June 25, 2020
Dear PS 321 Families,
As this school year comes to an end, I want to thank all of you for the extraordinary ways in which you have supported your children and our school during this unusual school year. I know that none of us expected that we would spend the last three months of school doing remote learning. And, I am well aware of the fact that this requires parents to be involved in your children’s education as never before. This is so challenging given all the other demands on your time, including your own work, caring for sick family members, and trying to make sense of the new world we are living in.
Thanks so much to the approximately 600 of you who have completed our “Remote Learning Feedback/Return to School” survey. Even if you can’t get it in by today (the original deadline) we would love to hear from as many of you as possible, as these responses will help us as we plan for the coming school year.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any significant updates on the upcoming school year, and we are still waiting for clarification from the Department of Education and New York State. I am so anxious to be back in the school building—but also mindful of health and safety considerations. As I have told you, the initial planning of the DOE suggests having smaller groups of children in the school building one half to one third of the time. Children would mainly stay in their small class groupings and would not gather in large groups in the lunchroom or auditorium. How exactly this will work is still unclear. Current CDC guidelines call for very strict social distancing rules in school. Based on these current rules, we could only have between 8-11 children in each classroom (depending on the size of the room) with one adult. It is possible that these regulations could change to allow us more children per room. We hope to be able to have children in school close to half time. Many of you have seen recent articles on school reopening in Europe that suggest that more children can be together safely, but the guidelines we will need to follow will not be a school-based decision, but rather one that the DOE and the state decide on. It is also possible that, especially if the number of cases of COVID-19 increases when states open up more, we would continue remote learning in the fall. If we are back in school even part time, but you prefer to have your child not come into the building, a full remote option will be provided.
I realize how challenging this uncertainty—as well as the idea that school will most likely not be “normal” for a while—is for families who need to make plans and figure out how you will continue to do your own work with an abbreviated or remote school schedule. We’re doing our best to remain flexible and optimistic, to plan for different possibilities, and to hold off on reorganizing classes until we have more information. If we have a hybrid model where children are in school part time, we will work with the PTA to connect families who want to get children together or share childcare on their remote learning days.
We’re trying to put this in perspective, to see it as the world-wide crisis that it is and to be grateful that–to the best of my knowledge—none of our staff members, parents, or children have passed away due to COVID-19. I know that some of our families and staff members have lost grandparents or aunts and uncles to this disease, and my deepest condolences to those of you who have. I know that many are suffering not only physical but economic and emotional struggles, but I have confidence that we will get through this.
We will do everything we can to support children both emotionally and academically during the next school year, no matter what school looks like. We are providing you with resources that you can access over the summer if you like. We are going to keep all of our Google Classrooms open to students and you can access materials there, although we will shut down the stream and all social features including Google Meet and Hangouts, and teachers will not be checking or communicating on these classrooms. In addition, here is a link to resources you can access for your children: PS 321 Summer Vacation Activities
There are also many resources on our website: www.ps321.org. Check out SEL Resources on the home page. For a list of books by reading level, click HERE. Your child’s approximate book level will be on the report card you receive tomorrow. EPIC books will allow families 2 free hours a week of reading on EPIC during the summer. Zearn will continue to be available as well.
But, IT IS ALSO ABSOLUTELY FINE IF YOU DECIDE NOT TO USE ANY OF THESE RESOURCES! Most of us—adults and children–definitely need a break from being online. We hope your children will be able to play and spend some time outside. Do try to keep reading going though as that is really important for children.
We will be moving all of our Google Classrooms over to the DOE domain for the fall. We are doing this for several reasons, but the most compelling is that this then allows you and your children access to a huge range of learning resources that the DOE has purchased for the city. It will also make it easier for all of our classes to use the DOE authorized version of Zoom. You will need a DOE log-in to do this, and we are going to try to get families set up with this over the summer so that teachers do not need to spend time on this in the fall. You will be receiving emails about this from Deb Orr, Courtney Gilbert, or Nuri Bey in the summer. Once you do have this set up, you will also have access to a lot of learning resources that you can use over the summer.
This has been an extraordinary time, not only because of the pandemic, but also because of the incredible show of support for justice, for breaking silences about racism, and for the Black Lives Matter movement. It has been heartening to see the numbers of people protesting across the country. It is bittersweet because, as Charles Blow says in an op ed in the New York Times (6/14/20) in writing about the pain and rage of black people, “In fact, with every word of solidarity, with every new law passed or reform instituted… these actions are all acknowledgment that those in pain have been right all along, that all of their heretofore unheard and unheeded protestations have been wrongfully ignored.” And yet it feels so important that so many are coming together, including so many young people, to demand change. It is remarkable to see mainstream organizations such as the NFL and NASCAR declaring the importance of fighting racism and taking action. All of this gives me great hope.
At PS 321, we have made Equity a priority for many years, holding professional development sessions and parent workshops about race and gender, about the importance of standing up for what is right. We have been working on modifying curriculum to make sure we incorporate the voices and perspectives of people of color, diversified our classroom libraries, and held discussions about race and justice in our classes. This year for the first time, we formed Affinity Groups for children of color in grades 3-5. And, District 15 has been in the forefront of moving toward equity for all students through its middle school diversity plan. But we understand that we need to do more and we are committed to that.
For the next school year, we will publicly declare that we are an Antiracist School. We will do this by revising our mission statement and posting it prominently in the lobby, on our website, and in classrooms. This summer, we will develop age-appropriate antiracist lessons for all grades that will be taught in all classrooms. We will review existing social studies and reading units and revise them to include perspectives of people of color and other marginalized groups and will develop some new units focused on social justice. And, we will continue and deepen our professional development on race and offer parent workshops as well. We have an active Staff Equity Committee and a Parent Equity Committee. These groups will continue to meet regularly to help implement these plans and to consider other ways we can act on our commitment to ensure that all students, families and staff members in our school, particularly people of color and others in marginalized groups, feel supported. It was wonderful to have over 40 parents at our last Parent Equity Committee meeting this month, and these meetings are open to all parents and also attended by me and some other staff members.
What a remarkable community this is. I so appreciate all the support you have given to us, and your understanding of the challenges staff as well as families have faced. I sincerely hope that most of you will be back at PS 321 in the fall. We will miss our 5th graders and those of you who are relocating. I will be in touch over the summer to give you updates on when and how school will be beginning. If you are not yet signed up for our Tuesday Bulletin please go to www.ps321.org to sign up so you get summer updates.
On Wednesday, as I participated in a wonderful 5th grade virtual graduation, I felt so joyful, and it reinforced to me how, even in this less-than-ideal remote world, we can continue to come together as a community, enjoy each other, and celebrate our accomplishments. Whatever next year looks like, I know we have learned so much from our remote learning this year that we will be able to build on inside and outside of the school building.
As a little goodbye present to our students and families, staff have prepared some special videos for you to look at. I recommend that you view all of them, not just those that feature staff from your child’s grade. The links are below. I will also be posting these on the Google Classrooms tomorrow.
1st grade video
2nd grade video
3rd grade video
4th grade video
5th grade video
cluster video specials video
I hope you have a wonderful summer! Thank you for reading through this long letter!
Liz Phillips, Principal
P.S. On Friday you will receive your child’s report card by 3pm. As noted in a previous letter, teachers’ school year ends at that time, so they will not be available to answer any questions you have about the report card or other matters. Please reach out to me or Deb Orr (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have questions.