By Jenefer Donovan, Friends Community Board Chair

We are certainly challenging our teachers’ brains, bodies and hearts these days! As we begin to find a routine in Remote Learning, we are starting to see glimmers of hope in this new reality. Teachers have been working 24/7 learning and embracing new technology, grieving the loss of what was, making history as we create what’s to come, opening up to frustration, and remembering that this is what we do at Friends School – we focus on Relationships and Connection with our students, our families and each other.

A Letter to Educators Teaching Online for the First Time”is a great article explaining the new challenge facing our teachers right now and the following excerpt brought to light all that our teachers are doing for our students.  

“Your presence is all that many of them have ever needed, and this does not change if you are teaching from your living room…The job of an online teacher is the job of an offline teacher is the job of a teacher. Connect to people and help them to feel connected to you and to the dimension of the world you are leading them to experience. Connect your students to one another in a way that enables them not only to learn content from one another, but also to catch life experiences from one another—to shape one another in the way that only peers can. It’s that simple … and it’s that complex…. Soon you’ll only see your students. Their personalities will return. Some formerly silent or quiet students may share their voices. Some formerly disengaged students may jump out as leaders. Students will show you their learning in ways they wouldn’t or couldn’t offline. Students will take risks in their learning that they would never take if they were in a physical room with one another.” 

You have all heard from your child’s class teachers and your own child’s division directors, but maybe you are curious to learn about what other classes are doing. Maybe you miss seeing our preschoolers making their way down the path to school and are wondering how the preschool is connecting with our littlest friends. Maybe you would like to know more about how middle schoolers are being challenged during this time. Perhaps you are wondering what elementary classrooms are doing to stay connected. 

I encourage you to read the following summaries that were shared at our April 7 board meeting from Honor and our three division directors. In them, they describe all the extraordinary connections that are being made in all divisions of Friends School.

Honor Taft, Head of School

The last month has been unique, with every day bringing new challenges and opportunities to stretch and grow. For Friends School the changes began in earnest as February ended. It was at this point that, at Meg’s urging, we dedicated our Senior Leadership Team meeting to planning for COVID-19’s arrival in the US and Boulder. In my view, this is a point at which the integrity, talent and commitment of the educators who make up Friends School must be held up and celebrated – Friends School was among a very small group of schools to launch any form of remote learning the week of, March 16th. This happened in every division and is a feat not to be taken lightly. Every member of our team had personal challenges they faced that week, as did every person in Boulder and beyond, and yet, our faculty and staff put the care of our students and families at the center of their worlds. It is really important that we all understand this. Among us we had people navigating care for ill family members, people with children at home tugging on them and wanting to know what’s wrong, people with no one at home… stress, loneliness, overwhelm, anxiety, and many other emotions were set aside or compartmentalized in the interest of taking care of our students and families to the best of our ability in a whole new educational world. It was quite a week, and while perhaps imperfect, there were many successes and accomplishments to be celebrated. 

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all that Friends School teachers and administrators have done in a short time and during a difficult time. Friends School has an impressive group and I hope you will join me in celebrating and appreciating them. 

Even as we continue to work on and refine remote learning, we are planning for next year. I am excited to share that our elementary lead teachers are set for next year – achieving this before April would be a significant win in a “normal” year, and should be noted (announcement to community sent March 31st). We are also in the final preparations to virtually present two finalist candidates for the Middle School Head position. This required creativity and teamwork as we worked to design something that could take the place of in-person meetings. 

We are marching on, in some ways busier than we have ever been, writing new handbooks (remote learning and remote working), creating financial models, designing virtual open houses, strategizing to look after our students, our staff and our community.. The one thing I know I can count on at this point is that more unexpected things will arise this spring. I am grateful for the strength of our team and for the ongoing support of the Community Board. 

A hallmark of Friends School is the power of our community that results from deep connections and these connections are a top priority during this time of separation and isolation. We are here for one another and we know we will be stronger together. 

Preschool Program (Prepared by Jessie Vanden Hogen, Director of Preschool) 

Challenging Minds, Nurturing Spirits, & Honoring Individuality… 

Through our one-on-one video calls with each family as well as our synchronous and asynchronous content and teaching, we are realizing the importance of community and how it can cross virtual boundaries to transform and adapt, grow and surprise us. I’m tearing up as I write this as I miss the closeness of the little ones, their families, my co-teachers and even my own family. I am focusing on what we know as Early Childhood Educators, that the most important thing for children is to feel SAFE and SEEN and VALUED. This is how we find our way to challenge their minds, nurture their spirits and honor their individuality. 

We have discovered with these young children that parents are also needing to feel safe, seen, and valued. We have always known this is a huge part of our job as Preschool and Pre- Kindergarten teachers, but now more than ever, parents are really asking for our listening ear, advice, a rhythm and routine, and permission to know that All Feelings Are Welcome. With this in mind, we are shifting to different hours and trying things we haven’t tried before. We are having parent/teacher ZOOM social hours as well as a 3-part series from our Play Therapist Polly Douglass, whose own children attended Friends School many years ago (Routines, Rhythm and Regulation – Tapping Into the Power of Play – Fostering Relationships and Resilience in a time of Uncertainty). Believe it or not, former families who have moved on to other schools have heard what we are doing and are asking to be a part of these connections. 

As I write from my bedroom/classroom, I leave you with this little poem that my fiancé wrote as he listened (not on purpose, but it’s a small apartment) from the living room as my co-teachers and I processed what we will miss as we say goodbye to yesterday and hello to our new tomorrow in a way that has never happened before. 

Friends Together, Friends Apart 

Friends together, friends apart 
We knew we’d be friends right from the start. 
Finger painting, shaping clay, learning new things as we play 

Friends together, friends apart 
you have been my friends right from the start 
holding hands as we sing along 
with all you tiny songbirds’ song 

Can I tell you a block story? 
let’s make a tetrahedron, 
you sweet independent thinkers amaze me, 
with every season 

I optimistically, with all my aching heart, 
can’t wait to hear your laughter and see your works of art. 
Until then, my friends you little ones, 
we’ll patiently remain, Friends together, friends apart. 

Parents have started to share the love which is encouraging as we step into this new journey together: 

Elementary School Program (Prepared by Mandy Stepanovsky, Director of Elementary School/Associate Head of School) 

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” is a quote from Socrates that I have been pondering as we enter the uncharted waters of remote learning. Preparation began on March 9, and while we weren’t expecting to utilize our planning so soon, we were ready to hit the ground running when we learned we would not be returning to school for quite some time. 

This readiness can be attributed to flexible thinking, creative problem solving, and the willingness to embrace “change” and the “new” wholeheartedly and without looking back. As I reflect on this past week, I could not be prouder to be a part of an organization than I am now. The elementary team has come together to support each other, to support our families and most importantly, to support our students. AND, they have done it all with grace, gratitude and a growth mindset. There were definitely bumps along the way, but the elementary team is dedicated to learning, growing and providing the best experience possible. 

The goals of remote learning are to remain connected, provide review, and to further student learning. The first week focused primarily on remaining connected and reviewing content. Teachers are now busy preparing their Google Classrooms to continue connecting and beginning to provide new content to their students. All teachers will continue to have connection and social emotional learning at the heart of what they do. 

Some highlights from the first week include Zoe’s end of week slideshow put together from photos parents sent her throughout the week, Annika’s Google Slides which included “Frozen Yoga,” Caroline’s parent meetings, Krysten’s mindful moments, Farren and Chelsea’s study hall and coloring time, and Emma’s class connections. Tricia’s read alouds to different grades, Dacia’s participation in morning meetings and Erika’s online math classes are all also keeping connections strong. Charlotte has been offering live and video yoga, as well as music classes in all the grades. TCs have been hosting “recess” and other times for their classes to get together. It takes a village as they say, and the Friends School village is stronger than ever. 

While these are uncertain times, I am certain we are in this together and that together, we will find our way. 

Middle School Program (Prepared by Shelby Pawlina, Director of Middle School) 

Wow. It is hard to remember life before March 12. 

The middle school team (like all the other teachers at Friends) has been amazing during the last several tumultuous weeks, including over their Spring “break”. They have demonstrated incredible flexibility, tenacity, and positivity as they learn/teach themselves new ways of teaching with different platforms while keeping relationships at the forefront of this remote learning way of life. This will continue to evolve as we see which resources prove to meet different learning and teaching styles, for the various subject areas. They have been nothing short of fabulous. 

A Whole New World: Since the closure of the school buildings and the beginning of remote learning this month, we have come to appreciate the tremendous importance of our virtual classes now that we don’t see one another in person. During our first week of remote schooling, where we focused on learning new technology, connecting with one another and reviewing material, there were some definite high points in the week. Hands down, the best part of this week was the obvious joy that the students (and, frankly, teachers) felt in seeing one another on Zoom or GoogleMeet calls. As young people who truly crave interaction with peers, these middle schoolers wanted classes to continue longer than their intended times just so they could be together! They miss each other so much.

We received many emails from parents with thanks for being so proactive, organized and structured out of the gate so their children had some routine in their otherwise disrupted days. To be sure, there were and will continue to be some kinks to work out, but teachers are already buckled in for Remote Learning 2.0. One improvement we have made based on parent feedback is to have made sure all middle school students have access to necessary technology so as to be able to attend their classes. Additionally, we have ensured that there are several times worked into the schedule each day for independent off-line work and active outdoor activities. This shift came as a result of feedback from parents, teachers, and students. We look forward to continuing to grow our community connections, new learning experiences, while providing a balance of face-to-face time and independent work time. 

Challenging minds. Nurturing spirits. Honoring individuality.