Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic: A Story of Success
A glimpse at what the early days of the 2020-21 school year looked like during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The summer months before school begins are often quiet, but this year, our campus was buzzing. Our administrative team went into overdrive, solidifying plans so that every FFS family would have choices for their children’s learning during the uncertain times of the Covid pandemic. After more than five months at home, we knew one of those choices had to include the opportunity for students to be on campus, learning in person with their peers and teachers. We were also committed to ensuring that those families who could not leave their homes due to Covid would have access to the same robust learning experiences as those who would return to campus. As a result, two educational programs were designed in order to meet both of these criteria; FFS On Campus and FFS At Home. Managing the many technological needs of simultaneously teaching in person and remotely, while providing the necessary health and safety measures to open the campus, was the next step to bring everything together for the successful start of the 2020-21 school year.
New furnishings were obtained to ensure social distancing, including hundreds of safety shields for tables and desks built by FFS Grandfriends. Parents donated supplies, sewed face masks, built the Early Childhood fence, and gifted us with new chickens. New tents and umbrellas, filtered water bottle stations, no touch switches and faucets, and outdoor hand washing sinks were purchased and installed. Backhoes arrived, ground was broken, and new outdoor spaces for learning and play were created behind the Annex and Trickey Building. Teachers added an additional ten days of professional development to their schedules before students arrived, so that they could learn about and practice health and safety procedures, redesign their rooms, and devise new ways to simultaneously teach students on campus and at home.
Our successful reopening was a huge undertaking, made possible by the support of the entire school community. The work that went into making FFS ready to reopen was costly in many ways, both in terms of finances, time and energy, and the sense of urgency to meet the many needs within the community. Comprised of FFS administrators, teachers, parents and health professionals, the Pandemic Response Committee was formed to address a multitude of questions surrounding how to reopen a school during a global pandemic. With the help of an architect parent, plans were created to allow for social distancing within classrooms, outdoor learning areas with shade and handwashing stations, and updated ventilation within all indoor spaces. New protocols were developed, such as a daily health attestation for families who chose to be on campus and mandatory mask wearing.
In September, the majority of our families chose to send their children back to school for in person learning. Children in Pre-Kindergarten through Eighth Grades joyfully returned to campus, and the entire FFS community has dependably adhered to the many Covid policies put in place. Now, as we begin the last marking period of the 2020-2021 school year, our campus is booming with life and learning, our faculty and staff have been fully vaccinated, and only a handful of students remain in FFS@Home.
Life in the Pods
One of the bigger puzzles to be solved in the quest to reopen campus safely revolved around the need for social distancing and limiting exposure between larger groups of individuals. To accomplish this goal, “pods” were created, with no more than two classes per building and a minimum of three teachers per pod. The Annex became our Middle School, with Fifth and Sixth grades in the downstairs level and Seventh and Eighth upstairs. Third and Fourth grades were able to spread out between three rooms in the Trickey Building, with First and Second Grades occupying the large classrooms in the IDEA Lab. Our Early Childhood classes would use the whole of the Farley Building. Along with more space for learning inside, each pod was assigned a dedicated outdoor area for learning and play. Five months into our plan, each pod has remained contained amongst themselves, but with plenty of cross-pod communication
Teachers quickly and impressively learned to communicate, collaborate, and create instructional content in ever more powerful ways. By using our newly purchased and installed technology, they have successfully mastered how to conduct learning simultaneously to students on campus and at home. Curriculum in all content areas engages students in both settings, encouraging full participation in class dialogue and fostering strong problem solving and
A Tight-Knit Community, Even at a Distance
Nothing better demonstrates the strength of our community than the first Meeting for Worship of the year. On a warm and sunny day, students and teachers sat in a wide circle in the Nest on outdoor chairs. A computer sat in the middle of the circle with At Home Friends joining in reflection on Zoom. Having everyone together in this way completed the feeling of togetherness and community that we all craved during the pandemic’s early months.
Maintaining a strong sense of community with students who are tuning in online and others who attend on campus is a unique challenge, and we are meeting this challenge with innovation, love, and determination. We are so very fortunate to be here, at FFS, during this truly unique and special time. We give tremendous thanks to all who have given their time and talents to make this year a success, and to the entire FFS community for joining us and helping our school to thrive!