Skip to content

Students Remain The Focus At Highland Middle School

By Mark Jurgena

When veteran Highland Middle School teacher Chris Hartlieb began teaching 30 years ago, he never thought he would be a first-year teacher, twice.

“It’s the closest thing to being a first-year teacher I can imagine, except double that,” Hartlieb began. “Because you’re not only trying to figure out how to do the remote thing but you’re always trying to figure out all of the technology and everything else that goes along with serving the kids who are remote, meeting their needs.”

He noted the Highland school district is one of only three in Madison County to teach in-person five days per week.

At Highland Middle School, students were given the option of in-person learning, which takes place in the morning, or remote learning which occurs in the afternoon once in-person learners depart. If a student is placed in quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 test or contact tracing, they are moved to remote learning in the afternoons.

Students begin filtering into classrooms at 7:15 a.m. with their first class beginning at 7:35. The students attend classes until 12:35 p.m. After that, teachers switch gears to instruct remote learners. Hartlieb, an 8th grade American History teacher, noted that different subjects meet on different days.

He teaches remote American History on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:40 p.m.

The number of students in his remote classroom can vary from day-to-day depending on the number of students in quarantine. He has instructed as many as 38 learners during a remote session and as few as 12 during the 2020-2021 academic school year.

“We’re mostly getting everything done that we would normally do and we’re trying to do the best we can with the remote learners to do the same thing,” Hartlieb said. “I’m glad it’s not my job to figure this stuff out. If you look at how they set this schedule up, if this is what they want…if they want kids in school as much as possible, they’ve done a great job. The way they set this up was perfect.”

HMS has split their three grades into two academic “teams” in order to hopefully control the spread of COVID. The teams consist of English, Math, Science, and Social Studies classes.

Additionally, many teachers serve together as cohort teachers. This year, Hartlieb is teaching with Heather Athmer.

“One thing the district has done that has been amazingly wonderful is that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays my cohort teacher and I can meet to plan everything,” he said. “She’s a godsend. If you’re doing this the right way, then you and your cohort teacher have to work together. If you do it, it makes this way, way easier, and more manageable. That means every 8th grader is getting the exact same experience. The circumstances are awful, but I think we’re doing a great job on behalf of the kids.”

Hartlieb has been pleasantly surprised with how well the kids have adapted to all the changes in and around schools this academic year.

“The only reason this works at all is because of the kids,” he began. “The kids have been unbelievably cooperative and understanding. Even if they’re not real happy about some things, they understand why we’re doing what we are doing.

“The kids I have this year are remarkable; they’re wonderful. I look forward to seeing them every day, but I don’t get to see them. They’re hidden behind masks, I don’t get their full personality. I walk into the buildings some mornings and I’m almost in tears looking at all these kids hidden behind all these masks and just thinking about this reality. Yet they show up every day, they want to learn and they have a great attitude and they are making the best of it.”

One big concern entering the year was the concept of wearing a mask for the duration of the school day. Hartlieb was apprehensive early about the potential disruptions this could cause but has found it to be a non-issue.

“I honest-to-God thought, when they told us we would be in person, that my number one job was going to be a mask sheriff,” he said. “The masks…everybody’s used to it by now. It’s not even a big deal. There is nothing about the masks that has ever been controversial or a problem. I thought it would be a big problem. I was totally wrong about that.”

Cleaning rooms has also been a major emphasis across the state and Highland is no exception.

At HMS the district supplies cleaning materials for the students to use when they arrive in a new classroom.

“The kids have been awesome with this,” Hartlieb said. “We provide wipes for the kids in every room and the expectation for them is as soon as you come into the room you go grab wipes and you wipe down your desk in your area. The kids do all of that and they’re good about doing it.”

Throughout the interview, Hartlieb focused on the contributions of the students at Highland Middle School for making this school year work.

“The kids have been great and we’ve had a really good school year with our kids,” he said. “This has been a glorious year once you close your door and just teach. It’s been one of my favorite years ever working with kids.”

Leave a Comment