TOPS teachers learn alongside virtual students this fall

Mrs. Lisa Melton shows off her at home school workspace where she meets with students virtually during the school day. Being able to teach in the comfort of her own home allows her to focus on other important aspects of her life, such as being a new mother.

While most students in the Littleton Public Schools district are exploring the new hybrid-block schedule with some in school days and some virtual learning days, many are staying completely at home with the newly implemented TOPS Program. 

TOPS is the Temporary Online Program for Students (and staff). In this program, students attend class online every day. For many students and staff members with health concerns or other issues, this has proven to be a useful option in remaining health conscious as well as attending school. 

Although a decent portion of Heritage students attend the program, a total of one hundred twenty-three as HHS principal Stacey Riendeau states, not many students understand how the program works as a whole. Quite a few didn’t even know what TOPS stands for despite the attention the program is receiving.

Stephanie Fast, the K-3rd grade counselor for TOPS, gives an inside look at the program. 

“Some things are the same- such as building relationships with students, delivering curriculum, differentiating instruction, but the way we do it can look a little different,” she explains.

While hybrid students have synchronous online classes on Wednesdays, students in TOPS have synchronous classes much more often. 

As Brenna Simmons ’22 explains, synchronous classes meet during the first half of the full hour and a half time, teachers do a lesson and/or explain work that needs to be done, then students have the remaining time to work on assignments or go through lessons on their own. Unlike hybrid staff members who utilize Google Classroom and other online outlets, the TOPS teachers do their lessons through Pearson, which is an online assessment tool. 

“It’s almost like reading a big digital textbook,” Brenna elaborates. 

The teachers also acknowledge this change in routine when teaching.

“There is a lot of need for self-directed time for the students which many are not used to,” adds Justin Riffle, the high school level Science teacher for the program.

For those participating in concurrent enrollment, they have special websites and schedules they follow in order to receive the credit they earn for each class. 

With this method of learning comes a different method of teaching on the teachers’ part. Learning how to teach more hands-off has proven to be a struggle for many, but new strategies have emerged in TOPS. 

“I’ll be spending less time creating my own lessons and content, and spending more time helping students work independently through the content provided to them by our program,” states Lisa Melton, the high school level Language Arts teacher for TOPS.

“My strategies are being invented daily instead of being refined daily” and “I have been spending a good deal of my time trying to be as structured and predictable as I possibly can be while also trying to navigate the newness of this whole thing,” further explains Riffle.

Teachers are building in more time for students to move around and stretch so as to not be static all throughout the day. 

Although she describes her first day of class as a ‘hot mess,’ Melton affirms that she is enjoying TOPS and teaching in the program.

“It is reassuring to know how and where I’ll be teaching all year,” Melton adds. 

Some teachers even feel that this program should be kept even if the COVID-19 situation is resolved in the future. 

“I feel like it could be beneficial for special populations going forward,” Fast expresses.

However, despite the program going so well so far into the year, there are some downsides to being at home all the time with minimal contact with your peers.

“It’s certainly isolating,” says Melton and she hopes to be back in the building with her Heritage family next year.

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