Exactly two months ago today, I informed our administrative team, teachers, students, families and board that we would be closing our school buildings and moving to distance learning in order to help protect the health of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a Thursday, and I will never forget it. I saw both tears and excitement on our kids’ faces as I told them that the next day would be our last day at school, possibly for quite a while. There was excitement when I mentioned science might include counting the bugs in their backyard and that we would be part of the biggest community service project in history. There were tears at the thought of not seeing their teachers and friends for as long as this lasted.
Two months later, we have shifted to distance learning, had a successful online school auction, and have learned more than we could have imagined about being a community and doing school when we are physically separated.
As we approach the end of the school year, we have lots of questions about what school will look like next year for Seabury and for schools in general. We are working hard to plan protocols, strategize various scenarios, and ensure that all our plans maximize the health and safety of our students, families and staff.
After spending hours combing websites, consulting with other schools, talking with medical and public health experts and planning with our own team, I can tell you that there is much we don’t know.
But there ARE things that we DO know, things that are at the heart of Seabury and will continue to be whether we are at home or at school or a combination of the two.
We know our kids
With our small classes and child-centered program, one of the hallmarks of Seabury is that we are a place where your child is seen, celebrated and supported. After working remotely with our kids in their homes, we know even more about them. We have seen them in their pajamas and met their dogs and favorite stuffies. We have seen how they have managed the stresses of these past months and have been able to be part of their support system.
Next year, whether we do school at school or school at home or some combination of the two, we will continue to build relationships with our students. We’ll get to know new students, build friendships, and we’ll help our kids connect with each other. We will make adjustments to each child’s program to support their learning, social-emotional and family needs. Because that’s what we do at Seabury. We have learned a great deal this year about how to support kids in making social connections even when we are at home, and we have plans to continue those connections through the summer. Regardless of how we do school next year, Seabury will be a place where kids will know they are seen, celebrated and supported.
We know how gifted kids learn and grow
We know that our students are ready to move faster but that not everyone needs to go equally fast in every subject all the time, so we need to adjust the pace for individuals. We know that our students think deeply and ask profound and interesting questions even at a young age, so we engage in inquiry learning and focus on complex, analytical and creative reasoning. We know that students need opportunities to be creative and to take a different approach to a problem or a project. We know there are some times when there is only one right answer (2+2=4) but that there are lots of times when our students see better ways to solve problems or create projects than we could have imagined.
When we shifted to distance learning, we built our at-home program with the same priorities as our at-school program – to challenge, inspire, and stretch the minds of our highly capable students. We found new ways to provide structure for those who struggle with executive function. Teachers set up personal meetings with their students to help tailor the program to individual needs and group meetings so students have a chance to collaborate and inspire each other. Teachers created rigorous, thought-provoking lessons, and also developed ways to support students’ social-emotional growth and health, such as providing virtual recess for elementary students and morning mindfulness for those in middle school. As we prepare for next year, we are incorporating all we learned this spring with all we know about our gifted learners to make sure that our program challenges, supports and inspires our students whether we are at home, at school or some combination.
We know our families
Seabury has always valued collaboration with families. Volunteer hours are written into enrollment contracts because we know that when families are involved in the education of their children, their children do much better. As a small community of families raising kids who are growing and learning in unique ways – and who can be both a joy and a challenge to raise – we create space for families to learn more about how to support their children and to connect with each other.
As we moved to distance learning, we have gotten to know our families even better. We have been so grateful for their support through the challenges and their honesty when things weren’t going smoothly. We have learned and grown together as a distance learning community, and we will take what we have learned to make sure that we provide families with the tools to support their children and stay connected as a community in the 2020-21 school year, whether we are at home or at school. While our job is to teach our students, we know we can’t do that well without their families, and we will continue to be grateful for our partnership.
There is a lot we don’t know about next year. Will we be at school? We hope so! Will we wear masks? We might be. Will we do school at home? We're likely to be back and forth and we'll be ready for that. We have the tools and expertise to ensure that Seabury’s program meets the needs of our students wherever we are.
There are still many unknowns. But we promise that wherever we are, whether we wear masks or have more pajama days, we will be Seabury. And Seabury will be ready to provide the best in child-centered gifted education.