WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Its been four weeks since New Hanover County elementary school students have been back in their respective school buildings. Most kids are just going in two days a week, so teachers are teaching students both in person and online, often times simultaneously.
Student participation and engagement have come a long way since March. The school principal says the change is like night and day now that everyone has devices and the ability to get online.
Classrooms that used to support a class of 18, now only have a handful of students physically inside, sitting in socially distanced chairs, wearing cloth masks.
Mrs. Wendy McNeil’s 5th grade reading class may look small at first, until you realize she is also teaching kids on zoom at the same time.
Its an approach called the 'flipped’ classroom and it’s helping staff at Sunset Park Elementary tackle a variety of new challenges this year.
“It’s been a different year for us as well—not only the transition with COVID, but we had redistricting in the county so we are now about 50 percent Hispanic,” said Principal Diego Lehocky.
In earlier years, the school was just 15 percent Spanish speaking. Now, a higher percentage of the tiny learners at Sunset Park Elementary are picking up their reading and math lessons at the same time they’re learning English.
Many staff members, like Lehocky, speak Spanish and the school has hired a dedicated liaison to help communicate with parents that need help talking to staff and teachers at the school. Bridging the language gap, however, can take time.
“Just relaying basic information—you can’t even do that," said the principal. “We’re able to give them that information, but we have to find someone who speaks Spanish and it’s two or three more steps. For something that might take five minutes, now takes 15.”
No matter their learning needs, all of the pupils at the elementary school are diving right into the flipped classroom. Teachers believe the approach may be more beneficial for certain children.
“This time we’re kind of at an advantage because my ESL and my EC kids come in all four days and they’re really getting some intense instruction. And sometimes, they get the lesson twice which helps fill that void,” said McNeil.
The extra time in the classroom allows teachers to see when students are struggling and allows them to step in and help so the student doesn’t get left behind.
Mrs. McNeil knows there is still progress to be made, but believes things are getting better for students whether they’re in the classroom or at home. She’s reminded of that each morning.
“When my kids come in the morning, they smile and that’s when I know that it’s gonna be a great day and that’s when I know that they’re gonna be successful because they want to be here," said McNeil.
Third grade teacher Taylor Secco says flipped learning is also key in teaching kids lessons that will serve them later in life.
“It’s just learning responsibility at this point—which is a great thing, that they’re getting to learn accepting responsibility for their own education. They’re getting there and they’ve done awesome. I mean, they understand, they recognize what they need to do at home, and they’re stepping up and doing it—getting to Zoom on time—so they’re doing really awesome and they understand the responsibility of keeping themselves safe as well as all of us safe when it comes to health concerns,” said Secco.
There’s no word on when students will be going back full time in New Hanover County Schools. The district will continue to work with county health officials and monitor and assess data to plan for the transition to Plan A when conditions permit.