New normal for Pelham secondary students is moving target


Google Maps

The Pelham Memorial High School/Pelham Middle School campus.

Students’ return to school last month has highlighted the challenges they and their teachers face as they move through the changing phases of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When we transitioned back to full-time in-person instruction, I believe there was a rise in anxiety levels at first,” said Amit Quackenbush, a math teacher at Pelham Memorial High School. “However, the effect of disbanding cohorting helped to ease a lot of anxiety that students had.”

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Cheryl Champ had similar thoughts. “We did see some adjustment issues last spring when we invited all students to return,” said Champ. “This fall seems to be a bit more normal, so we are seeing students get back into good routines and social patterns.”

“We have added two additional psychologists to help address issues that arise,” she said.

“Students did their very best given the hybrid model and for not just the act of learning, but also the motivation to learn,” said PMHS principal Mark Berkowitz. “It was and remains that last year was a difficult year.” 

While Pelham faculty opinion about some topics varied, teachers interviewed by the Pelham Examiner were in agreement that masks are a necessary precaution to keep everyone safe. 

“When I was in school, vaccines were a regular part of the school experience to make sure that we kept each other safe,” said eighth-grade algebra teacher Kevin Clune, “So, I feel the same way about masks. I don’t like having them on my face, they’re uncomfortable, but I do think it’s necessary that we do this to get as close as we can to the normal school experience under these health-crisis circumstances.”

Some teachers did say masking adds additional challenges in the classroom. According to one Pelham Middle School teacher, masks make teaching less personal and eliminate much of the nonverbal feedback that is essential in the classroom.

Sixth-grade science teacher Maria Buckley disagreed. “I have not seen any negative effect on students wearing masks to their education. Mask wearing has lessened the number of students getting sick and missing school.”

Learning via Google Meet last year didn’t work well for every student. Some struggled with obtaining information and the motivation to keep learning.

“Some of the one-on-one work that would happen when we are always in school or some of the tactile learning that comes from manipulatives couldn’t happen,” said Berkowitz. “When students have to watch their teacher model a lab, there is going to be a different learning experience when one is purely viewing.”

Clune had a different perspective. “Some students did fall behind in learning last year if they weren’t able to manage it, but I saw that many grew. As a result of being forced to switch to hybrid learning and/or fully remote learning, many students became more independent. The remote-learning situation helped students learn the essential skill of independence. It’s a good standard in learning. It showed your qualities as a student.”

This year teachers say they are doing everything they can to help remediate any educational loss because of virtual learning. According to Quackenbush, it is something teachers deal with every year. Students do not retain a certain percentage of what they learned the previous year as a result of summer vacation. 

“We want to make sure students are feeling welcome, valued and cared for by their teachers, by their peers and a community of care,” said Berkowitz. “We hope every student finds a place where they feel like they belong. We want to make sure that students who are struggling are not going it alone.”