Pine Cobble School shifts to remote learning after positive COVID-19 case

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Days after opening for in-person instruction, Pine Cobble School has had to pivot to an all-remote learning program after a teacher tested positive for COVID-19.

The school opened Sept. 8 after receiving negative results for all tests of students and faculty on Aug. 29 and 30 — 188 people in all.

But a positive case was reported Saturday, according to Head of School Susannah Wells, causing the school to shift to a remote model for two weeks beginning Monday.

"It just made sense to transition to remote learning," she said.

Since the pandemic struck in March, closing schools across the state, the private school for pre-K through ninth grade has been using and working to improve its remote learning model, Wells said, so the faculty and students are already well-versed in the process.

She said that during the second day of "robust instruction" and cheerful reunions with cautionary protocols in place, one teacher felt ill, so she and her class were sent home for two weeks of quarantine.

After the teacher tested position for COVID-19, "out of an abundance of caution," Wells said, officials decided to go to a remote learning model through Sept. 25, with a Yom Kippur school holiday already scheduled for Sept. 28.

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 "Our plan is to bring everyone back to school after another round of testing," Wells said, after which the school will return to in-person instruction.

Assistant Head of School Devin Wootton said school officials last spring were able to find the right balance of synchronous instruction, in which the teacher is on screen with the whole class, and asynchronous instruction, in which the students work on projects and assignments on the computer independently.

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"We learned quite a lot," Wootton said. "Eight hours of screen time is not healthy for anyone."

So instruction time is peppered with plenty of breaks, giving everyone a chance to refocus and decompress, he noted.

"Their retention of the material was better than expected," Wootton said, "even in our younger grades."

The bonding experience of the class also translated well into the remote learning environment, he said, "something we encouraged very intentionally."

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Wells noted that any new infections in the future might require a specific classroom and teacher to return to remote learning, but the intention is to avoid sending everyone back home again, if possible.

It's important for childhood development to have that bonding experience with peers and caring adults, so in-person instruction is the goal going forward, she noted.-----

The school has implemented careful distancing requirements, mask requirements and lots of cleaning and hand washing, she said. Classes are isolated and do not come into contact with other classes, so if there is an infection, there is no opportunity for it to spread to other classes.

Wells said the first few days were a happy reunion of sorts, and there was disappointment when everybody had to return home. But the students and parents understood the need and did their part.

"They understand that safety is our top priority," Wells said.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to show that the positive test was reported Saturday, not Friday.


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