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Learning Curve is WKSU’s reporting initiative examining the past, present and future of K-12 public education in Ohio.

COVID Dictates New Format for Beachwood Schools, Expands Students’ Options

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Beachwood Middle School
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Beachwood offers a hybrid model of remote and in-person learning for middle and high schoolers who chose to return to the classroom.

At Beachwood City Schools — a high performing Cleveland suburb — education is significantly different than it was a year ago. Like many of the more than 100 suburban districts throughout the state, Beachwood moved to remote learning, then eased back into options for in-person learning in the fall.

But Superintendent Robert Hardis says for a quarter of Beachwood’s elementary students, remote learning remains a way of life.

Robert Hardis
Robert Hardis
Dr. Robert Hardis, superintendent of Beachwood City Schools, says that this is not a lost year for Beachwood students because they are learning and will be ready for the next class.

“Ultimately, for these families, it was an option that if we hadn’t offered it, I don’t know what they would have done.”

Though, so far, most research focuses on urban and rural districts, state data reflects enrollment losses over the past year among pre-K and kindergarten in suburban districts. Hardis says daily attendance at Beachwood has dropped slightly as well.

New School Model Designed to Cope with the Pandemic

But for the nearly 1,700 students who remain, Beachwood has adopted different models for different grades and learning needs. At the elementary level, Beachwood now offers an online teacher at each grade level. For children back physically in school buildings five days a week, the district added classrooms to maintain social distancing. And Hardis says there’s a benefit.

“It has created sort of a family feel among a small group that are at school,” he said.

But things get more complicated when it comes to middle and high schoolers. Students who chose to return to the classroom under a hybrid model attend in-person classes four days a week for three hours. To keep classes smaller, some students attend school in the morning and others in the afternoon. The schedule means reduced instruction time. And that’s a concern for middle school social studies teacher Garth Holman.

“If you’re only seeing them twice a week, you’re losing 66% of your teaching time, so you’re trying to cover content, which kids can’t do,” Holman said.

And finding the best online method for specialized subjects often is a challenge. Math teacher Michelle Karim says although technology has been transformative, it remains very limited.

“It has been so hard when they’re showing a piece of paper up to the screen so that I can see their work and try to guess and figure out where they went wrong. That kind of regular discourse back and forth has been lost,” Karim said.

Expectations for the Future

Still, J.C. Lenk, a Beachwood middle school teacher and educational technology expert, believes the use of technology will flourish as teachers become more comfortable with it — even beyond the pandemic.

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JC Lenk
JC Lenk, Beachwood middle school teacher and educational technology expert, says educators are becoming more comfortable using technology in their classrooms.

“Hopefully, educators are more willing to try new things and that they have learned a lot of things from the technology world,” Lenk said.

Superintendent Hardis agrees. He says teachers have expanded options to better serve their students.

“We don’t feel like this is a lost year at all,” Hardis said. “We feel that while it’s very different, students are learning, they’re making progress, they’re going to be ready for the next class, they’re going to be ready for college, if it’s a high school senior. But it’s taken a huge stretch on everyone.”

And it comes at a cost — for both the district and some students. Beachwood has spent close to a million dollars over the past year to adapt.

Managing Students’ Mental Health and Performance Concerns

And while most suburban districts do not face wi-fi and computer-access problems of many urban and rural schools, some students struggled during the months of online-only instruction.

Jessica Venditti, a Beachwood parent and mental health professional who works with adolescents, says she has noticed an increase in depression and anxiety in other districts since the pandemic began.

“I saw kids in my professional capacity who pulled A’s and B’s consistently and fell off the cliff academically when the pandemic started,” Venditti said.

Jami Klein, mother to two Beachwood Elementary students, says her kids do much better in the classroom. That influenced her decision to send them back -- even though she is medically high-risk and has concerns about COVID.

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Jonah and Jackson
Brothers Jonah and Jackson Klein, both Beachwood Elementary students, learn baking skills during the lockdown period when they were at home learning virtually.

“They just didn’t like any of it when they were stuck at home,” Klein said.They’re in a lot of athletics and like being around friends, socializing. When you don’t get to do any of that and school is different, I think their whole world just changed.”

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Jonah Klein
Eight-year-old Jonah Klein, a third grader at Beachwood Elementary, does a one-handed handstand during an impromptu session at home when he could not get connected to his virtual PE class.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is pushing to return public education to in-person instruction. But even schools like Beachwood that have been back in session for months acknowledge COVID has changed their classrooms -- and those changes will likely extend beyond the pandemic.

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Learning Curve is a statewide media collaborative focusing on the challenges and opportunities facing K-12 public education in Ohio.

Our partners include WCPN, WOSU, WVXU, WYSO and The Devil Strip.