By Melinda Burns, Director of Adult Education
“We are excited to be full-time and in-person this fall,” said Bill LeForestier, Director of Wildwood School.
That’s really great news! Over the past school year, Wildwood School staff developed protocols based on guidance from NYSED, NYSDOH and the CDC. Those protocols allowed Wildwood School to be fully in person last year from September 9th until November 30th for the whole school and in-person full time for the Elementary Program Level until May 17th. These are the dates when programs pivoted to the hybrid model until the end of the year. All programs were fully in person for the summer 2021.
Summer program was a big test with all students for in-person learning.
“We had a very successful summer session at all locations, including Curry Road, Altamont and the Young Adult Program in Latham Building #4,” Bill said. Most of the same protocols are in place this fall.
Technology was a major force in allowing Wildwood School students and staff to remain safe throughout this past school year.
“Parents were able to do an attestation using a Google Form. This made data collection for contact tracing very easy. We were also able to hold ourselves accountable on all levels, as staff also completed, and continue to complete, daily screening forms,” Bill said.
One parent reported that: “It was hard the first two months, but then it became more routine. Luckily, I was able to stay home with my daughter and help her. I also worked closely with her teachers and staff on her goals. I have more respect for school staff! She didn’t make as much progress this year, especially in her social skills, and was really happy to be back in person.”
Students benefitted most from being in-person for classes. They were able to tolerate wearing a mask if that meant they could see their friends. Students increased their flexibility as daily schedules changed and routines were disrupted. These changes resulted in increased uncertainty and anxiety, especially for those who would soon graduate.
“My son didn’t know what was going to happen. Before the pandemic, he had a plan leading up to graduation: he was going to attend classes, learn how to work and get a job. With the pandemic, he became more nervous about what would happen after graduation,” one parent explained. “I was also working at home and that was especially difficult. I wasn’t always sure what my son was learning or how I could best support him. We were glad to see what he was learning! The situation put a lot of stress on us as a family.”
To help decrease that stress, staff became very skilled at providing as much support as possible to students and families during the pandemic. Families noticed that with virtual learning motivation and paying attention was much more challenging. When students are in person, staff can more easily monitor student engagement. Again, technology assisted everyone to bridge the gap.
“The allocation and use of technology was a cornerstone to a successful shift to and from all the different forms of learning. We had to prepare not only the physical equipment, but also make sure there was a plan to provide devices as needed and ensure everyone had adequate resources to pivot to and from remote schooling or a hybrid model,” said Mark Giufre, Wildwood School’s Education Technology Specialist.
Resource sharing was key. The technology staff quickly built a website that staff were able to flesh out, sharing resources for each other as well as families and students. This centralized hub also had a second site attached to it to provide continuous and up to the minute technology training and resources for staff and families. Training was provided in-person as well as in small and larger synchronous and asynchronous groups. Updates were made as they happened so staff and families had information needed to make sure learning occurred no matter the format.
Wildwood also became a resource for others. Our model of technology collaboration and transdisciplinary resource sharing was used by Autism Speaks in one of their posts. We also were called upon by the Center for Spectrum Services to help them navigate and establish their models based on our instructional and technology experience and expertise. We worked with them through many aspects of the pandemic and have built a lasting relationship with them because of it.
People truly came together in the Wildwood way and now have connections and resources to take with them into a post-pandemic world. That collaborative spirit keeps Wildwood School staff dedicated to providing the best possible learning environment for students. Staff, students and families are all looking forward to a positive and exciting return to the classroom this coming year!