There is an age old adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, since March 13th of last year, we have been given one lemon after another in seemingly endless succession. As a world, as a country, as a state, as a municipality, as a school district, and as a school we have suffered and patiently persevered together, trying to survive as the world we once knew became something unwelcoming, unfamiliar, and unpredictable.
As an educator, the hardest part of the pandemic, has been watching the whole thing unfold like a slow motion disaster. Students unable to connect to learning and falling further and further behind, families going through unspeakable stress due to workplace closures and financial crisis, family members getting sick and hospitalized, fear and anxiety adding stress to an already stressful situation, and uncertainty above all with no end in sight.
Then on October 15th 2020, our district staff and students had enough of sitting back and watching from the sidelines and allowing the world to dictate how things were going to unfold and decided to take charge, and reopened (Under guidance and with approval from responsible entities). On October 15th our doors opened to students four days a week in person from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., with distance learning on Wednesdays. This period, although welcomed by all, posed challenges due to the shift to distance learning for all in the middle of the week, which resulted in a disruption to the pace of learning for most students. It was as though Thursdays had become a second Monday each week, and students had to fight a bit of inertia each Thursday morning before they could jump into learning.
Our amazing teachers and support staff have done an incredible job keeping the ball rolling since we reopened, but it has not been a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination. Learning loss is a real phenomenon, and teachers have had their work cut out for them from the start. Benchmark testing helped us to see where kids were in terms of academic progress upon returning to school, and teachers collected anecdotal data observing student behavior as they taught, attempting to figure out which students needed support, and what support exactly was needed.
Attendance throughout this pandemic has been a pain in the neck, and trying to keep track of two sets of learners, in person and distance, while complying with state requirements, and maintaining the health and safety of our students and staff has been a huge challenge to say the least. Nonetheless, we were able to get it all done, and on April 12th opened to five days a week for in person learning.
Slowly, things have begun to swing back into something resembling normalcy at Van Allen. The great majority of our students are back on campus; only 11 students are currently on distance learning out of 309 total students. Our play structures have reopened, state testing is almost done, and we have a COVID compliant Field Day scheduled for the very last day of school. Parent Club has been instrumental in helping our Field Day come to fruition and we are very grateful for their ongoing support. We have done a wide assortment of hands-on science activities from kindergarten through fifth grade this year, more than ever before: owl pellet and cow eye dissections, building electrical circuits, egg drops, and insect life cycles. Daily, teachers and students are spending more time doing collaborative group activities outdoors, why not? The weather is great and the air is fresh and constantly circulating, making it safer than being cooped up indoors. The mood on campus, if not festive, is at least relieved and hopeful.
Although this school year is not yet over, our sights have turned with great expectation toward the upcoming school year. After a year in what felt like shackles with all of our pandemic protections, we may (fingers crossed!) once again be free next year to be fully ourselves at school: in person collaboration, trading students for interventions, small group work, student teams, push in support services to multiple grade levels, regular recess, regular lunch, and no more cohorting! Woohoo! Next year, the sky’s the limit!
Finally, the stockpile of lemons we have collected over the course of a bitter year, with a little bit of elbow grease and sugar, will become sweet lemonade. Come on down to Van Allen and we will be happy to share a glass with you (subject to availability, conditions may apply).
Principally Speaking is a monthly article, contributed by principals from Escalon Unified School District sites, throughout the school year. It is designed to update the community on school events and activities.