Delray Beach teacher shares struggles of simultaneous teaching during COVID-19 pandemic

'It's been stressful,' says Stephen Berlanga, theater teacher at Atlantic Community High School
Posted at 5:00 AM, Oct 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-05 07:44:20-04

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Starting on Monday, Palm Beach County parents will need to decide whether their children will stay in distance or in-classroom learning for the rest of the semester.

The School District of Palm Beach County said this could help eliminate simultaneous teaching and provide more remote working opportunities for teachers.

As students and teachers enter their third week back on school campuses, Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy said about 40% of students are attending in-person instruction.

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Stephen Berlanga, a theater teacher at Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach, took WPTV inside his classroom to explain the challenges of this new simultaneous teaching environment and what he hopes will change.

"Obviously, it's been stressful," Berlanga said. "We’ve been doing what we can."

Berlanga shared pictures of his socially distanced classroom. Yellow caution tape surrounds desks that are off-limits to students.

"Doing the simultaneous teaching, it's been a struggle trying to keep the kids online engaged while also trying to keep the kids in class engaged," Berlanga said. "It's been difficult to try to balance the two methods at the same time."

Berlanga said that's the most difficult part of teaching in this COVID-19 era.

"Especially because it's theater, so it's collaborative work," Berlanga said. "I’ve been trying to do breakout rooms so the students grouped online specifically can work together, while I work with some of the kids in class who are doing individual work."

Berlanga added that he sees less than 10 students each day in person, and some have chosen to return back home.

"After that first week, a lot of kids went back to virtual because their friends weren’t here," Berlanga said. "They weren't getting the socializing they thought they were going to get."

"Currently we are seeing numerous students bounce back and forth daily between in-person and distance learning," Fennoy told school board members last Wednesday. "This fluidity is taxing our teachers and many of our departments throughout the district."

That's why Berlanga is encouraged that the district will ask students to lock in their choice for distance or in-person learning for the rest of the semester.

"I want our educators, our students and our parents to know we hear you," Fennoy said Wednesday. "We understand your concerns."

Berlanga hopes that will ease the burden of simultaneous teaching.

"Then we would be able to determine, this teacher can be remote for this subject area," Berlanga said. "If we had done that from the get-go, then this wouldn't be an issue, and we would have people in-person teaching the kids in-person, and kids who are virtual being taught by a virtual teacher."

Berlanga told WPTV that for the most part, he feels safe with all of the precautions on campus and that they are working. However, he does choose to eat lunch in his car most days.

"There are signs everywhere. We can't drink out of the water fountains. There's tape over the water fountains," Berlanga said. "They're taking a lot of safety measures which, from what I've seen in my little nook of the school, have been working and effective."

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The "Make Your Choice" option will go live on the student portal on Monday, and you'll have until Oct. 14 to lock in your decision for the rest of the semester.