It was Dec. 21, and Chris Cappotelli found himself teaching his two Le Roy Jr.-Sr. High School physics classes from out in his garage.
He was in quarantine as a precaution amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as was his wife, Janet, a kindergarten teacher in Caledonia, who was conducting classes remotely in their home. They were in quarantine because another family member who lives there had tested positive for COVID-19 and was in isolation, Chris said.
“They had a Chromebook and I had an actual laptop. I set the camera from my laptop onto the blackboard. That’s (the blackboard material) essentially what I was Zooming to them on their Chromebooks using the camera,” he said of his students.
Why did Cappotelli choose the garage as his classroom?
“It was an easy thing for my students. I had a blackboard and chalk and I knew that would be the easiest thing for me for a couple of days,” he said, “I used the blackboard in my garage for my two physics classes. The rest of my eighth-grade classes, essentially I had work for them to do that I could assign online. The eighth-grade classes, I did not have to use the blackboard.”
Chris Cappotelli said it would have been harder to teach from the garage for longer than the two days he was out there.
The district’s winter break started Dec. 23, bringing Cappotelli’s garage classroom days to an end. He did not contract COVID-19 and his quarantine ended Dec. 28. Students and teachers returned from break on Monday. Cappotelli said he asked his students how the lessons he taught from his garage went for them and he said the students were fine with them.
While Cappotelli taught from his garage temporarily, other teachers in the region were dealing with their own challenges.
MARK WARREN, an 11th- and 12th-grade math teacher at Batavia High School, may not have taken the same approach Cappotelli did in December, but he also spent time in quarantine.
“I had to quarantine for nearly two weeks based on a contact in the school, which was very challenging for me on a personal level. Because I had a documented contact, I had to quarantine myself from my family inside the house. Not being with my family was the hardest part,” he said.
Warren said he could not leave his bedroom due to the quarantine.
“I set up a space in the room for my work area with lighting and a folding table as well as a separate space for my sleep/living area. Using that work area, I was able to use my Chromebook to create and post assignments as well as attend Google Meets with my students.
Warren said he used a hybrid teaching model (mix of remote and in-person teaching) from Sept. 8-Dec. 4 and fully remote from Dec. 7-22. A hybrid model was again in place when school resumed Monday.
“I honestly can’t think of anything positive about teaching in COVID versus pre-COVID,” he said. “I’ve been using Google Classroom, recording my own instructional videos, and creating online assignments for a few years now. That made this transition a little easier for me, but it is not better than the teaching I have done for the last 15 years.”
It’s difficult to build relationships with students when he sees them in-person once a week, the math teacher and Batavia Teachers’ Association president said.
“Attendance has fallen off for both in-person and remote students as the cases have surged in the county. Students not turning on their cameras is difficult. I have students that I have never seen — not in person, not on video calls, not even a picture,” Warren said.
LE ROY SENIORS Ethan Riggs and Joelle Stowell were both attending class in-person Thursday. They and other students on Team Oatka do homework and classwork at home Mondays and Tuesdays, have a remote learning day Wednesdays and in-person learning Thursdays and Fridays.
“I definitely do like Thursday and Friday the best. It’s a lot easier to learning and you get to see everyone,” Riggs said. “It’s more fun to be with everyone.
“Remote days are what they are. It’s good to still have that extra day where we can focus on specific topics that we might have issues with,” he said. “Our days have been the same since the beginning of the year, which is nice, not have full remote.”
Stowell said she also likes the in-person learning on Thursdays and Fridays the best.
”It’s easier to learn that way and I like having the one-on-one with the teacher. When you’re doing the Zooms or the video calls they can’t always see what you’re doing. When you’re in person, they’re more hands-on with your learning and showing you what to do.”
It’s harder to learn remotely, Stowell said.
“It gives me a headache sometimes, the computer screen and you’re just sitting in one spot all day,” she said. “You make do with what you have. I’m thankful that we can do it the way we do it with being able to come into school, but have the one remote day. It’s not too much online and it’s a good balance.”
The students who are quarantined due to the COVID-19 pandemic work with teachers on Mondays and Tuesdays.
TODD SHUSKEY, a Perry High School life science and Genesee Community College ACE courses teacher this year, said he has been teaching in-person classes, with families having the option of choosing remote learning.
Shuskey said luckily, he has not had to quarantine during the pandemic.
“Last year, when all schools went fully remote, I felt robbed of that time with my students. Now, I never take having my students with me in my classroom for granted,” he said. “I’m excited and feel lucky to be able to see them every day. For my remote-learners, I am using a synchronous teaching model, where students join my class remotely during their normally scheduled class time. This allows for group learning to still occur and for our in-class conversations to include students not physically in the classroom.”
Shuskey said there are many reasons for the success of the instruction model Perry’s using.
“Our students are taking their health and the health of others seriously, the preparation of our physical spaces by our building and grounds to account for social distancing and other safety measures, and the incredible work of our contact tracing team identifying close and proximate contacts and communicating as much information as possible without violating privacy laws within the district. I feel safe coming to work every day,” he said.
The science teacher said while it has been wonderful getting to see his students in his classroom on a daily basis, preparing for both remote and in-person instruction has been extremely challenging.
“During a ‘normal’ school year, internet issues were commonplace, but if a website didn’t load or if a server issue shut down Google, you simply moved on to an alternative. It has been frustrating for me, and my remote learners when technical issues such as wifi connectivity or other internet problems are the bottleneck in the learning process,” he said. “Another challenge has been that on any given day, any number of students might not be present due to quarantine requirements. This is why I’m grateful I spent the summer planning for these contingencies and having 20+ years of experience to draw upon.”
JOE BYRNE, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Medina and president of the Medina Teachers’ Association, said teachers were using a hybrid learning model before break.
“We only had to institute all-remote learning due to quarantines of staff Nov. 16-25,” he said. “In knowing what other teachers have been doing when they teach from home under these circumstances, the challenges vary.”
Byrne said teachers are using Google Classroom’s platform this year.
“Trying to make sure students regularly log on to their Google Meets and complete their assignments when they’re not attending school is a new obstacle in teaching this year. When students are home, they have so many other choices and distractions in completing their work,” he said. “Making sure students remain motivated is also another battle. Not all students are dealing with this learning the same. Many are suffering emotionally from not interacting with their friends and teachers at school on a daily basis. As always, I would like to say that teachers, nurses, and counselors are going above and beyond to try and connect with students we may not see everyday.”
The list of examples of how the school is supporting students is endless, Byrne said.
“We started our winter break as scheduled, Dec. 23, and returned on time Jan. 4. The biggest thing is trying to get the message out to parents and the community to continue to be safe and follow social distancing protocols so that we can remain open for those who wish to attend school in-person,” he said. “In Medina, we have done a wonderful job containing any spread on campus due to our masking policy and social distancing procedures. The students have been so courteous with the new protocols.”