The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives to a degree never imagined. As an educator for 40 years, I never dreamed that schools would close and families would need to stay home to protect themselves from a highly contagious, novel coronavirus. First announced in early January 2020, news from government and health authorities soon became more frequent. Instantly, our Administrative Team began discussing the possibilities and implications of a shutdown of Warren-Walker School. Crisis management and teacher preparation for “remote learning” (a phrase that I had never heard before), webinars, and articles in education magazines quickly became readily available.
The more I learned, the more I felt ill-prepared to support our faculty in what looked to become online instruction. Having been told that 14 days of stay-at-home would slow the increase of COVID-19 cases, we informed our teachers to prepare for 10 days of remote teaching and asked our Information Technology (IT) team to ensure that equipment and programs were available for them to teach from home, should we need to close school. We also informed parents that we were preparing for distance learning, and kept them apprised of the facts, as often as we could.
On Friday, March13th, we announced to parents that we were closing and that Remote Learning would start on Wednesday, March 18th, explaining that teachers would need Monday and Tuesday for training and at-home set up. Our IT team offered training for teachers, and all campuses already had ParentSquare in place to communicate directly with families. There was no need for so much trepidation; our IT team and faculty launched into Remote Learning better than I had expected. Most glitches were managed quickly, and by Friday I could take a deep breath.
Admittedly, there were some difficulties the first two weeks of Remote Learning. During this time, the first of two parent surveys for Kindergarten through 8th grade families was sent, and its results were quite helpful, and very positive overall which was a relief. The ability to comment allowed parents to state their accolades and/or their concerns. Yet it was soon clear that keeping students at home would have to continue. During a well-deserved Spring Break, our IT team responded to the concerns that had arisen, and created clickable schedules that simplified and formalized each student’s school day. From the third week of Remote Learning through to the end of the school year, school went quite well for Kindergarten through 8th grades. This was affirmed in the second Parent Survey sent on May 15th.
However by April of 2020, it was determined that Prekindergarten and Junior Kindergarten students had significant difficulty focusing remotely. Although they enjoyed seeing their teachers on a screen, the most they could “tune in for” was a story and maybe one follow up activity. Parents appreciated our teachers’ efforts, but let us know that it wasn’t enough to allow them to complete their own work at home, and cover their childcare needs. Thus, PK/JK instruction ended in April. It was hard to admit we could not serve our youngest students, but we knew it was best for our families. To regain the loss of income from tuition, the School applied for the Paycheck Protection Plan which was humbling. However, it was approved, funded, and certainly helped.
We did decide to end the 2019-2020 school year 2 ½ days early. This gave a weary faculty a bit of a break from teaching content to students who were worn out as well. In a typical year, our “last week of school activities” (i.e. spelling bees, class parties, celebrations with cross-grade buddies, etc.) wouldn’t transfer well remotely. Graduation and Promotions were virtual, and the addition of campus car parades allowed us to at least see each other physically and express our love and gratitude for one another. As is typical for me, the touching online ceremonies and the parades were bittersweet - bringing tears of joy and a sense of accomplishment, but also the acknowledgment that our fifth grade students were leaving childhood behind and becoming young adolescents, and the eighth graders were heading off to high school. I can never say goodbye; instead “Come back and see us!” or “Come visit anytime!”, and of course, “Go Gulls!”
- Pamela Volker, Headmistress