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The Aegis
Harford County

Swan Creek School’s first year ‘exceeded all expectations,’ teacher says

When students were returning to in-person instruction in the fall of 2021, Harford County Public Schools created Swan Creek School, offering two blended virtual programs for students in grades K-12. Swan Creek’s first year was a success in the eyes of parents, faculty and students.

“We started the year with what our vision and mission was for our students and staff, and we accomplished that,” said Mark Truszkowski, principal of Swan Creek. “We are proud of the work that we did. We are proud of how the school year finished, how are students did and how are staff handled a brand new environment.”

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The inception of Swan Creek started before the onset of the pandemic, the school system said. Harford County Public Schools recognized a need to support students with varying learning styles and preferences, and had already begun the process of opening a virtual program through the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) application process, the school system said.

“There are many different reasons students/families may choose a virtual program- health is one, but it can also be learning style preference or any other number of reasons,” said Jillian Lader, HCPS manager of communications.

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When COVID-19 hit, and students and staff were beginning to return to school in-person, Swan Creek evolved into the hybrid model it is now; offering students both virtual and in-person options, should they wish to enroll.

“For this year, Swan Creek existed in a response to the pandemic,” Truszkowski said. “We had to fast forward what we intended to do for a period of years into one year.”

As HCPS closes out the year, the school system, Swan Creek faculty, parents and teachers reflected on the success and failures of the school.

When the school year kicked off, many did not know what to expect from being in a faculty team who have never worked together to adapting the school system’s curriculum to a blended environment, Truszkowski said.

“If you are a smart leader, you just give them the mission and get out their way and let them do the work,” Truszkowski said. “They know what they [students] need and how to organize the materials they [students] need, so you stay out their [faculty] way. The faculty here did an incredible job.”

The mission for Swan Creek’s first year was to build an alternative learning environment for students and families in Harford County that was never seen, Truszkowski said. As understood from the faculty’s point of view, the goal was to build relationships beyond a classroom and an safe environment for students to be willing to fail as they learned, said Eric Mosely, a fifth grade teacher at Swan Creek.

With input from parents and students, Swan Creek faculty were able to successfully provide this alternative environment and build deep bonds with students while students learned in a virtual setting, a sentiment echoed among many faculty members and parents.

“This was a great experience,” said Monique Johnson, mother of first grade Swan Creek student Madison Williams Johnson. “Madison loved her teacher, and she was really close to a lot of them. The friends that she made through out the year became very important. She really enjoyed her time here and learned a lot.”

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“Swan Creek cares about students,” said Ericka Weems, a member of Swan Creek’s first graduating class. “They really push the students to be their best selves.”

Faculty successfully achieved their goals by moving as a fine-tuned unit toward one goal, Mosely said.

“I think this year exceeded all expectations,” Mosely said. “I knew we could reach our goals, but to exceed expectations, it took all of us to work together. It was tough but joyful as we went along.”

Although this year was successful, it took a lot of adjustments for faculty since most of the teachers were used to teaching in a virtual setting and the HCPS curriculum was created with in-person instruction in mind, Truszkowski said. There were a couple of ways faculty got around these obstacles.

“I think it was a matter of communication,” Johnson said. “They were very communicative of what needs to be done. They keep you informed of the different activities and assignments. We had that communication, so I think that was key.”

“Their strengths were communication, being active listeners, being honest and being mentors,” Weems said.

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“You really have to get to know the students,” said Tracy Tedesco, a first-grade teacher at Swan Creek. “You really have listen to what they say and let them talk. You have go off their interests. If you make this connection, they don’t miss being in-person as much.”

In addition to communication, Swan Creek held in-person events that faculty primarily coordinated for students to meet their teachers and classmates, Truskowski said. The school had used their material collection days as events, and the school held a field day for students.

“For our Harford Glen trip, it was their [students] first time seeing each other besides on screen,” Mosely said. “So when they saw each other in person their relationships were solidified even more.”

Considering input from parents, staff and faculty, Swan Creek will be implementing more in-person events to connect their community even deeper, Truszkowski said. The school will continue to have the events from the past year but will add on more field trips, Truszkowski said.

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Swan Creek had many successes, but one of the major obstacles echoed among everyone involved was technological issues. Like other virtual programs, technology will be an issues, but since Swan Creek had younger children, technological issues became more prevalent.

“I think the school improve with their technology since these kids do have to navigate a lot of websites,” Johnson said. “They need a lot of support since they are little kids. Sometimes that can be a little challenging.”

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In response to the issue, Swan Creek plans on moving everything to their learning management system where students can get everything they need in one spot, Tedesco said. Since this does not completely eliminate technological issues, Tedesco tries to teach her students look at the smaller issues as a way to learn problem solving skills, Tedesco said.

Swan Creek had 939 students enrolled for either eLearning or the hybrid course for the 2021-2022 school year. Enrollment is currently closed for the 2022-2023 school year.

“We are starting a new program, and I think it’s taking off,” Tedesco said. “I’m excited for the possibilities of next year.”

However, if eligible applicants exceed existing spots, a lottery will be employed to select candidates. Applicants will be informed of the decision no later than July 11.

“Swan Creek School was very helpful, and we expect it to expand a lot more in the future,” Weems said. “More students will get the help and education that they need.”


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