considered a rotating daily schedule (A/B Day), separate morning and afternoon sessions, having PK-6 students in-person while grades 7-12 students were remote, as well as many variations of these models. After reflecting on the feedback we received from surveys and family open houses, as well as operational and financial factors, we concluded that an alternating week schedule with a remote learning Wednesday will best meet the needs of our students. 

Why adopt a hybrid model?

-  
All students, grades PreK to 12, benefit from the interactions, socialization, collaborative and hands-on learning, communication, and personal relationships that are nurtured and supported by in-person teaching and learning.
  Students can be grouped into smaller cohorts to allow for social distancing and other health protocols that would not be feasible with a full return to school.
-  
The classroom design can be more flexible and responsive to teacher and student needs with fewer students per room.

Why adopt a hybrid model with a week in person and a week remote?

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This hybrid model allows us to build on the remote experience should we need to pivot to a full remote model due to health concerns.
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A week in person learning/week remote learning hybrid model allows staff and families to be assured that health issues can be tracked and traced more effectively.
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The weekly hybrid model allows continuity of instruction across the week in person, with remote follow up the following week.

Our hybrid instructional model is described in detail in the section below.

A critical element of the hybrid model is its remote learning component. We spent time reflecting on our experiences with remote learning through community conversations and surveys of parents and students. From our families, we heard about the commitment from our staff, how a consistent schedule made things easier, and how adults treated students with respect through challenging times. At the same time, we heard loud and clear that there were areas for improvement, particularly around students’ social-emotional needs and their desire to interact more frequently with peers and in live/synchronous instructional sessions with their teachers. 

We have reflected on our practices and over the summer we have been investing in professional development and training for our teachers to learn new technology skills, create new lessons, and modify the curriculum and programs to best meet student needs in a remote environment. Over the summer, almost 400 Needham Public Schools educators participated in professional learning dedicated to enhancing the online experience for students in a remote learning environment, and they will be applying this learning to their classes and lessons in the fall. When staff return in September, they will continue to participate in learning designed to enhance their skills and confidence in blended and remote instruction and learning.

Instructional Model

Student Cohorts: K-12 students will be divided into four cohorts:

-  
Blue and Gold Cohorts (Hybrid): Most students Grades K-12 will be divided into these two groups. Each group attends school in-person one week and participates remotely the next week, with all students remote every Wednesday. This means that all students will have an in-school experience four days every other week. On the weeks that they are learning remotely, there will also be multiple points of contact with their classroom teacher. On Wednesday mornings, remote and in-class groups will have opportunities to interact and to work independently in the afternoon..

-  
Red Cohort (Full-time Remote): Students who are immunocompromised, those exposed to COVID-19, or those whose families opt-out of the hybrid model will have the opportunity to participate in 100% remote learning. These students do not attend school in-person. 

-  
Green Cohort (Full-time face to face): Preschool students and some students with disabilities and English Learners, particularly those with more intensive needs, will attend school in-person every week through a modified schedule. The special education department and English Learner department will contact families about participating in this cohort. 

A sample hybrid daily schedule over two weeks is shown below:

Week

Cohort

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Week 1

Blue (Hybrid)

In-Person

In-Person

All Students Remote:

AM synchronous and PM independent remote learning

In-Person

In-Person

Gold (Hybrid)

Remote

Remote

Remote

Remote

Red 

(Full-time Remote)

Remote

Remote

Remote

Remote

Green

(Full-time face to face)

In-Person

In-Person

In-Person

In-Person

Week 2

Blue (Hybrid)

Remote

Remote

Remote

Remote

Gold (Hybrid)

In-Person

In-Person

In-Person

In-Person

Red 

(Full time Remote)

Remote

Remote

Remote

Remote

Green

(Full-time face to face)

In-Person

In-Person

In-Person

In-Person

In August, families received a questionnaire to select either the hybrid or remote model by considering their family’s health and how their child learns best.  If families change their mind and choose to shift from the remote cohort to the in-person cohort, they may be asked to transition at the next grading period for both instructional and health/safety reasons.

Once we receive families’ responses to the questionnaire, we will assign students to cohorts. We will attempt to keep siblings in the same cohorts, so that immediate family members are attending school on the same day, though that may not be possible in all cases. Note that cohorts will be heterogeneous and not leveled. We will share students’ cohort assignments, as well as logistical information about both in-person learning and remote learning, with families in late August through the start of school.

Blue, Gold, and Green Cohorts’ Daily Schedule: As described above, during a typical school day, approximately half of the students will participate in in-person learning while the other half will participate remotely (though all students will be remote on Wednesdays). With approximately half of all students participating in school remotely at any time, there will be fewer students in each classroom. This smaller size will give teachers prime opportunities to support students in learning new skills and concepts. Meanwhile, students participating in their remote week will experience both live, synchronous lessons as well as asynchronous materials that teachers prepare and upload to platforms.

At all levels, the start and end times will remain the same as in prior years. Teachers will cover essential concepts for each unit. The sequencing and pacing of the units will be the same for all cohorts with various strategies used to accommodate in-person and remote learning scenarios. There will be increased and staggered transition times at each level, mask breaks each day, and cleaning at the end of each class, each of which takes away time usually devoted to instruction. In addition to these logistics, programs will need to be reduced in order to enable students to engage in learning while remaining safe. At the elementary level, this will mean the elimination of the STEAM and chorus programs during the 2020-21 school year. Across the district it will mean that the music and physical education programs are taught differently. Nonetheless, we will make every attempt to ensure the curriculum is comparable, and we will consider models ranging from staggering the introduction of new concepts to using a flipped classroom model, all to keep student learning moving in a positive direction.

Elementary: At the elementary schools, in-person students will remain with their class peers (their “pod”) for the entirety of the school day and not interact with students in other classes. Students will remain in their assigned classroom for the majority of the school day; however, mask breaks, recess, lunch, and physical education might also take place outside, weather permitting. In addition, several schools have cafeterias large enough for students to use them for lunch in a socially distant fashion, while at other schools, students will eat in their classroom. 

Each day, both in-person and remote elementary cohorts will have an opportunity to "launch learning" with their respective classroom teachers. In addition, homeroom teachers will connect with students at various times during the day.

Full-remote students will experience a range of synchronous and asynchronous activities each day as provided by their designated remote learning teacher.

Each school day will vary. While in-person students will remain in their classroom and follow a typical schedule, students who are participating remotely will participate in a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning. Students and families can use features of Seesaw or Google Classroom to stay informed about classwork and homework due each day and week. 

Middle and High School: At middle and high schools, in-person students will travel between different classrooms for each class and mix with different groups of students, as they did in the past. Most course offerings will remain the same although some adjustments in programming may be made due to the reduction in available teaching time. Students will continue to use the cafeteria for lunch and other shared spaces. During remote weeks, students will participate in both live lessons as well as asynchronous, independent work. Teachers will use Google Classroom (and My Homework at High Rock and Pollard) to communicate synchronous and asynchronous classwork and homework due each day/week. Parents can use features of Google Classroom to stay informed about classwork and homework due each day/week. In addition, parents can access My Homework at High Rock and Pollard for classwork and homework information. And, as usual, parents will use PowerSchool to see grades and report cards.

Course Modifications: Select courses will require additional modifications to accommodate for student health/safety and to align with DESE guidelines from July 24th. These include:

Arts: In order to ensure alignment with the DESE Guidelines regarding chorus, singing, musical theater, and using brass or woodwind instruments, Band and Chorus classes will shift from performance-based instruction to one that advances additional ensemble skills that are outlined in the Creating, Responding, and Connecting MA Arts Curriculum Framework Strands for Ensembles and Music. These additional units of study will include content such as score study and composition. Units taught in Chorus, General Music, or Theater classes will not engage students in singing during in-person classes. Units taught in Band during in-person instruction time will not include the use of brass or woodwind instruments.  

Ensembles and Performing Arts classes will be taught in accordance with the guidelines mentioned above in designated in-door teaching spaces. This will be the primary teaching location for these classes throughout the school year and teachers will adhere to the same safety protocols as other classrooms in the school as well as any additional requirements entailed by the particular space and equipment used.  

In collaboration with Building Principals and taking into account schedule constraints, logistics, and weather, a teacher may hold a scheduled in-person class outside to allow for musical performance rehearsals to take place. If this occurs, students must be wearing masks and there must be 10' of distance between individuals. In the case of an outdoor rehearsal, classroom safety protocols such as handwashing and disinfecting stands or shared percussion equipment will be followed. 

During remote learning times, instruction for Band, Chorus, Orchestra, and other ensemble classes students will focus on advancing individual and group performance skills and on expanding upon in-person instruction. These guidelines will remain in place until musical rehearsals can resume in an in-person indoor model as determined by DESE and State Guidelines.

Physical Education: Classes will align with DESE’s guidelines from July 24th, which require students to wear masks indoors or outdoors and maintain six feet of distance, or to maintain ten feet of distance without masks when outdoors. Teachers will shift activity units to start with the least amount of equipment, with gymnastics moved until the end of the year, and would adjust classes so activities did not require touch. Staff and students will clean and disinfect equipment after each use.

Red Cohort: There are some families who, due to student medical concerns or personal family issues, wish to have their children participate in a remote learning only model during the 2020-21 school year. We are calling this group of students the "Red Cohort." These students will be fully enrolled in remote learning and while they will continue to be Needham Public Schools students, they will not participate in regular and in-person school activities. As of this writing, August 13th, the Red Cohort model is under development, and here is what we can share about those families who opt for this learning model for their children:
-  Generally, students in the Red Cohort (remote only) will not be assigned to classes taught by teachers who are instructing in the hybrid model. They will be taught by Needham educators who have asked to teach remotely due to their health considerations. We will likely have one or two sections of second grade, for example, that are populated by second graders from across the district. However, at the middle and high school, we are still determining how many students may need to participate in classes with students from the hybrid model (Blue and Gold Cohorts).
- Students who are participating in the Red Cohort will experience both synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences as planned by their online teacher. They will use Zoom and Google Classroom / Seesaw to engage in their learning experiences.
-  Teachers will take attendance daily, provide feedback on a regular basis, and will be available for individual support as needed. Special Education, ELL, and general education supports will be provided to this cohort in the same manner as they would be for students in the hybrid Blue and Gold cohorts. There may be limitations in special area subjects (e.g., physical education or music) due to the nature of the instruction model and health requirements.
-  In most cases, Needham educators will provide instruction and programming for students in the Red Cohort, although at the high school level some students may have instructors and courses from outside of the Needham Public Schools.
-  Students will be grouped by grade level; class groupings at the elementary level will likely include students from across the district. Students in the Red Cohort will not necessarily have a teacher from their original and neighborhood school.
-  In general, instruction and time on learning will be similar to the Full Remote Model which would be implemented should the district need to close schools due to a health concern. Students at the elementary and secondary levels will receive synchronous and asynchronous instruction of 5 to 5.5 hours per day. Students will be expected to complete independent work as part of their school day.
-  Students will receive the necessary special education supports required, although these services may be delivered differently than the hybrid model of instruction.
-  Families and students will not participate in their neighborhood school's daily learning program; however, families and students will continue to be enrolled in the Needham Public Schools and can most certainly participate in after school and family activities sponsored by their neighborhood or secondary school.
-  Families may opt out of the Red Cohort at the conclusion of a grading period or after elementary conferences are held. However, If the district or a parent feels that a change to the hybrid model is essential to a student's wellbeing and growth, an immediate change will be considered.
-  More information about the Red Cohort will be available in the coming days. If you have a question, please contact your child's school.

Wednesdays: On Wednesdays, all staff and students will be remote. This will allow for teachers to bring both cohorts of students together, as appropriate, for advisory, morning meeting, or academic lessons. Classroom teachers at all levels will teach live lessons in the morning, generally up to 10:00am. After 10:00am, students will participate in asynchronous instruction as well as independent learning activities for the rest of the school day. All classroom teachers will engage in building meetings, collaboration, planning, and professional learning activities beginning at approximately 10:00am.

Technology: We currently provide one-to-one devices for all of our students in grades 6 through 12. Under this model, we will expand our one-to-one devices to the elementary schools, so that all students between grades K through 12 receive one-to-one devices. In summary, students in grades K-2 and 6-8 will receive iPads, and students in grades 3-5 and 9-12 will receive Chromebooks. Some of these devices for grades K-2 are on backorder and will not be available for the first day of school. Principals and staff will work closely with parents to develop a phased distribution of devices.

In support of remote learning, all students will participate in live classes and asynchronous instruction through Zoom, Google Classroom, Seesaw, and other platforms as identified by the district.

Students With Disabilities: For students with disabilities, regardless of cohort or week, we will continue to provide all services as required in each student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). For students who learn in a remote setting, or in the few instances where services cannot be safely delivered as written in the IEP, parents/guardians will be notified in writing with specific information about how the services will be provided. Careful thought will be given to classroom assignments and service delivery schedules to provide IEP services in the Least Restrictive Environment while maintaining current health and safety protocols.

NPS will invite the following student groups to participate in the Green Cohort (full in-person learning):  students with disabilities whose IEP requires services that constitute more than 75% of the school day, EL students who are also diagnosed with a severe disability, and other high-needs students as identified by staff. These students will receive the services and supports outlined in their IEP from classroom teachers, teaching assistants, and related service providers both in the classroom and in pull-out settings, where space allows. Note that staff who travel between NPS buildings may need to deliver services online for select students in order to reduce contact with multiple cohorts.

English Learners: All English Learners, regardless of cohort, will continue to receive necessary services and accommodations in order to support their English language development.

Preschool: All preschoolers who receive special education services will participate in in-person learning in accordance with their individual needs for 3-4 in-person days per week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday) with remote instruction on Wednesday. Preschoolers will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks. Staff in these programs will be provided with additional PPE, such as eye shields, to ensure health and safety.

Additional Supports: All students will have contact information for their teachers and service providers so that students and families can ask questions, get feedback, and continue to learn regardless of setting. In addition, we will continue providing students in all cohorts with academic support and intervention, as well as social emotional supports, such as guidance services. For students in the Blue or Gold Cohorts, we will attempt to schedule services for the weeks when students are in the building. As a result, there could be some changes to service delivery. For one, remote students may be grouped with other remote students, and the content covered during each session may vary by group. In addition, staff members who typically provide intervention could be assigned to teach additional class sections; this would lead to smaller class sizes, but fewer opportunities for individual or small-group academic intervention. Last, as noted above, staff who travel between NPS buildings may need to deliver services online for select students in order to reduce contact with multiple cohorts.

Assessment and Grading: We developed an assessment tool to administer this fall to provide feedback on social emotional functioning and the concerns of students at the building and district level. We will use this information to plan school and district responses based on how our students are doing. We will also use the data to provide a multi-tiered system of support with interventions for students who report higher levels of anxiety and fear, racial inequity, and racial trauma. Academically, students will be graded on the same scale as prior to March 2020. For elementary, this assessment will be via parent-teacher conferences in the fall and spring, with progress reports sent home mid-year and on the last day of school for Grades K–5 indicating competencies that children are developing in the following areas: social/emotional, academic knowledge/application and related arts and physical education. At the secondary level, students will be assessed on the traditional A to F grading system. Grades and attendance will continue to be posted on PowerSchool. As always, teachers have discretion to take various student circumstances into consideration when determining a student's grade. 

Health & Safety

Masks/PPE: According to the state, all students in grades 2 or older are required to wear masks. However, the safety of our staff and students is paramount, and many members shared their thoughts on the state’s mask guidance through surveys and open forums. Therefore, we will require all K-12 students to wear masks. Students will provide their own masks, though each school will have an extra supply of masks available in their office. We will provide mask breaks throughout the day for both staff and students. Note that the only exception to this requirement will be for preschool students who may not be able to wear masks safely (e.g. without fidgeting and touching masks frequently), for medical reasons, and for certain disabilities for which mask wearing will be a significant challenge.

Social Distancing: With almost half of the student body attending school remotely, we are able to provide students with the space for six feet of social distance under most circumstances in each of our buildings. This distance aligns with CDC guidelines and exceeds the minimum required three feet by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The primary exception to this will be on Needham transportation, in which we can provide about three feet of social distance (see Transportation section below), though there may be other instances where only three feet is feasible.

We will implement one-way directions in hallways with corresponding signage to support this six foot distance, and we will stagger transitions in schedules. More broadly, while the hybrid model allows us to provide the physical space for six feet of distance, it is incumbent upon staff and students to respect and implement that space. We know that this can be more challenging with our younger students. We will dedicate time at the beginning of the school year, during both staff training and in class lessons, to share and identify strategies that remind students to respect this space.

Building Visitors: To protect the health and safety of the Needham Public Schools community, we will only allow essential visitors to enter buildings each day. These essential visitors include special education and general education contract providers, service employees for elevators/HVAC/immovable objects, emergency personnel, and NEDP personnel. Note that parents will not be considered essential visitors, and therefore could not enter school buildings. In addition, students who are attending school remotely that week will not be allowed to enter the building. The district will develop plans and protocols for parents and caregivers to meet with staff to discuss school and student business.

Hygiene and Contact Tracing: Throughout the day, we will encourage students and staff to practice good hygiene to reduce any possible transmission of COVID-19. Students will have assigned seats in all classes, as required by DESE, on buses, and at lunch where possible. We will provide students with breaks to wash their hands before and after eating meals. We will also provide hand sanitizer in each classroom and office, as well as in strategic locations around each building. In addition, we will add Plexiglass in highly trafficked areas (such as offices or lunch lines) and will install signage to require individuals to travel in one direction.

In the event that we learn that a student may have been exposed to COVID-19, we will follow the guidelines put out by the state on July 17th for quarantine and testing. These guidelines detail procedures for quarantine, contact tracing, and whether school needs to close. It is important to note that contact tracing will look different at each level. At the elementary school, an exposure might require one individual class cohort to quarantine. At middle and high schools, however, students and staff interact with more individuals each day because students will be traveling between different classrooms and groups of students. Therefore, an exposure could require many more middle and high school students and staff to quarantine. The hybrid model does mean that fewer students would be potentially exposed and contact tracing is easier - especially as most students will alternate each week - though staff will still be working with both hybrid cohorts.

Building Cleaning and Disinfection: To proactively clean and disinfect buildings, we will increase our cleaning and disinfection each evening and on Wednesdays. Particularly in the hybrid model, because the Blue and Gold cohorts switch each weekend and are remote on Wednesdays, our staff will focus deep cleanings on Wednesdays and weekends. However, because we have a limited number of custodians across Needham, we will need to ask others (staff or students) to help in cleaning desks, chairs, and other areas around the classroom each day. All of these factors, as well as ventilation, are addressed in our cleaning and disinfection protocols.

Training: We will develop a series of information sessions for staff, students, and families to share these cleaning protocols, as well as individual roles and responsibilities, to ensure consistent implementation across the district and for the community’s health and safety. Topics will include mask use, changes in operations, and other details. We will share more information about these training sessions and dates in late August.

Operational Considerations

Physical Space: With only about half the students present in school buildings, principals will not need to make dramatic changes to the physical space to achieve three to six feet of social distance for students. In some cases, school leadership teams will be arranging for temporary spaces like outdoor tents, and in other cases, teams will be using the cafeteria or the gym. However, in most buildings, teachers will not need to remove furniture from rooms to accommodate six feet of distance. In addition, plexiglass has been installed in offices, and will be installed in other high traffic areas to preserve social distance. Finally, we have identified an Isolation Room in each building, for students who may have been infected with COVID-19.

Transportation: With about half of students attending school each day[1], we anticipate being able to provide transportation for the vast majority of both Needham and Boston riders when they are in school. 

Recently, and in partnership with researchers from the Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, the district studied our transportation program to determine if our buses can run safely and effectively for students.  The study concluded that with proper ventilation on the buses, social distancing in place, and masks being worn by riders, among other health measures and precautions, we can safely operate our buses.  The researchers explained that there were limitations to their study but concluded: “We believe a strategy of mask protection and partially open windows will be sufficient to protect students and drivers during bus trips.” (Email from J. Spengler 7/23/20) You may review the initial report here:  NPS Transportation Modeling  The researchers are also modeling classroom ventilation in certain schools as well.

In alignment with guidelines from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, on a yellow bus, one student will be assigned to each seat on all buses and vans, which accomplishes approximately a three foot social distance. If siblings are riding the same bus, they will be assigned to share the same seat. All drivers and students will be required to wear masks, and windows will be kept open as long as weather permits. Drivers will clean seats and other high-touch areas between morning and afternoon runs.

As of this writing, we currently have sufficient space for one child per seat for all registered riders for the upcoming school year. However, if bus registrations increase over the next month, there is the possibility that we will not be able to accommodate approximately 100-150 students on Needham transportation. Unfortunately, we do not anticipate being able to add additional buses or drivers. We will share more information about bus routes and times in late August.

Students with disabilities who attend a school outside of Needham may have different transportation plans, depending on their school’s learning model. These families should contact the special education department for more information.

Last, in collaboration with our drivers and transportation contractors, we will be implementing a cleaning and disinfecting protocol for our fleet of buses and vans. We plan to release this protocol in the coming weeks.

Nutrition Services: According to guidance from the state, all students need to have six feet of social distance when eating meals, since masks are off when they eat. At middle and high schools, students will continue to eat hot food in the cafeteria or under tents/canopies for outdoor seating/eating, whereas in elementary school, some students will eat in the cafeteria while others will eat pre-packaged lunches in their classrooms. For students in the cafeteria, we will replace our high-touch keypads with another system, such as a barcode scanner. For students eating in classrooms, students will place their lunch order with their parents each evening or each morning with their teacher. School staff will deliver meals to the classrooms. 

With only half the number of students in each building daily, in combination with CDC guidance that recommends students bring their own food to school, we expect a significant reduction in students participating in our district’s Nutrition Services program for prepared breakfasts and lunches. We also anticipate a significant financial deficit. An operational plan for Nutrition Services will be released in the coming weeks and posted to the Needham Public Schools website.

Note that breakfast will continue to be provided at the typical schools. In addition, for families who are learning remotely and economically disadvantaged, we will continue to provide meals for the community, much like we have over the summer.

Summary

While we wish we could have all of our students in-person, we are excited about embarking on this new journey together in September. We know there are many challenges we have not yet anticipated, and we seek your partnership in working through them together. Moreover, through our open houses and both staff and family surveys, we know how challenging a hybrid model can be for working families. 

We have often said that a Hybrid Model is the most challenging of all models - not just for schools and teachers but for families too. It requires parents to monitor and support children in their learning during the school day at a time when many are working full-time jobs or may not be home. We will do everything that we can to lessen the burden on families, and we know that we will need your help and partnership more than ever to make this year a success.


[1] As of this writing, St. Joe’s Elementary School is planning to attend school 5 days a week. NPS provides transportation for these students, and as such, will provide transportation for these students every day.

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