Now that students have settled in to new routines and the school year is underway, we wanted to pull together members of our school leadership for a conversation and reflection on how Brookwood got to this moment.
Joining me today:
Nancy Evans, Interim Head of School
Dave Samson, Head of Upper School
Moira Smith, Head of Lower School
Stacey Wright, Director of Teaching and Learning
Q: Given the evolving nature of the pandemic, can you walk us through how you developed the plan to reopen campus?
Moira Smith: Opening our doors to safely bring our community together in person was the work of collaboration and creativity. It was a tricky balance between committing to plans and also remaining adaptable to the evolving scene beyond our school. We found inspiration from schools and educational experts across the world who had opened successfully, translating their thoughtful protocols into our practices.
Nancy Evans: Yes, agreed, Moira! In the late spring, it became clear that we needed to begin to think of the 2019 school year and create alternatives to respond to a number of possible scenarios. We created several task forces to look deeply at the evolving situations. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Education, Manchester Department of Public Health, CDC and NAIS and AISNE were all giving weekly updates and webinars. Our Health and Safety Task Force and the Academic Task Force worked with administrators through the late spring and summer to gather the information, develop scenarios, and implement plans for fall. Through the research and planning, we came to the decision that we could open school, following strict guidelines we would put into place. Though, we do believe that there will be continued fluidity in these guidelines given the fluctuating circumstances of the pandemic.
Dave Samson: After the academic task force and health task force came up with the Deep Dive model and how to safely reopen Brookwood, we offered optional faculty coffees via Zoom throughout the summer for feedback and questions. Several tweaks to the schedule came from faculty questions and ideas.
Stacey Wright: I think you guys have covered it. I’d just like to add that the Academic Task Force identified 4 pillars that guided our work as we processed different scenarios and were foundational to our reopening plans. The pillars include: relationships & connection, equity, excellence in teaching and learning, cultivating student independence. With safety being our primary focus, we also wanted to make sure that any reopening plan we developed also aligned with our mission and what makes Brookwood, Brookwood.
Dave Samson: And the work isn’t over. We are continuously evaluating how our plan is working in reality, and we plan to make further modifications over the coming terms to ensure we are best meeting the needs of students and teachers.
Q: The Deep Dive is new to our school, how did this concept come about and what are its benefits?
Dave Samson: The concept emerged from the idea to limit exposure to students and faculty while still prioritizing learning. One of our faculty members came up with the term “Deep Dive” and it stuck! The Upper School students are also familiar with Google Classroom and Zoom so our plan was to include those aspects into the school day for other disciplines not in the Deep Dive.
Nancy Evans: Yes, we gravitated to this model because it allows students and faculty to work together in longer blocks of time in a more concentrated manner. This model cuts down on multiple transitions for children, allows greater flexibility for subject integration and a greater opportunity for creating relationships with children.
Dave Samson: Besides the health and safety benefits, students can concentrate on a subject for a period of time without being distracted and pulled in other directions. Teachers can go “deeper” into their subjects and engage students in project-based learning with a culminating assessment at the end of their Deep Dive. The model also allows the faculty and student relationships that are so paramount at Brookwood to flourish, so daily you’ll see Deep Dive teachers on walks with students, playing “knockout” at recess, eating lunch, and seeing them at the beginning and end of each day. They are really getting to know your children.
Moira Smith: I’d just like to add that a driving priority was to create a plan that could nimbly transfer between an in-person and a distance model. When we began to build our schedule, we identified a band of time that could be committed to specialists. During an in-person school day, this band allows a significant amount of time for children to become immersed in project-based, multimodal learning. They can plan, create, re-design, and re-create their ideas within one class period. For years we have had our eyes on the number of transitions our young students encountered during their school day, coming and going from their classroom to various specials throughout one day. This model offers longer blocks of academic time, and gives teachers more flexibility to respond to curricular needs. If we need to pivot to a distance learning model, this Deep Dive schedule transfers quite seamlessly, allowing children to log in to meet with their classroom teacher and their specialist at consistent times each day.
Q: During morning drop-off, parents have noted how normal it now feels to see students and teachers in masks. What are other new norms parents can’t see from the carline?
Nancy Evans: It is always surprising to see how quickly children adapt. Masks were easier to keep on all day than we anticipated. Social distancing was certainly harder and teachers have continued to remind students and markers on floors, signs and games all help to reinforce. What parents can’t see or hear is the joy that children find in being back in school. The halls are still filled with chatter and laughter. Faculty are playing with students at recess, spending time with them during lunch, creating the relationships that are at the core of our work and challenging children each day.
Stacey Wright: Faculty and students are embracing being outdoors and taking advantage of our gorgeous campus. Lower School students have been taking walks with Mr. Wildrick during their science Deep Dives around the trails on campus and enjoying silent reading in outdoor classrooms, fifth graders regularly have lessons outside with their camp chairs in a circle 6 feet apart. Instead of chorus in the music room, Ms. Gantt has her 7th grade cohort practicing ukuleles overlooking the pond. Even though students miss visiting the Commons for lunch, eating outside has been a treat!
Dave Samson: The new norm that students talked most about on the first day is that when they walk into their classrooms and sit at their desk and have their classroom materials in their bin next to their desk.
Moira Smith: Yes, Dave, agreed. Each child has their own set of classroom materials organized in plastic bins. Their art supplies are contained in one, and curricular manipulatives are stored in others. This has given children ownership of their materials, and has encouraged them to find independence in caring for them. For example, as Kindergarteners wrapped up a watercolor painting activity, they each carefully carried their cup of water to the sink, rinsed their own brush, closed up their tray of paints, and stored everything away in their art bins.
Q: Social-Emotional Learning has always been a cornerstone of a Brookwood education. How is Brookwood meeting students’ non-academic needs this year?
Nancy Evans: Children returned to school this year having been away for 5 months. We knew the importance of creating classrooms that fostered rich, supportive interactions among the children and with the teachers. A new community of trust, respect, appreciation and caring needed a strong commitment of prioritized time. The work faculty has done with the RULER training at Yale has been helpful in expanding our social-emotional support for each other and for students.
Moira Smith: As we opened our doors and welcomed children inside, we were prepared to accommodate the needs of children who were out of the habit of leaving their homes and families. We planned for a slow and responsive onramp to this school year, putting academic assessments on hold and instead prioritizing establishment of new routines and environments. Mask breaks, extra walks around campus, and unstructured outdoor time have allowed children to move their bodies and engage with their peers. We have created fun activities to give students authentic understanding of our health and safety protocols: What does 6 feet of distance look like? What is the best way to wash our hands? How should the room look and sound during lunch and snack time? We are easing into curriculum, adjusting our teaching to meet children where they are.
Dave Samson: Students in 6th – 8th grade are meeting with their advisors twice a week on Zoom or outside and in these moments the advisors are checking in with their advisees. Students in 5th Grade have been introduced to the RULER and are beginning to name their emotions on the mood meter. The Upper School is continuing to explore ways for aspects of Personal Growth and Development curriculum to be integrated into the Deep Dive.
Stacey Wright: Jumping back to what Nancy said earlier, Brookwood faculty excel in social emotional learning and we continue our learning. During the 2019-2020 school year, we had 9 faculty and administrators participate in the RULER professional development training created by Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence. That team has been integral in bringing those ideas, concepts, and tools back to Brookwood. A key tenant of the RULER program is working with educators first prior to fully implementing the program with students and this has been a focus in our division and all employee meetings.
Q: What does schooling look like for students who need individualized support, which during a normal school year requires closer contact?
Dave Samson: With the additional time built within the Deep Dives, there are opportunities for students to work independently and for teachers to be available for assistance. We also have noticed that the flow of the day allows teachers to respond to individual questions and concerns more than with shorter periods of time. Teachers are able to support students with masks on and practicing physical distancing.
Moira Smith: Jumping in, Dave. Teachers have found creative ways to promote physical distancing during small group meetings, such as using plexiglass dividers and separate materials to play a differentiated game in math. We have also utilized outdoor spaces to accommodate small groups. A silver lining of COVID safety protocols is the small pod groupings, which have allowed teachers and teaching apprentices to hone in on individual needs for each student.
Q: Given that COVID symptoms are similar to the common cold and the flu, how are we providing care for students when they fall ill during the school day?
Moira Smith: We know our students! We know when they’re droopy or not feeling their best. When we suspect that a child is showing symptoms of illness, we use prompting to encourage them to verbalize how they are feeling. We don’t hesitate to walk a child to Nurse Kiley if they seem ill, and she always welcomes them warmly to provide both comfort and an expert eye. We rely on communication between families and school to ensure that symptoms are caught quickly.
Nancy Evans: Check out our COVID manual for answers to common cold and flu. When children become ill during a school day, Nurse Kiley continues to give the same care as we have always given. Scraped knees still get bandaids, loose teeth that come out still are put into a special container and Nurse Kiley greets all with a smile. The COVID symptoms are handled with the same ease but we have created an isolation room for children to stay until parents can come pick them up. We have decided to err on the side of caution.
Q: If there is a need to move to distance learning, what work did we do over the summer to ensure its success?
Nancy Evans: We presented a webinar to parents in early September describing what a distance program would look like. Our goal was to make sure the transfer from in-class learning to distance learning would involve routines that faculty could teach children while we were all together and then transfer if/when we go to distance learning. We greatly appreciated the feedback given by parents in the spring. Independence, ease in connecting to various platforms and consistent schedules were additional goals we added to our distance learning programming.
Stacey Wright: Knowing this school year would be like any other, during the summer, we partnered with ExploElevate and all faculty participated in a 4-day Agile Course Design professional development course. The focus of the course was helping teachers prepare for the potential for learning to happen virtually or in person. Over the four days, teachers focused on reflecting on their curriculum and what matters most knowing time in class would be different this year. The course also engaged teachers with questions such as how might we best create connections/create inclusive, safe spaces? (especially in the case of distance learning). In addition, teachers added new tools and elastic teaching strategies to their toolboxes based on student learning and skill development needs.
Moira Smith: In addition to more synchronous time with teachers and peers, our priority was to create a schedule that works both in-person and in a distance learning model. As children have settled into a predictable daily routine, we aim to keep as many elements consistent as possible. The daily schedule is only the beginning– over the next few weeks we will introduce the platforms that will be used in a distance model within our classrooms. SeeSaw allows direct communication between teachers and students, Epic gives readers access to an incredible amount of good fit books that will be featured in small groups, and IXL provides math and phonics practice that can be individually assigned to meet the needs of each student. Our intention is to streamline our distance learning model to foster as much student independence and engagement as possible.