School principals made their annual trek to the School Committee, a virtual one, to go over how their school improvement plans worked out for this year.
The School Committee met last week via the Zoom video conferencing plat- form.
As is often the case, a big part of the presentation revolved around the social and emotional well-being of students. At Chandler School, that meant adding an additional recess that teachers used to focus on team building and developing friendships. “It was a huge success,” Principal Erin Wiesehahn said. “Being outside was fantastic for the kids. It allowed teachers to see students in a different way and get to know them better.” The focus on children’s mental health continued even after the buildings closed, as Vice Principal Susan MacNeil and Adjustment Counselor Amy Burns led weekly “Lunch Bunch” sessions on Zoom.
At the Alden School, a DEF grant paid for a library of books on social and emotional learning. for staff and parents to use. Books were purchased that could be used to teach students how to consider their behavior. Principal Karen Whitaker explained that, when a misbehaving student was called into assistant principal Chase Eschauzier’s office, they wouldn’t simply go to talk with him, but to read a book that would show them how to reflect on their behavior and change it. The new approach, Whitaker said, “was very successful with the kids”
Alden students were also surveyed on their social and emotional well being.One of the questions, Whitaker said, asked children to name the one trusted adult they felt they could turn to. Twenty students left the question blank, she said. Those names were passed on to their teachers and guidance counselors. Now that students are learning remotely, Whitaker said she turns to that list to make sure those children are being connected with.
At the Middle School, a mentorship program was created, Principal Sarah McGuire said. She noted that, unlike elementary school students, children in the upper grades don’t have a primary adult to turn to. “It’s a big shift. They have way more adults in their lives.” There is a population of students who would benefit from being connected with a particular teacher at the school, she said. A number of staff people are interested in taking part in the program. Matched them with teachers who aren’t part of their day in order to reduce the focus on academics. Ideas are being explored to hold events, such as breakfasts, to create connections between students and teachers.
The closing of the school buildings meant the cancellation of what was to have been a major part of the social and emotional program at the High School. An April health fair was planned, Principal Jim Donovan said. Mental health and welfare groups, along with the Duxbury police, were among those expected to take part. The event, he said, would have been “an amazing program for the senior class.” He expects it will make its debut next year.
Academically, Wiesehahn noted that a grant from the Duxbury Education Foundation funded the purchase of robotics and coding tools for students and teachers to use. At the Alden School, there was a focus on helping special education teachers work on reading instruction with their students. They also were able to find ways for the Maker Space to be used more frequently.
There’s been a shift in how social studies are taught at the Middle School, McGuire said. Sixth and seventh grade classes are now learning about ancient civilizations that should help prepare students for world history classes when they get to the High School. For eighth-graders, civics are now the focus. “They’re really running with it. It’s a class I would have loved to teach,” McGuire said.
One of the biggest things at the High School was the introduction of an additional special education teacher. They did “a phenomenal job” implementing new reading programs, Donovan said. A new part-time computer science teacher has been added. The hope, he said, is to expand that program.
Not much guidance on September, yet
With this unusual school year drawing to a close, school officials are waiting to know how things will look when the doors open in September.
Superintendent John Antonucci said he didn’t expect any direction from the state until mid-June. Much of that guidance, about 85 percent, he said, would take the form of directives from state officials, with the rest left up to individual districts. However it went, he said, “I don’t think our school year is going to look very normal.”
To get ready, 10 working groups of school department staff have been created to consider various aspects of how school might look in the fall. Those groups cover such things as academics, budgeting and technology, Antonucci said.
School Committee Member Kellie Bresnehan suggested holding a forum for parents when the state guidelines are in. “People are super anxious. It’s going to look a lot different.” Antonucci agreed to the idea, noting that the district likely wouldn’t have a full idea of what it was going to do until August.