April 27, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
Hingham Public Schools administrators, teachers, and staff have been working tirelessly to find creative ways to engage students and families from afar, with social distancing guidelines in place and the schools closed through the end of the 2019-20 school year.
Many of the HPS staff are juggling having their own children at home while continuing to connect with students and parents.
HPS principals had this to say about how teachers, administrators, students, and parents are making it through these challenging times, with high praise for everyone involved:
Hingham High School Principal Rick Swanson: "Members of our high school staff -- like their counterparts across the district -- have risen to meet the incredible challenges presented by the closure of school. Not only our teachers, but our administrators, counselors, para-educators, secretaries, custodians and kitchen staff have all found ways to make contributions. Their combined efforts have enabled our students to keep learning. And, perhaps most importantly, their hard work, resilience, creativity and compassion have enabled our students to stay connected with school, and with one another. Yes, the curriculum is now moving forward again, but so, too, is our sense of connectedness with one another."
Hingham Middle School Principal Derek Smith: "When I consider what we have all been experiencing and reacting to, I am overwhelmed by what we have all been able to accomplish in such a short time. Almost overnight our teachers have completely redesigned what school looks like, and they did it in a thoughtful and meaningful way, in every subject, from English to art.
Parents have been incredibly supportive throughout the process, trusting the district to do what we need to in order to keep their children connected to school and engaged in learning. They understand that what we are doing has never been done before, and there’s no blueprint for it. They’re doing everything they can to help students access learning at home, many while trying to work from home themselves.
Aside from the academic lessons that we are trying to teach our kids during the school closure, there are life lessons to be learned. We often talk about the importance of 'resilience', and ask how do we teach this to somebody. I think we have the perfect opportunity in front of us. Every day that we encounter another challenge that we don’t turn away from, we are teaching our students how to be resilient."
The four elementary school principals: South School's Mary Eastwood, Plymouth River's Melissa Smith, East School's Anthony Keady, and Foster's Beth Wilcox.
* In the core academic areas, the Remote Learning Plans at the K-5 levels are a collaborative effort among all of the teachers across town in that particular grade level. "This is a win/win as we are tapping into an incredible amount of professional experience due to the many years of service that are present as well as the expertise of each teacher at every school."
* There are many different elements that make up the plans, with a particular effort to support all learning styles. These may include different choices of readings on the same topics, choices of writing prompts, alternative activities for a particular math concept, previously recorded videos of the teachers, educational videos, on-screen and off-screen activities, printable materials, hands-on activities, and others.
* Special educators are working in collaboration with their grade level teams to offer modifications to assignments and also on creating alternate remote learning lessons/schedules depending on the needs of their students.
* The Remote Learning Plans are also designed to be asynchronous ( education, instruction, and learning that do not occur in the same place or at the same time) so that families can access the lessons at any time. This also makes it easier to share devices and other tools. Families were notified on a number of occasions that they could borrow devices from the school system, facilitated by the technology/computer science department.
* As educators participate in the forward planning for the coming weeks, they are also involved with their classes while the students work on the current week’s RLP. They communicate through email, Google Classroom, and phone calls and use various methods to encourage social/emotional contact with their students.
* Specialist teachers ( music, art, physical education, computer science, Spanish, and library) are also planning their lessons in a similar fashion in collaboration with other professionals in their particular fields across town.
*The staff is participating in professional development during this time.
* School lunches are provided to students as needed, facilitated by the food services and transportation departments. The offer of lunch has been further extended to older Hingham citizens.
All four elementary schools are finding ways to keep teachers and students inspired. The overriding message is: This, too, shall pass and that everyone needs to work as a team for the good of all. If you’re not sure what to do, do three things -- try your best, stay positive, and be nice to everyone.
"As far as the children are concerned, what they will truly remember when they look back is that they were loved, cared for, and kept safe during this time. Also, they are all going through this break in school together, and we have an amazing group of educational professionals who greet them with open hearts and minds and help bring them to their greatest potential both through the Remote Learning Plan and in the actual classroom when they return."
The main goal of all four elementary principals is "to do anything we can to get our communities, families, and staff through this very trying time. We are constantly present for all needs, concerns, and questions. We are also working as liaisons to a particular grade level or group of specialists across town to create the Remote Learning Plans each week. Our role on the administrative team is vast as we participate in think tanks on a daily basis and constantly attend virtual meetings with each other and the entire administrative team so we can anticipate needs and serve the public in the best way possible."
All the principals have a positive approach: "We are constantly thanking all of the members of our communities for how hard they are working: staff for creating and encouraging the completion of the learning materials/lessons; parents/guardians for facilitating the students' work; and the students for working hard themselves to complete their assignments and communicating often with their teachers."
The principals have high regard for the teachers at at their schools: "Supt. Paul Austin used an analogy early on -- that we were being asked to build a spaceship as we were hurtling through space, having never built this particular ship before.
At first, we all were asked by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to fly to one planet for three weeks (Learning Engagement Activities), and then as the school closure became longer, the destination changed to a different planet (Remote Learning Plan). So basically, education (the way we know it) was reinvented and completely refined twice in a very short period of time. Everyone worked as a team and did what they needed to do. We have told our staffs that they Apollo 13-ed this mission!"
During this challenging time, elementary students are learning lessons that will hold them in good stead in the future, that:
* people are flexible, adapt to new things, and show up for them even when it's hard.
* communities work together for the greater good.
* the world is a good place -- that even when circumstances are scary, people are good and kind.
* their families and their educators love them enough to be there for them -- and that's all any of us can do -- love each other through this.
Each elementary school is finding ways to cope during this crisis.
East School engages students and families with ongoing communication and videos and directs families in need to available community and school-based resources. In partnership with the PTO, initiatives include sending cards and letters to Allerton House residents.
At Foster, students receive birthday emails, the PTO sponsored an online Scholastic book fair and an online talent show, and the Kindness Club organized distribution of cards and letters to Hingham seniors to cheer them up.
Plymouth River created a staff video, "I'll Be There for You," offer health tips and updates from Nurse Whiting, encourage well-being activities, and provide individual outreach to families in need. (Watch video here)
South School has made an effort to continue some of the normal activities from when school is in session in the physical building. These include a video of staff members set to "You've Gotta Friend in Me" to share with students, weekly notes, and a Counselors' Corner. The Fifth-Grade Leadership Team made a video thanking healthcare workers and first responders. (Watch video here)
Future activities could include school sing-alongs and art images, theme days, and virtual PTO meetings and events.
All four principals continue to be amazed at what the teaching teams are accomplishing and are "extremely impressed" by their further-enhanced Remote Learning Plans for each successive week. "We are impressed, but certainly not surprised, as we see that the reflective, collaborative, creative, and diligent approach they take in the physical classrooms all the time is not any different [in these every-changing circumstances under the remote learning model]. They will continue to work hard to create each week’s plan, and it will get better and better as they continue working together in a fine example of collaboration.
"Team work is making this 'new normal' work. They are truly a symphony working together for the good of our parents, families, and community," the four principals agree.
Congratulations to everyone involved for a job well done as well as advance praise for their future accomplishments during this challenging time.