March 1, 2021
Dear PS 321 Families:
It is hard to believe that we are approaching the one year anniversary of when schools stopped our regular ways of teaching. This has been a long and challenging year. Most tragic of course is the number of deaths worldwide due to the Pandemic. Within our own PS 321 community, some families have experienced the death of loved ones, and our hearts go out to them. Other members of our community have lost jobs and are suffering economically. And all of us, even if we are personally fortunate to have not lost loved ones or jobs, have been deeply affected by this pandemic.
For most parents, having children learning from home 50% to 100% of the time is extremely demanding. For most of us, not being able to interact with large numbers of friends and family members has been a real hardship. Children have responded in different ways to remote or hybrid learning, but many are missing the normal way of being in school and in the world.
At the same time that we acknowledge the many challenges of this past year, I also want to focus on the joys and accomplishments. Our children are learning to be resilient and flexible in ways that will serve them well not just in school but in life. We are so proud of them! It is remarkable how well the children in school are doing keeping masks on, following social distancing rules, and enjoying the company of each other. And the all-remote students are doing such a great job engaging on the screen.
We have all learned so much about working remotely since last March. I am in awe of how teachers have modified their methods of teaching in ways that work remotely or in socially distanced classrooms. To see children collaborating with each other in break-out rooms and small groups or in socially distanced partnerships is really thrilling. The quality of discussion that they are having in these settings is very high, and that gives me great confidence that they are continuing to move forward as learners and thinkers. As I walk through the school, go on all-remote Google Classrooms, and look at SeeSaw posts, I am so pleased with the quality of the work I am seeing. And, of course, we are paying a lot of attention to social emotional learning, with very positive results. Seeing all the acts of kindness that children are initiating is so satisfying. One teacher said to me recently, “we’re still having a lot of fun with the kids.” I see that so clearly when I go into classrooms both in the building and on Zoom.
Although our children are learning in different settings depending on whether they are all-remote or hybrid, they seem to be progressing at a similar rate. Certainly the fact that children in hybrid have such small class size allows them to have more teacher attention when they are in school, while the all-remote children have the advantage of meeting with their teacher daily. No doubt this kind of learning is more challenging for some children than for others, but overall, children are moving up in book levels at a rate that is similar to past years. And, although Zearn certainly isn’t the same as teacher-directed lessons, combined with teacher math-directed lessons it is providing children with an opportunity to learn and then practice new math concepts. Writing appears to be more challenging for some children in this hybrid or all-remote model, but most children are continuing to move forward in this area. We are continuing to assess children in these curricular areas to see where there are learning gaps and how we need to modify instruction based on this. Given the unique nature of this year, we will spend extra time in the spring having teachers from one grade meet with teachers from the grade below so that we will be prepared to make any necessary changes in our curriculum.
We do want to use this one year mark as a time to have children reflect on their hopes and dreams for the future. You will get more details on this, but the PTA will be coordinating a “Wall of Hope” on the 2nd Street fence. Children will be able to write their hopes for the future on tags that we will then tie to the fence. We’ll offer times when all- remote children who are able to come in can do this; remote children who cannot come and do this will be able to submit a sentence online that we will write on tags for them. Hybrid students will write these hopes and dreams in school.
I know that we are all looking forward to nicer weather and being able to spend more time outside. We will be resuming trips to the park, and teachers will continue to bring classes outside daily and sometimes twice a day. Some of you have asked about lunch time in school. During the nice weather, many of our classes were eating outside, and as the weather improves, this will happen again. When children eat, they are not wearing masks. Based on public health advice, we do not want the children to talk when they are unmasked inside. In order to keep children engaged and silent while they eat, most classes are putting on an educational video—a read aloud or a science video for example. This is for a short amount of time—about 20 minutes—and helps us to keep everyone safe.
In terms of our adult hopes and dreams, I know that for many of us, top on the list is going back to full time school in the building in September. Many of you are asking me if I think this will be the case. I wish I had an answer but I don’t. I know that this is something that the DOE is working on, and I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more about this in the next few months.
I am so appreciative of all that our staff is doing to provide our children with such rich instruction and emotional support, even during this highly unusual year. I am also very grateful for all the support from families. Together we are making the most of the situation we are in, and I have no doubt that our children are benefitting tremendously from this.
Liz Philips, Principal