More than a year ago TCS was preparing for Spring Break when COVID-19 began to take hold in this country. None of us realized that Spring Break would mark the end of in-person school for 2019-20 and the beginning of an incredibly challenging period for our school and our families. It has been a tragic time, and only now are we beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
That said, I have been so pleased with how this school year has gone. Our teachers have worked incredibly hard to teach students in-person and remotely, and the fear that masks, social distancing, and plexiglass barriers would have a detrimental effect on the spirit of the place have been largely unfounded.
Nothing can break the spirit of TCS! Teachers have adapted, families have been vigilant, and our students have brought us daily doses of joy.
Just as we had hoped, the creativity and ingenuity of our staff and our students have made for many surprising and wonderful changes this year. I thought I would outline for you some of our plans that might have felt restrictive but have led to great and sometimes unexpected outcomes.
- Students need to have their temperatures taken each day upon arrival. While this seemed like a logistical hurdle, our families have helped us clear it daily. In addition to ensuring a fever-free environment, this process has also allowed us to say hello to families each morning and goodbye each afternoon, which we have all immensely enjoyed. We have also met many grandparents, siblings, a good number of dogs, and a lizard here and there out for a morning or afternoon drive.
- Everyone in the building must wear masks. Although we certainly knew the importance of mask-wearing, we were concerned about this for a number of reasons. We were worried that our younger students would not be able to keep them on or become frustrated with them, and we were concerned about communication since we know how much we communicate through facial expressions. Students have been amazing, and everyone has managed this well. One terrific outcome: we have had virtually no cases of flu or strep throat this year. Student attendance has been unprecedentedly high.
- Students generally stay in their classrooms while inside. During a typical year, students travel a fair amount while in the building, to visit Specialists, the dining room, the gym, etc. This year, much of that comes to them. While we miss the bustling hallway traffic, our Specialists have become expert travelers, personalizing carts and offering our students a variety of dynamic instruction. Administrators take turns delivering lunches, and a highly non-scientific survey of a sampling of seven Lower Division students indicated that for 71% of them, their recent spaghetti and meatballs lunch was the single greatest highlight of their day.
- Some of our students have not yet returned to campus, so teachers need to teach in-person and remotely at once. Certainly a challenge, but again, we have seen some wonderful developments as a result of this balancing act. In a class with one student studying remotely, the first twenty minutes of the day has often begun with a “Cafe,” which allowed the student at home to immediately connect with classmates. The Cafe time included poetry, meditation, weather reports, writing, fun facts, jokes, and served them all quite well. The teachers plan to continue this tradition even when all students are back in person.
- Outside space needed to be managed more tightly to keep cohorts separated. One class reports that the sectioning of the playground, which could have been a hard pivot, resulted in some positive changes. The children spent time in all areas of the playground allowing them to explore spaces previously unknown to them. Over time, the exploration opened up special small and magical places that encouraged not only new ways to use our play spaces but set up opportunities to practice and develop collaborative and cooperative skills together as a group. Normally they would be spread out in small groups; now they play and work together in smaller spaces. We have an area they’ve decided is perfect for a variety of role-playing games. Another space inspires group “parkour” challenges. They aren’t able to run off and play elsewhere if they don’t like what is happening, so there is an investment in making the game work. Students listen more to each other and work harder to be collaborative.
- The more the students can be outside, the better. TCS students love the outdoors, so this one wasn’t particularly difficult. However, some of the work students typically might have done in the classroom has been moved outside. For Kindergarten handwriting reviews, students worked outside, including “walking” the letters in the parking lot/on the sidewalks. First, the letters were drawn with sidewalk chalk, and then each child had the opportunity to “make” the letter with their whole body by walking along the letter. The kids have really enjoyed this activity, and Kindergarten teachers plan to include it in the coming years as well.
- Large gatherings have been prohibited. The loss of assemblies and gatherings has certainly been sad, but we have had a few wonderful virtual events that demonstrated creative approaches to connecting with each other. The Eighth Grade graduation ceremony was on video, which allowed students to explore different ways of delivering their speeches and to produce creative and fun video pieces to add to the traditional ceremony. In addition, this year’s 4-5 play will be produced on video, and while we would love to be able to see it live, the students will learn more about different media through this new approach.
We have learned many lessons in the last year, and we are grateful for the work our teachers have done and the cooperation that our families have offered. Thanks to the adherence to the plan, we have had zero transmissions of the virus at school this year. The TCS community has stepped up during this challenging time and has shown its true colors. No doubt we are eager to return to a more normal school life, but we have made the most of this difficult time.
By Carl Pelofsky, Head of School. Read Carl’s bio here.