“Seeing the kids is doing wonders for me as a teacher.” – Kate Maloney, 6th grade teacher
Students and teachers reunited this week on campus with students in PK–8th grades taking full advantage of the new Lower/Middle School building. GDS may not have been the fastest area school to get students back onsite, but the intentional approach has been focused on the long-term health of the community and on making the transition back to in-person learning work for each student.
“Seeing the kids is doing wonders for me as a teacher,” said 6th grade teacher Kate Maloney as she supervised 5th grade HyFlex learning on the third floor of the new building. “We’ve been reengaging with the work we love—what brought us to teaching. A colleague was telling me yesterday that she felt her true self was reactivated. It’s been reinvigorating especially to see the kids experience it and continue forming real connections.” Kate also added that as a Middle School teacher, “It’s been great to know that we really are all in this together.”
Middle School students engaged with a mix of learning from teachers in front of them in the classroom and onscreen from other parts of the building to eliminate traveling and cohort mixing. In one virtual language class, several students seated near each other were delighted to find they’d been assigned to the same breakout room. They got permission to collaborate on the project face-to-face while sitting six feet apart in the new commons area outside their classroom.
On the second floor, 2nd grade teacher Danielle Bernstein’s students joined their music class virtually. With masks on and six feet apart, they clapped and stomped rhythms in unison, and apart from the headphones and cords, looked like a well-choreographed step troupe. Meanwhile, Danielle, who had been reading aloud to the students earlier in the day, worked nearby with other 2nd grade colleagues in the commons area.
“I’ve felt so happy to be doing my actual job,” Danielle said. “I do feel like all the health stuff and worries are still present, but there is also true joy that is permeating through the classroom and through me. We’re washing our hands, keeping our distance, and wearing our masks—just like all the data is telling us—and I’m feeling good that we’re back. We’ve treated it like the first day of school again. It’s been all about routines and being together and easing into the learning.”
Students in 3rd grade took advantage of the discovery that the long tables in the innovation spaces had dry erase whiteboard surfaces. Fun little drawings could be seen here and there throughout the room. A couple of students opted to sit up on the countertop beneath the large windows to keep a safe distance as they had COVID-safe conversations with classmates.
In Jody’s kindergarten, students explored at various individual stations, one with freshly sanitized dolls, another with Legos, and still another with a toy sailing ship. Further along the hallway, Lower/Middle School counselor Meryl Heyliger led a lesson on emotions in Bianca’s classroom with a large stuffed kimochi, Japanese for “feelings.”
Down in the library, Michelle’s kindergarten class returned to the classroom from P.E. out on the field with William, Cally, J.T., and Peg. Earlier, Peg’s voice could be heard, powerfully magnified from her portable speaker, as the children did the movement activities. After returning to class, the kindergarteners settled into a math lesson followed by some individual practice in their math workbooks.
“I had to forgive myself and tell myself that I’m not going to know everything about how it would look,” said kindergarten teacher Michelle Levy. “The best way to learn how to make it work for my students has been getting back in the classroom. Being in the classroom and letting them connect with each other—even if we didn’t get to everything I’d planned—has been so important. Those connections have been missing virtually. It is a new start to the school year and that’s okay. We need to build relationships outside that virtual box, and the students have been really receptive. They understand the situation, even as kindergarteners, and I can be real with them when I say that we are learning how to do [school in this environment] together—that we are in this together.”
GDS has been working towards this kind of meaningful, safe, in-person engagement this fall, even as teachers have been engaging with their students virtually. It’s been such a blessing to see the school HyFlexing its #HopperStrong team to make this work beyond the short term. And despite the challenges, it’s feeling a lot more like school again. See you soon, High School!