Back to School 2020 has necessitated months of creativity and planning. The hard work paid off when our in-person learners walked through the door Monday for their first day of school. Simultaneously, our remote learners were logging on to start their first day. Each was exciting and eventful in their own unique way. But we all started this school year together as a community. It was an exciting, busy and eventful week. We were reminded that while proper planning and preparation are important, maintaining a positive and open mind is equally important. We have put in the months of planning and now we need to execute our plans being mindful of the current environment.
Flexibility is our mantra for the year.
Not a big deal. Despite all the worry and anticipation around wearing masks, all the students wore their masks and didn’t complain. They seemed happy. Over the course of the week we realized, we don’t need to see a student’s mouth to know if they are smiling or not. Eyes and body language can tell us exactly how a student is feeling without seeing their mouth. One student even commented that she liked wearing a mask, because it gave her more confidence and she could show some of her preferences and personality through her masks.
Rising to the Occasion
Our remote learners were rock stars! They logged in on-time for every class and were engaged in all the class activities. We are one school at The Sycamore School. Whether our students chose in-person or remote learning, it is important we all feel connected. Through the benefit of great technology, our remote learners are able to fully participate alongside our in-person learners. It was exciting to see the months of planning pay off. We hope to have some remote Zoom lunches next week, to give our remote learners some additional time to socialize with their in -person classmates.
Practice makes Perfect
We started the week with a few tech issues. We learned that if you’re on Zoom, you need to use your headphones and mute yourself unless you’re talking. If you don’t, you experience significant feedback and echoing. After several students forgot their headphones for multiple days, they started bringing them in and it made a world of difference.
This fall we are offering two new elective classes, ASL and Coding. During our search for a teacher for these classes, we found the best instructors were not able to be with us in-person. As a result, both our ASL and Coding instructors are remotely teaching both our in-person and remote learners. The students love both classes and have been highly engaged. At the end of the week, our Coding instructor reached out to me and commented “Wow- I want to tell you that my colleague and I can’t believe how well mannered and attentive your students are. It says volumes about your program at Sycamore”. We are incredibly proud of the way our students conducted themselves in a very unique learning situation.
This week we introduced our High School students to their transdisciplinary experience – Good Eats: What is the Role of Food in Society? One of the introductory activities involved students learning and discussing The Cube Rule. You identify dishes based on the location of their starch content. See the visual below. The class engaged in a heated discussion of whether a hot dog should be considered a sandwich. This is important stuff! Ask your family how they would classify a hot dog and see what debate ensues.
Our plans for the first few weeks of the school year focus on building community and addressing the social-emotional needs of our students. As part of those plans, we are introducing mindfulness activities to all students. This week the Middle School 1 Cohort went outside to engage in a Walk-a-bout and practice a new Mindfulness Activity. The mindfulness activity involved observing five things you see, four things you hear, three things you touch, two things you smell, and one thing you taste. It was a simple and well thought out introduction to an outdoor mindfulness activity. Of course, as the teachers led the students outside to the park, they encountered a cacophony of jackhammers and construction. So, they changed course only to encounter over 50 police officers practicing their tazing techniques in the park. One of our teachers thought she was being punked. You can’t make this stuff up. So much for the quiet, meditative mindfulness activity and walk. It was great for our staff to model the flexibility we ask of our students.
We have an open line of communication with our parents. We knew our families would share their thoughts on our first week and we welcomed them. While we did receive suggestions for improvement, overwhelmingly we had positive feedback on the week. It’s always gratifying to hear positive feedback from our parents, and after the incredible work we put in all summer, it was honestly nice to hear. Here are just some highlights:
“(student) described her first day as “the best day” and “awesome.” We hoped TSS would be a good fit for her and it is proving to be true. Thank you for all of the work you and the teaching team did to make today and this year happen. We are very excited at my house”.
“I want to thank you for making a transition to a new school during COVID so seemingly smooth. You’ve done a lot of hard work, and it’s meant a lot to us. Thank you!”
“I just wanted to say congrats on the first day with the kiddos!… Thanks to you and all your colleagues for giving the kids a great first day back! (Student) is looking forward to school really getting underway and learning stuff”.
Week One Closing Thoughts
This week was a success. We were juggling a lot, but we were flexible and creative and worked through the bumps. We had happy kids and staff which is where we want – no – NEED to be.
I’ve repeatedly reminded our staff that our focus this year is on relationship building and creating a safe place for our students to learn and thrive. These are challenging times for all of us and our role is to help our TSS community weather this storm. At the end of the day, what our students crave is a connection to others and community. That’s our focus. I hope to continue to provide a safe, nurturing, and playful learning environment for our students. Now, on to a much deserved long weekend and then week 2!