FCPS’s Concurrent Learning Model


“Special Delivery” by Phil Roeder is licensed with CC BY-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Eleanor Shaw

With the pandemic remaining a roadblock in the path of education, the question concerning the status of in-person learning remains at the forefront of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) students’ minds. In order to address this question, FCPS has developed a “concurrent model” for instruction, which provides a hybrid schedule of in-person and virtual learning. This model consists of a two-pronged approach, consisting of the separate approaches concerning the health and education of FCPS students.

First and foremost, FCPS has stated that it aims to provide targeted groups of students with the in-person learning that they may need. For instance, younger children and special needs students may struggle with at-home digital learning. In order to accommodate these needs, while adapting to the issues that may present themselves with home-based online learning, FCPS will be introducing small groups of students back to in-person school in waves. With the aforementioned groups taking priority, FCPS will gradually introduce elementary, middle school, and high school students back into an in-person environment. As of the time in which this article was written, FCPS is planning to begin feeding students back into schools through the beginning of March. This strategy aims to ease the process of learning for these target groups, helping these individuals receive the best education for them in the midst of a pandemic.

One major issue that presents itself in a situation such as this is the threat of further spreading COVID-19. In order to combat the circulation and infection rate of this virus and any of its mutations, FCPS will implement strict health protocols. Some examples of these protocols will include but are not limited to: enforcing the washing of hands on a regular basis, avoiding close contact via social distancing, wearing masks that cover one’s mouth and nose, regularly cleaning and disinfecting workspaces, and monitoring students’ health daily through temperature checks and surveys. Concerning social distancing, FCPS went on to say in a statement found on their website: “Maintaining social distancing will be implemented to the extent possible…In limited cases, exceptions to this may occur when a student requires support for activities of daily living that may make staff unable to maintain a distance of six feet… (but) In all other cases, six (6) feet of social distancing is required.”

Furthermore, FCPS plans to use a tactic referred to as “cohorting” (occasionally called “podding”). As announced in the aforementioned statement, “[This strategy works] by keeping groups of students – and sometimes staff – together over the course of a predetermined period of time. Ideally, the students and staff within a cohort will only have physical proximity with others in the same cohort. This practice may help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting cross-over of students and teachers to the extent possible.” It is later stated that the implementation of this strategy may vary. Possible uses of cohorting include: keeping cohorts in a single classroom and having teachers rotate between rooms, alternating cohorts by days or weeks whilst having specific cohorts assigned to specific days/weeks, and using the hybrid learning approach, having some cohorts assigned to in-person learning and some to virtual learning.

The concurrent schedule for elementary school, middle school, and high school will follow a pattern of two days of in-person instruction followed by two days of virtual instruction, in which Mondays will be used as teacher planning days and student workdays. As illustrated below, the two in-school days will rotate between two groups referred to as “Group A” and “Group B.” For high school and middle school, Group A students will meet on Tuesdays (in which they will attend their “A” day classes) and Wednesdays (in which they will attend their “B” day classes). Group B students will meet on Thursdays (in which they will attend their “A” day classes) and Fridays (in which they will attend their “B” day classes). Students who choose to remain at home for virtual learning will continue on with their schedules. As previously stated, Mondays will remain a teacher planning day and a student workday. Students will still be required to fill out check-in/attendance forms and office hours will remain open during these workdays.

Made by FCPS for FCPS (https://www.fcps.edu/return-school/person-instruction-update-small-groups)
Made by FCPS for FCPS (https://www.fcps.edu/return-school/person-instruction-update-small-groups)

Outside of the tactics to deal with maintaining a sanitary environment and preserving the health of the students, the concurrent model presented by FCPS provides the necessary adjustments to the education of students. For instance, during a school day in which concurrent learning is applied, there will likely be 5-8 students in class at any given time, all wearing masks and socially distancing. As a result, there will be no group work or collaboration that involves close physical contact. The remaining students who are not attending in-person will all be present in Blackboard Collaborate (BBCU) for virtual instruction. However, students in the classroom will not likely be able to access BBCU. In summary, there will be about 60-70% of students in any given class who are all participating in virtual learning in BBCU while the in-person students attempt to access the same lessons and materials without accessing BBCU and without being able to engage in breakout rooms or participate in group work.

This proposal of a concurrent model of in-person learning has been met with varied reactions. Several parents, students, and teachers of FCPS have made the argument that the transition back into in-person learning has been rushed, putting at-risk individuals in a less-than-desirable situation. On the other hand, several other residents of FCPS have claimed that FCPS has been too reluctant and should have implemented face to face instruction months ago largely due to the increase in difficulty of school for younger students and those who require special education that has resulted from distance learning. However, in this situation, the health of staff and students is what should be prioritized.

One major complaint found with the concurrent model is that while this model has implemented precautionary measures in order to combat the spread of COVID-19, there is no confirmation that these measures will achieve their goal. Another primary concern regarding this concurrent model pertains to the effectiveness of the plan to continue educating students. Without close-proximity group work, there won’t be as much collaboration as would be found in a typical pandemic-free classroom. This may diminish some of the appeal of returning to face to face instruction. Furthermore, many at-risk teachers (such as teachers with health conditions that make catching COVID-19 dangerous to their wellbeing) will continue educating from home to avoid possible health risks, resulting in students learning in-person having to participate in virtual learning anyways, just from their classroom. As a result, many have questioned if this transition would be anything significantly more than a change in scenery. While the health precautions have more of a foundation since they are based on measurable scientific evidence, there is no guarantee that this approach to educating students will work, for learning is not as quantifiable since the administration doesn’t have the same kind of metrics to build from.

The effectiveness of this model has yet to be demonstrated, and the model may be scrapped altogether, being replaced with all virtual learning. All in all, in a time in which there are no good options, the concurrent model has presented itself as a formidable solution.

For more information, be sure to visit FCPS’s site.