Making connections

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by | September 4, 2020

On Monday, August 31, we officially started our GVP online distance learning program for the 2020-2021 school year. We met with our 20 newcomer students and their families via Zoom and in-person during Orientation, completed the needed academic assessments, and welcomed our returning students back to school for assessments and a “refresher” course in technology and online class protocols. This was necessary as we were unable to assess students at the end of last year. With all that happened between March and August, we needed to be more certain of their strengths, gaps, goals, and learning plans for this new school year. 

There was much excitement and trepidation among all of us on staff on Monday, August 31. The many years of teaching and learning experience we share collectively is enormous; however, none of us has been prepared for full-time, online distance learning, especially as teachers at GVP where learning is hands-on, high touch, and highly individualized. On Monday at 8:45AM, the Educational Programs Team met in a Zoom Huddle. We shared our thoughts and feelings and strategized on how best to run the new online Advisory classes following the Huddle.

This year, we divided students into smaller groups for what we have traditionally called Homeroom, and we decided to embrace instead a middle school Advisory model to start the mornings. The main purpose for Advisory at GVP is to create and sustain a culture of connectedness—despite our physical distance. However, the Responsive Classroom approach that we have embraced at GVP for several years shows that there are many other powerful purposes for Advisory: 

  1. Building peer-to-peer relationships. (At GVP we assign “School Sisters” each year to serve as peer mentors to new students. Advisory groupings were designed with this in mind.)
  2. Energizing and engaging
  3. Reflecting and refocusing
  4. Getting what we call at GVP “classroom ready”
  5. Building advisee-advisor relationships among teachers and students
  6. Developing communication and social skills

On Monday during Advisory, teachers and support staff were taking attendance, sending out chats and Zoom links, calling students and parents and doing all that we could to support students logging in and joining their Advisory group. In the end, we had most of our students online for their first day of online classes. As the week went on, more and more students began logging in on their own and even chatting friends to get them up and online. By the end of the week, attendance was at nearly 100% with only two students out for technology and connectivity issues.

During our first official week, there were many challenges but also many beautiful moments. I was so impressed with one of Ms. Anne’s Advisory lessons in which she shared a video of young people greeting one another in Afar. This year, we have our first Afar-speaking students from Eastern Africa. Ms. Anne’s video sharing created a great deal of excitement and pride among the students. They shouted and clapped, “That is my language! That is right.” Throughout the week, students practiced greeting each other in all the languages in Ms. Anne’s Advisory group. It was beautiful to see and hear their appreciation for each other and for their languages and home countries and to see their courage in trying to greet each other using new languages.

Throughout the week, Ms. Katelynn, Mr. Crispin, Ms. Danielle, Mr. Madan, and Mr. Don made home visits to students to help with technology, to drop off food and school supplies, to talk with parents and students, and more. These home visits allowed us to connect even when we couldn’t connect online for classes. Students participated in music classes, Playmaking for Girls drama classes, and in counseling classes this week. As I checked in on them in Music, Science, Math, and STEAM, I could see the joy on their faces and hear it in their voices. I felt their eagerness and excitement to be back together and learning. While it has been hard for many of us to accept that our school will meet online for now, I think we are feeling the comfort of friends and our community of support for learning. We are feeling the power of connectedness and community even if it must come mostly through our phones and computers.  

I am deeply grateful for this global village and for all that was accomplished in this first week. It is so good to know that together we can make this work. I am hopeful and optimistic and look forward to all that Week Two will bring and the lessons we will share in our lifelong learning community, as this new chapter unfolds.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”–Brene Brown

“The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.”–Amelia Earhart