Students are pictured at West Bloomfield Middle School Oct. 12. It has been almost two months since the district began its Classroom to Cloud Return to Learn Plan, which blends online and in-person learning.

Students are pictured at West Bloomfield Middle School Oct. 12. It has been almost two months since the district began its Classroom to Cloud Return to Learn Plan, which blends online and in-person learning.

Photo by Deb Jacques


West Bloomfield School District evaluates blended learning model

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 16, 2020

 West Bloomfield Middle School teacher Tom DeGrand teaches a remote elective class of sixth, seventh and eighth graders Oct. 12. Principal Amy Hughes said the district’s Classroom to Cloud Return to Learn Plan has “kind of exceeded” expectations.

West Bloomfield Middle School teacher Tom DeGrand teaches a remote elective class of sixth, seventh and eighth graders Oct. 12. Principal Amy Hughes said the district’s Classroom to Cloud Return to Learn Plan has “kind of exceeded” expectations.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 West Bloomfield Middle School teacher Noelle Burst works with seventh grader Davon Bass Oct. 12 with a plexiglass shield separating them. The school’s principal, Amy Hughes, said there is no set date for a return to a normal school schedule.

West Bloomfield Middle School teacher Noelle Burst works with seventh grader Davon Bass Oct. 12 with a plexiglass shield separating them. The school’s principal, Amy Hughes, said there is no set date for a return to a normal school schedule.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — Nearly two months have passed since the West Bloomfield School District began its Classroom to Cloud Return to Learn Plan, which was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan offers students and parents a blended learning model, with some students receiving both in-school and remote instruction.

The option is available for K-8 students.

Students in Cohort A attend in-person instruction Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings and participate in remote learning in the afternoons.

Students in Cohort B learn remotely in the morning and attend in-person instruction Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons.

On Wednesdays, learning is remote only, in order to allow for schools to be deep cleaned and sanitized.

The blended learning option is not being offered for students in grades nine-12, as WBSD Superintendent Gerald Hill previously said “it would be pretty close to impossible to do social distancing” for the nearly 1,800 students at the high school level.

Those students are receiving an entirely online education.

West Bloomfield Middle School Principal Amy Hughes shared her opinion as to how the plan has been going thus far.

“It kind of exceeded our expectations,” Hughes said. “We weren’t sure how it was going to go. … We’re happy with how it’s been going, and we think the kids are happy and adjusting. … I think they like this half day in-person, the other half learning virtually at home.”

West Bloomfield resident Jen Amato has two children enrolled in the district, with one in kindergarten and the other in seventh grade.

“It’s been great,” Amato said. “This is new territory, so nobody really knew how it would go or what to expect — how the children would handle these changes. But they’ve been very, very good. … I’m not just speaking about my children. The kids have done a phenomenal job; they’re very resilient, and they want to be at school.”

With Amato’s children being in separate cohorts, the difference in their schedules has provided her with an extra perk.

“It’s worked out very well because I’ve been able to have time with my children independently of each other,” she said. “My daughter, when she’s done with her Zoom classes in the morning, I’m just coming back from taking my son to the bus. So she and I have some time to work together on things. She has lunch and goes off to school, and then shortly later, I get my son from his day, and then he and I can work together for his virtual work at home while my daughter is at school. So I’m able to spend more time individually with my children.”

Hughes estimated that the average class size is about 13 at both the elementary and middle school levels.

Concerns about whether or not students would practice social distancing and keep masks on have been relieved.

“I’m pleasantly surprised about that,” Hughes said. “I think one of the things we expected is kids might have an issue keeping their mask on or being socially distant. They’ve really toed the line. They have exceeded our expectations.”

Hughes said that “no one’s had to shut anything down” due to COVID-19.

“This is working,” she said. “So far, so good.”

Buses are available for both pick-up and drop-off.

Despite hot lunches not being offered, Hughes said every Tuesday and Thursday, students can get a “couple days’ worth of lunch and breakfast” due to money from a grant the district applied for.

Hughes discussed some of the primary advantages that have resulted from the Return to Learn Plan.

“We have almost zero discipline issues in middle school right now, which is unheard of because (we) have very little unstructured time,” she said. “I think the best thing that’s happened is we’ve really been able to get kids in class and target instruction. … I think we would love to keep the smaller class sizes.”

Online learning consists of electives for middle school students and “specials” for elementary school children.

Math, language arts, science and social studies are core subjects, and they are taught in person.

Gym, music and art are a few examples of curriculum that is taught online.

The Return to Learn Plan has challenged online teachers perhaps more so than any other group associated with the plan.

“I think our teachers feel a little isolated,” Hughes said. “When you have someone on a screen, you don’t get that feedback that you do with being with kids in person. So they’re struggling with that. … That’s probably the most difficult thing right now.”

As for a return to a normal school schedule, Hughes said, “there is no set date.”

The second semester is set to start near the end of January.

“We’d love to hope that it would be second semester,” Hughes said. “That would be, I think, the next goal that we’re shooting for. But it depends on so many things that are out of our control. We are controlling what we can control, and if this is working, and kids are in school, kids are learning, staff is staying safe, families are staying safe, then we’re (going to) continue the course.”

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