ITHACA, N.Y. –– The Ithaca City School District plans to continue its current learning models into the spring 2021 grading period and possibly beyond, meaning the district has found at least some level of success adapting to pandemic protocols with its three pronged approach of offering in-person, virtual learning and a blended model for different groups of students.

Perhaps most importantly, it also means the district feels comfortable enough continuing to provide a full five days-per-week in-person learning model for elementary school students, though obviously they are limited by how many students they can fit into school buildings while adhering to CDC guidelines.

“We have young people that need to be in our spaces five days a week,” ICSD Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown said at Tuesday’s ICSD Board of Education meeting. “They signed up for that, they need that, they’re depending on it. As a school district, we’re committed to providing that for the remainder of this year …. I don’t anticipate us moving away from that model with the information that I have now.”

As he has done before, Brown acknowledged that despite his best intentions, the pandemic could very well overpower the district’s desire to keep providing the models that it has so far. Still, though, he reiterated his commitment to the model and the refinements he promised are coming.

“It’s been impossible to predict exactly what’s going to happen,” Brown said. “But I can tell you we’re committed to being better and better each day with our in-person approaches and our virtual approaches, and we’re building out some frameworks to enhance both.”

He also said he realizes that some parents are going to want to move their students from distance learning to in-person learning, and said that after conversations with other administrators in the district he believes ICSD will be able to support that –– at least right now.

During the meeting, Brown also emphasized the need for creativity and even risk-taking when it comes to distance learning, and he and deputy superintendent Lily Talcott introduced teachers who have been innovating in the classroom. Talcott once again went over the different methods by which the district and teachers have been helping each other with professional development strategies, including a focus on blended learning, bringing in outside companies and utilizing support from TST-BOCES.

She then introduced Patty Buhr from South Hill Elementary School and Enfield Elementary and Graham Morris and Andrew McCracken, both students from Lehmann Alternative Community School who were very involved in the school’s reopening plan formulation.

Buhr said, because she is catering to a first grade class, said she has been trying to embed assessment into every day activities, including making some of them game-based, interactive and instruction-centric, aspects that she has luckily been able to convert to distance learning as well and find similar success with her students.

As a student, McCracken said some of his struggles have included the length of classes, some of which are much longer than they would be in a normal in-person experience because the classes aren’t meeting as frequently. Math classes have been the most difficult for him to adapt to virtually, but he said that having in-person sessions for that class specifically have helped immensely.

More resources and training for teachers would be useful, McCracken said, in making classroom transitions smoother—particularly equipment like microphones and cameras, a sentiment echoed by other students heard from during the discussion. Morris spoke about the experiences of three people he had observed throughout the pandemic, including two teachers and a student, who each offered their own critiques.

One teacher, for instance, said that reverting back to a normal schedule of eight shorter periods in a day, instead of three longer ones, would be quite challenging, while the student told Morris that the “hoops to jump through” to come into class and learn in-person were too arduous and not worth the commute, leading to them opting to remain at home while learning. The student’s presentations were part of the board’s ongoing attempts to incorporate student perspectives as they plan for the near-future.

Board members responded in kind, with Sean Eversley Bradwell acknowledging the need for better training but recognizing the work educators have already done to adapt, and fellow member Moira Lang further probing Buhr’s experiences.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com