Wellington Schools Rising To The Challenges Of An Unusual Academic Year

The Wellington Municipal Complex.

The Wellington Education Committee heard updates Tuesday, Oct. 6 from area school principals on feedback from parents, percent of students returning to school campuses and potential problems with social distancing or mask wearing. It also received a report on the Wellington High School Sports Complex project.

“I would like to thank all of the principals who are here [on Zoom] and commend you for the fine work you’ve been doing,” Committee Chair John Webber said. “I think you’ve taken a very difficult situation and made the best of it. We’ve had virtually no one complaining about their experiences so far.”

He was far more critical of the Palm Beach County School District’s leadership. “I wish I could be as positive about how this district and the school board has handled things, but I don’t want to get on my soapbox,” Webber said.

Principals from most area schools were able to attend virtually, and the reports were remarkably similar.

The consensus was that about 30 percent of students are on campus every day, with highs of about 50 percent and lows of about 18 percent, and the education hasn’t missed a beat. The students on campus comply with wearing their masks, even in the pre-K age group with some prodding. The students are reminded to maintain social distancing, but because six feet to little children and teenagers is not the same as six feet to teachers, marks have been placed on the floor to facilitate spacing.

School staffs have been working tremendously hard, collaborating together to make the challenges of the situation work and to keep the teachers’ motivation and morale up, staying positive for the children so that it will keep the students’ morale up.

Times for students to congregate with their friends have been canceled. The bell rings, and they go straight to class with assigned seating so contact tracing can be done should a student test positive for COVID-19.

Principals have a challenge keeping up on a daily basis with children who are not feeling well, notifying the parents and filling out all the paperwork, but the pre-planning before school started has helped that part go more smoothly.

Students are constantly reminded — the younger, the more frequently — to sanitize their hands and not to touch their eyes and face.

Some schools did a bit of schedule moving several weeks ago and don’t anticipate they will have to do much more as the next quarter begins.

Some changes are expected in physical education classes because it’s hard for the instructors to manage virtual and in-person students at the same time. Another challenge has been parents changing their mind and frequently going back-and-forth between brick-and-mortar and virtual.

There have been some challenges getting adequate supplies of Chromebook computer devices, with a few spares for students who forgot theirs that day. The children have totes that handle the devices because young children with a device in their backpack isn’t conducive to keeping the technology in good shape.

New Horizons Elementary School reports that it opened up a little bit early because it has three regular classrooms and two pre-K classrooms serving students with autism. It was hectic, but the students were able to settle into their routines quickly.

All schools seemed to agree that there is a challenge in keeping all the students engaged with social distancing and remote learning.

The majority of the teachers are on campus with some accommodated to work from home, so the campuses are short staffed, and substitutes are hard to find.

Some schools have more students on campus than others, with middle schools and high schools emptier than elementary schools.

“We have only seen a little more than 15 percent of our students back in for brick-and-mortar,” said Committee Member Donna Baxter, who works at Palm Beach Central High School. “The upside of that is giving us a great opportunity to walk through all the protocols with a smaller number of students. We have been managing with around the 400s in the number of students, and that has made it more manageable. We’ve had teachers covering one another’s classes when we can’t get substitutes to come in. Of the 160 teachers who teach at the school, 20 have been teaching from home.”

In classrooms with more students returning than there is space for with social distancing, there is a virtual teaching lab with supervision of the students, Baxter added.

“Testing for mastery of the subject is going to be a dilemma with students at home and in the school,” she said. “The lab typically has around 30 students in it with two teachers supervising, and that is challenging because the students are all watching various programming from the courses they are taking, so it makes it challenging to engage them.”

Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes made a presentation and showed two videos updating the committee on the Wellington High School Sports Complex. A virtual groundbreaking and virtual ribbon-cutting for the portion that has been completed will be held in late October at a date not yet finalized.

“As planned, we were looking to complete the first phase of the project in time for school to begin in the fall,” Barnes said.

The multi-sport complex is a joint venture using school board land and the village’s funding for the facilities to develop the multiuse, multipurpose fields.

“The construction team has stayed on schedule for the new and improved joint use facility, and the entire project is on schedule to be completed by the summer of 2021,” Barnes said.

The opening football game for Wellington High School will be on Friday, Oct. 30. Wellington is one of three fields in the county that will be utilized for the compressed high school football schedule because it has artificial turf that can tolerate the extra activity.

“The project is a win-win situation because the school uses the fields in the daytime and for their games, and Wellington residents use the fields in the evenings and weekends, which is the timeframe that is most active for the other parks,” Barnes said. “The benefit to the village was that we did not have to tie up another piece of village property and were able to keep it vacant for future use. The school provided the land, and the village funded the facilities.”