The Delaware Area Career Center decided against snow days this week, opting instead to transition those days to remote learning.
Since November 2020, students at the DACC have only been attending their labs in person and have been doing traditional academic work remotely. Because the number of cases in the county has been on the decline, students were scheduled to return Monday to the blended model of education for academics, but the weather forced Monday and Tuesday to be taught online.
DACC Assistant Principal Mike Herzog said the pandemic has forced the career center to become more adaptable to meet whatever needs arise.
“With the continuing challenges that COVID has presented, our academic teachers have focused on flexibility and adaptability to guide their instructional practice,” Herzog said. “From gathering new tech tools, recreating lesson plans, and finding unique ways to have students ‘collaborate’ while abiding by COVID safety protocols, our instructors have managed to create engaging lessons designed to grow our students and prepare them for the future no matter what the environment. Our students are in good hands.”
DACC Superintendent Mary Beth Freeman said the jump to remote learning wasn’t as sudden for the career center because the school had already been experimenting with learning models before the pandemic.
“Even before COVID, our instructors have been creating opportunities for DACC students to learn virtually,” Freeman said. “For several years, academic instructors have been implementing Hybrid Fridays, wherein students could earn the ability to work remotely on Fridays. Due to this school year’s late start, school districts, including DACC, used many of the hours that would normally have been reserved for snow days. With COVID forcing everyone to become accustomed to working remotely, it allowed DACC to continue with remote instruction even if the weather conditions prevent students from being on campus.”
Freeman added that last year, the career center made sure staff was provided software and training, and it reached out to students to ensure they had access to computer equipment and hotspots to make sure online education would be as enriching as possible. The same level of support has continued this year, she said, and the school will continue to meet the challenges of the pandemic.
“As with many things in education over the last 10 months, this is a first for us,” Freeman said. “We have had some challenges along the way; however, our staff and students have remained adaptable and understanding of the ever-changing circumstances related to COVID.”
Andrew Reardon, a math teacher at the DACC, said the sudden changes that happened at the school last spring forced him to develop new learning plans because he expected the next year would be filled with online classes.
“In many ways, it felt like I was back to my first year teaching because facilitating a full and engaging online session is drastically different from classroom teaching,” Reardon said. “While starting over is a lot of work, it is also an opportunity to learn and develop new models for teaching. Due to the fact that we have moved between in person and hybrid learning so many times this year, it has also given me the opportunity to see the overlap in the instructional models — how routines we established online have a place in the physical classroom and vice versa.”
Reardon added online learning remains challenging because it’s harder to connect with students emotionally, but it’s also a chance to learn.
“It also gives us an opportunity to more intentionally and effectively communicate and develop those same relationships,” he said. “Instead of casually asking students as they walk into class how their weekend went on Monday morning, I’ll make it a question they answer for our first assignment in class, for example. While it’s certainly easy to focus on the negatives, reframing the challenges we’ve faced as an opportunity to grow has not only kept me sane, but also made me a more effective teacher.”
Reardon praised students for adapting to the new learning models, and he’s excited to see that students naturally communicate very well digitally.
“Students are just as engaged — it just looks different,” Reardon said, explaining that he once split students into small groups to work on a project but was discouraged when no one was talking only to discover the students had already been actively messaging and had already nearly put together a “thoughtful and thorough” product. “That experience taught me an important lesson in not only trust, but also adaptability — our students are digital natives, and they have a lot to teach us about online communication and collaboration.”
Reardon joked that in spite of all the changes in the last year, his students are as driven as ever.
“This drive has been explicitly visible with all of the responsibilities students have to balance in addition to attending remote classes when they are at home, and they have consistently been in attendance and ready to participate despite balancing family responsibilities with their classwork,” he said. “I am always impressed and inspired by their dedication and achievement, regardless of context.”