8th grade students at Dawson School engage in a socially-distant history class. (Photo: Dawson School).

4th grade circles up; Shining Mountain Waldorf School’s ample 12-acre campus in Boulder allows for creative outdoor classroom spaces. (Photo: Joshua Berman / Shining Mountain Waldorf School).

The pandemic has brought enormous challenges to school districts and administrators, teachers, families and students. How does a school function “normally” in a learning environment where the threat of COVID-19 looms large? We’ve reached out to three local schools to find out how they’re handling these challenges.

George Moore, Head of School at Dawson School in Lafayette, says that Dawson put safety protocols in place–everything from improved ventilation to using additional campus spaces for learning to reduce density–to design their program for effective in-person, on-campus learning. “The key challenge for our teachers is to provide a meaningful experience for a remote learner who might be home for a few days with symptoms,” he says. “Last spring our teachers researched and implemented best practices in remote learning, including the combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning, and have augmented those with current technology tools (OWL and Swivl) this fall. They are going above and beyond every single day.”

Meg Hansen, Director of Marketing and Communications at Friends School in Boulder, says the logistical challenges of running a program as safely as possible were initially overwhelming. “From safely sharing bathrooms, to a new system for drop-off and pick-up, temperature checks, mask wearing … there were a lot of new routines for kids to learn. Being in person for over two months now has allowed us all to get into a smoother routine in this regard.”

Could there be unexpected blessings for teachers as they navigate complicated scheduling with both in-person and remote learners? Mary Eaton Fairfield, School Director at Shining Mountain Waldorf School in Boulder, says yes. “Some teachers appreciate the new schedule that allows for double-periods, which opens up possibilities for activities and longer lessons that they didn’t have before,” she explains. “The new schedule was adjusted to limit exposure between cohorts and between teachers interacting with different cohorts. Some teachers have expressed appreciating this extended time with the students, especially in the middle school and high school sections, where they can go deeper into each lesson. Other silver linings include teachers having to be more flexible, creative and resourceful, and discovering new lessons and methods to try out and use.”

Teachers are adapting to this new environment by being more flexible, creative and resourceful. (Photo: Meg Hansen, Friends School).

The challenges presented to schools during the pandemic are not only logistical. Holding safe space for everyone’s emotions is a job unto itself and of utmost importance. “One of our social/emotional values at Friends (for kids, parents and teachers) is that all feelings are welcome,” says Hansen. “It’s a really challenging and stressful time to be a teacher literally across the globe. Friends is no different in that regard, but where we shine is in being an environment where teachers are allowed, and invited, to express how they are feeling.”

It goes without saying that the loss of beloved school events has hit everyone hard. We all feel it, whether in theatre, sports, music, or other activities. “Not being able to hold our traditional assemblies, concerts, plays, and large festivals has been difficult and disheartening for our community, since they are an essential part of our curriculum,” says Fairfield. “Yet this change has brought out a creative response from our faculty and students. We are reimagining how to make these events happen in a meaningful way during this unusual time.”

One thing’s for sure, wherever your kids are enrolled: Teachers need support.

“If there’s a teacher in your life, a smile or a thank you note from you will be noticed and appreciated; acknowledgement of their exceptional investment in our children this year is so important,” says George Moore.

Meg Hansen: “Letting teachers know that you see them and appreciate them goes a long way (in person, on your Facebook page, in the form of treats brought to the school – anything!). Also support teachers by being responsible community members and following recommended health protocols to help keep schools in person.”

“It is more difficult for teachers to connect with all their students without seeing each other’s faces, which in turn, requires more effort and energy to deliver a lesson and check in with students, “says Mary Eaton Fairfield. “Teachers, administration and parents all need to be more patient with each other as we navigate this new territory together.”

By Darren Thornberry, Raised in the Rockies