School Away From School at Lake and Park
Daffodils bloom at the entrance to downstairs classrooms.
Dear Parents, Now that we have completed five official days of School Away from School distance learning, I want to reach out to our parent community. Just one week ago, we met remotely as a faculty to discuss how we would proceed as we faced a lengthy period of school closure. Thursday and Friday of last week gave us a starting point. The first three days of this week allowed us to begin to establish a workable rhythm–how much material to present each day, how to maintain basic skills while also fostering a thematic approach, how to avoid using the computer as a main interface. (We want children working on paper with pencil more than we wish to see them writing on a screen.) Now we are getting ready to add opportunities for direct contact –Zoom or a phone call for a reading session. We will find ways to engage our very youngest learners that do not involve the computer, as receiving letters in the mail from a teacher.
Our first virtual teacher meeting.
A school that spends as much time as Lake and Park teaching through the “learning by doing” model must celebrate how much amazing learning by doing has taken place in just five days for everyone in our community! All of us are on a steep learning curve, and we are all on that curve together. From the teacher who never created a YouTube video before, to the child used to writing sentences while sitting next to peers, looking at the teacher working on a classroom whiteboard for letter formation help, to the parent in the new role of crucial intermediary in all of this–we are all figuring our way into an unknown experience.
Teachers are used to responding to the immediate feedback individual children give them moment by moment. Now they have to remotely anticipate the progression of a lesson and the responses of children. That task requires them to generalize broadly, something best done by those who are not novices.
For children used to showing finished work to a parent at the end of the week, it is fundamentally different to have that parent near at hand while a worksheet is completed.
Parents have been remarkably given a likely once in a lifetime opportunity to be with their school age children in serious “prime time”. When all is said and done, and when we are back to school as normal, I think we will miss some key aspects of this time away. I think there will be some reluctance for parents in losing that primacy. (Oh, there will be some relief, too, as they return to the role of asking, “What did you do at school today?) But, in the long run, I think the reluctance will be the salient take-away.
When we get out the clay or wood and nails, we do so knowing that the process of squeezing and hammering is the most important part of the equation. The same is true here. Lake and Park is in the experimental (and sometimes messy) first stage of the process. If we can recognize that it is a process, then we can collectively remember that every process takes time. Giving ourselves time also gives permission to figure and re-figure best approaches. Each day everyone involved–each child, each parent, each teacher–is learning how to better do “School Away from School”.
Big Room block area awaits the reopening of school.
There are two goals that we as teachers wish to achieve. One is to provide stimulating curricula in order to offer meaningful experiences in higher level thinking while maintaining and furthering knowledge of basic skills. The other, equally valued goal, is to allow families to take advantage of the unusual flexibility this rarity of open time (for many) allows. We want children to continue with grade level expectations and achievements; we have a vested interest in daily participation by everyone from first through fifth grade, even if just for an hour or two. We also think that children will develop other skills through this process as well, such as learning how to submit labeled work to a teacher, and developing protocol for remote communication with teachers and peers. They will likely gain self reliance as they learn to manage greater periods of open time. We see them developing singular goals and interests and will facilitate those pursuits with our upcoming project theme suggestions. Because we equally value that previously mentioned flexibility, please communicate with your child’s teacher in order to adjust and amend assignments as needed.
A hidden advantage of doing school at school is that children attend in a group. This has a direct benefit in many ways, an important one being that assigned work time allows for some autonomy. When there are many children participating on a creative drawing assignment, they do not feel that the eyes of the adult are on each step in the process. If the teacher is busy helping someone else figure out a math problem, others will have to work independently and try to figure out what is expected of them without immediately asking for help. This do-it-myself habit can be harder to achieve when working at home, especially if there is just one child in the picture. In order to allow for private time to explore in art and writing and to learn to stick with a difficult problem in math, you may wish to put on some quiet music. We do this on occasion at school when we wish to support focus and sustain concentration. This is an opportunity for the parent to remove one’s self for at least half an hour in order to do some work of one’s own. Children who finish early can check over work, or add more details, or move on to a quiet reading session, all independent of the parent. This removing of one’s self temporarily on the parent part encourages risk taking as well.
North Room student photos hanging in the windows.
As we look to the future, please know that we are officially closed through April 24th, according to Jay Inslee’s original statement regarding state school closures. However, opening school soon after that date does not seem likely. At this juncture it is our sincere hope to be back together just as soon as we are given clearance. We will continue to provide lessons through the original spring break dates. (Checks that held your child’s place for Spring Break Camp were never deposited, and will be voided.)
In closing, I wish to acknowledge all those among us working in the healthcare industry. I especially want to recognize Cassie Sauer, Abe’s mom. In her role as CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association, she is at the forefront of all that is going on in the fight against the coronavirus. In support of her, all of our workers, and the institutions behind them, thank you for modeling a willing stance of sacrifice for the greater good. I believe that will be the most significant learning that your child will absorb from this entire experience.
The Lake and Park School