|Sage Bizier with her whale|
“When we waved to the students as the buses left on [March] 12th, we truly did not believe we would not be returning on the following Monday,” Elisabeth Peavey, the Assistant Principal of Raymond Elementary School, wrote in an email to parents. “This has been an emotional, challenging, and life-altering experience for all families, staff, students, and community members.”
Like thousands of schools across the world, the teachers and staff members at Raymond Elementary School have been forced to make a sudden transition to teaching on-line in order to practice social distancing and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that is disrupting nearly every facet of our everyday lives.
This shift to distance learning is challenging at all levels. Teachers have had to adapt lesson plans with only a few week’s notice, students have had to navigate a dizzying array of new technology, and some parents (like me) have found themselves suddenly forced with long division problems for the first time in thirty years. It’s enough to make anyone feel anxious.
In addition to helping facilitate student learning through a computer screen, faculty and staff also face the challenge of creating a sense of community while students and their teachers are under stay-at-home orders.
With April break approaching, Raymond Elementary School decided to celebrate their Spirit Week virtually. Monday, Costume Day, opened with a bang. Kindergarten teacher Erin Simoneau wore her wedding dress as she welcomed a class of superheroes and Disney princesses to their digital morning meeting.
“I was Bumblebee,” kindergartener Ian Bizier told me, explaining his costume as one of the Transformers (who are a team of anthropomorphic robot cars, for those of you who are not currently living with elementary school age children). “My friend Jack was Bumblebee too,” Ian continued. “It was pretty cool.”
Fourth grade teacher Susan Brackett wore a skeleton mask to her class’s on-line meeting, and she welcomed a special guest: music teacher Patricia Gordon who, while dressed as a superhero, led the class through a silly song about donuts.
“Virtual Spirit Week made me feel closer to my friends,” said Sage Bizier, my Raymond Elementary School insider, “even during this time when we’re all apart.”
On Tuesday, Ms. Brackett’s fourth grade class had a special virtual visit from school counselor Martha Stone, who encouraged the students to share both what had been difficult during their month of distance learning and what they had enjoyed. After each student had a chance to share their concerns about missing friends or how awkward it felt to have Mom as a teacher, the entire class joined a virtual dance party from their kitchens and living rooms to celebrate Dance Day.
Wednesday’s Stuffed Animal Day gave fourth grader Sage a rare opportunity that she wouldn’t have had during regular school. “I can bring Willy to my meeting,” Sage explained, dragging her largest stuffed shark down the staircase from her bedroom. “He’s way too big to fit on the school bus.”
Thanks to creative thinking and flexibility from the faculty and staff at Raymond Elementary School, parents and children alike learned this week that it is possible to maintain a sense of school spirit and community even in the midst of a global pandemic.