Staying connected during the coronavirus pandemic: Updates from our teachers

From Sallyann Murphey, High school teacher, coordinator and senior advisor:

Ironically, it was Friday the 13th. We had been bracing for it for a while – which didn’t make the announcement that they were closing schools any less shocking.

The following week – which should have been our spring break – passed in a blur of days struggling with new technology to find the tools that would get us out of the real world and into the virtual one. We learned a new vocabulary: Zoom rooms, Discord, Kahoot – and rediscovered computer skills we had forgotten we had. By Monday the 23rd, the teachers were ready with a shiny new schedule and a full curriculum of classes. None of it would have worked, though, without the support, patience and positive energy of the kids, who have been magnificent under very trying circumstances. There hasn’t been a word of complaint – not even from the Seniors, whose world has been turned upside down! Every senior project has been impacted to some degree by the crisis. At the extreme end, students like Reed, Griffin, Lucy, Abigail and Rose are having to rethink the final structure of their projects, while others have to reconfigure what would have been live presentations into digital form.

They all came back to their Student Advisory with ideas at the ready, determined to finish well. Presentations will be turned into video packages, podcasts and narrated slideshows. They will all be uploaded to a private YouTube Channel, available to view from May 12th. Their project and citizenship votes will be taken the following week and virtual graduation – with intros and speeches – and a few surprises – will be uploaded for everyone to enjoy on Friday, May 22nd. Please join us in celebrating this extraordinary group of students – who are showing such courage and resilience in the face of these horrible events. I have never been prouder of a senior class.

From Ursina Hastings-Heinz, Middle school teacher and coordinator: 

Middle school students have transitioned gracefully to on-line learning. It’s a challenge for all of us. We Zoom, have family meetings and discuss current events. Luckily, the three middle school teachers have different approaches which means we’ll be better able to meet different students’ needs. We are fortunate to be a small program and able to focus on families’ needs to assure equity and support.

We attempt to have a personal conversation weekly with each student to focus on their social and emotional growth and not just academics. I gave my students an assignment at the beginning: “Wow – No School in April – What Else is on Your Mind?” Each student created five slides and I compiled them into a slide show. Students then had to respond to each other’s postings. The result was thoughtful, creative and touching. My goal is to help students self-reflect, not a particularly natural thing for this age. I’m tricking them (giving them the opportunity) to express their feelings and process as we navigate through these scary times.

First, it was one extra week of spring break, then no school in April. Now, it’s no school in May with much uncertainty in the future. My plan is to continue asking questions to encourage students to process, reflect and learn to be patient. Governor Cuomo [of New York] quoted Churchill today: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” For our students to understand that we are not going back to normal and have to accept a new normal is abstract. As always, we plant seeds, offer support and encouragement to hear their voices, because one day, their voices will shape our future.

From Lana Beck-Cruce, 3/4 teacher and Elementary school coordinator:

This has all gone much better than it could have, I think. We really quickly came up with systems. Each classroom, each program is doing it a little differently, in our own Harmony way. Overall I think we’re doing great. I like what we’re doing in our class. The technical parts of it are hard, though – I live in the woods and don’t have great internet.

We have to be flexible and supportive of families handling schooling in different ways right now, every situation is different. We’re all figuring out how to do this. We have open back and forth communication between all the parents, kids, and co-teachers. We’re making sure we touch base frequently with families, and that we help meet people’s needs. We have less strict protocols we have to follow than public schools, and parents are already used to us being more a part of their lives, with a lot of communication outside of regular school hours and curriculum.

For the older kids – like for my daughter, she’s a sophomore in high school – they are all meeting up over Zoom for some classes, at set times. For younger grades, we give our students a robust schedule of activities each day. They do them, take pictures, send them back to us. We haven’t tried to all be together online as a class as much, just a little to say hi and see faces. The biggest thing is that we want to stay connected with the kids. We don’t realize how much we are a part of each other’s lives, how much time we spend together, until suddenly we’re not. We miss those kids!

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