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Monday, August 10, 2020

Woodring College of Education plans for fall quarter

Woodring’s majors navigate a plan of action for fall field-work

By Cameron Sires

On May 12, Western’s President Sabah Randhawa wrote to the Western community about the upcoming fall quarter at Western and the potential for a hybrid model. But, there has not been clarity of what this hybrid model will precisely look like for Woodring College of Education majors who continually do field-work outside of Western. 

Paul Cocke, Western’s director of communications, said in an email that “various options will be up to faculty and departments; the goal of the university is to keep students on track for their degrees and provide as equivalent experience as possible.”

Jeffery Hart, exceptionality and disability director and professor at Woodring, said for hands-on majors, such as students in the special education and elementary education, the unknown of the hybrid model doesn’t just affect the equity of Western students, but also Bellingham communities who rely on Woodring’s special education and elementary education program.

John Korsmo, professor of human services and chair of the Health and Community Studies Department in Woodring, said at this time faculty, students and community partners should be collaboratively discussing the correct action for each part of the courses’ curriculum for next fall.

While some students remain on Bellingham’s main campus or in the Bellingham area, Korsmo said there are many students who are unexpectedly scattered all over the state and beyond, responsibly practicing social distancing protocols. 

Korsmo said this adds a layer of complexity when considering appropriate and safe field placements.

“Certain things are going to be different than what was previously planned,” Korsmo said.“Even when there are expressed opportunities for students to engage in whatever sort of field work they have in front of them, we need to also be cognizant of their risks.” 

Hart said he heard from Horacio Walker, the dean of Woodring, that big classes will most likely remain online, but he is concerned and unsure about how the hybrid model will affect his in-person mentoring program.

Hart said students doing online schooling don’t get to experience classrooms and behavioral management strategies, which he called the “meat and potatoes” of being a teacher. 

Hart teaches SPED 478, which emphasizes on the transition of students with disabilities from high school to post-secondary environments.

To keep equity in the course for students who choose to come to campus or stay online, Hart said he will be redesigning the content of his class by alternating days students participate.

“If I have a 20 person class, then I’ll teach five students on Tuesday, five students on Thursday, five students the next Tuesday, five the next Thursday and so forth,” Hart said. “This way they can revolve through so students who don’t want to come to class don’t have to,” 

Hart said equity for the students with disabilities transfering from the Bellingham School District is being affected as well. 

“The transition students from Bellingham School District typically are coming onto Western’s campus to meet with SPED 478 students,” Hart said. “We also get them set up with student identification cards and we help them learn how to use the library and other resources on campus.” 

Hart said if the campus opens next fall it’s very unlikely that the class can go back to implementing these resources and return with the same kind of mentoring that happened before Western shut down.

Hart said it’s important to remember that not only does the Bellingham community rely on Western’s community, Western also relies on Bellingham.

Facilities such as the Max Higbee Center and Cascade Connections in Bellingham that help support individuals with disabilities in the community are closed due to COVID-19.

Hart said there are around 30 facilities that he sends his Western students and transition students to and all but one are closed right now. He said individuals with disabilities in the community are suffering right now, as well as Western students.

“I have students who are ready to graduate, but can’t do internships when there’s nowhere to send them,” Hart said. 

According to Washington state education preparation requirements, to become a certified educator a student must engage in 450 hours of in-person classroom work for their internships.

“Students are getting closer to the end of their program and are lacking hours. So we’re really scrambling to make this kind of virtual or limited access world work with those hours,” Hart said. 

Hart said his department of special education and the educational leadership department is hoping that the Bellingham School District uses one scenario that they have been discussing for the fall quarter.  

“One scenario I’ve heard is having some students in elementary and middle schools spread out into the high schools. The high school students would continue to be online next year,” Hart said. ”This way classes can be smaller and more spread out.”

Candice Styer, a Woodring professor, said typically there’s 18 to 22 students in her practicums. This term, she had eight in her SPED 480 practicum. 

Styer teaches SPED 480 which focuses on teaching basic reading instruction for K-12 students in inclusive classrooms. 

Styer said that having online classes and only eight students was a fortunate stroke of serendipity.

“I was able to work with school districts and have them refer students that had already been in the in-person reading program in the winter quarter with our practicum students,” Styer said.  “Also, I identified eight students that either had the technology or were given the technology by the school districts.”

Styer said an advantage to a small online class was that she could pop into each student’s Zoom meetings and observe them live.

“When we have our normal practicums I’d have to rely on watching little snippets of videos from each student teaching every week,” Styer said.

Styer said online practicums leave students with a different toolbox then they would’ve had if the class was in-person.

“Hopefully the toolbox is helpful, just the same. I mean, because in all honesty, we may be doing more online next fall than we did previously,” she said. 

Styer said that if she had 22 students in the fall and no classrooms, it would be a challenge.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to necessarily deal with that. I have a hard time imagining that our public school students are not going to be in session,” Styer said. “Even if the model looks like students go every other day or half a day.”

Styer said that when Western shut down in March it was a different conversation with her students than it is now. 

“I think my students would possibly be more open to coming back for fall quarter,” Styer said. “If we had done the hybrid model in the spring, I’m sure I would have had some students that said, I don’t want to come back right now.” 

Bailey Loy, a fifth-year Woodring special education and elementary education student, said she would choose in-person classes next fall, despite the risk of COVID-19. 

Loy said this quarter has not lived up to her expectations and going into next year she wants to get a better grasp of the content she is learning. 

“I feel like I have not learned as much this quarter as I do a normal quarter,” Loy said.

Loy said her expectations had changed from getting excited to do a hands-on practicum to being disappointed. She said she realized the connection over Zoom interactions was not the same as being with the community transition students in-person.

“In SPED 478, it has definitely been harder to make connections with the transition students. We really only meet with them virtually for an hour, which is half the time it would usually be,” Loy said. “I was really looking forward to this quarter because we got to work with older students which we don’t get to do much.” 

Loy said Woodring has been accommodating with practicums and internships through COVID-19 and that she’s able to fulfill the state requirement through virtual teaching.

“Online schooling hasn’t delayed my graduation date and if online school were to continue into next year and when I am supposed to do my internship, I believe I would still be able to graduate in the spring of 2021,” Loy said.

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