A Few Looks Back at Our Dynamic School Year

From remote learning, in-person learning, and all the learning that happened in between, this past year guided our teachers into new learning as much as it did our students. Hear from some of the teachers and educators from around the school.

Reena V. Morgan, Primary Director:

“In reflecting on the 2020-21 school year at the Primary level, I am so grateful for the tremendous amount of courage, patience, and energy evident from our teachers, parents, and students. Both the 2’s and 3-6 programs could be in person, full day from the start of school in September. Young children did much better than we expected with mask-wearing and hand-washing. Social distancing was a challenge because they were all so excited and happy to be among friends again! Fortunately, there were very few cases at this level (and zero spread), which is a testament to how well our preventive measures worked.

One of the greatest silver linings that came about (and we plan to keep/implement for all Primary classes) is starting the day with recess first thing in the morning. As a result, drop-offs and transitions were much smoother. Children could exert energy first thing and then get into really concentrated work cycles by mid-morning.  Teachers were extremely flexible and resilient throughout the year, especially when we shifted back and forth into remote learning around the holidays. Thank you to the whole community for doing their part to keep everyone safe!”

Anne Matern, Elementary Director:

“The past school year tested the flexibility and resourcefulness of the children. We started in September with lots of new rules and procedures to learn. The children quickly adapted to the new expectations and were eager to be back working together in the classroom. After spring break, we were excited to be able to have children back for a full day. The shorter lunch allowed for a longer recess, which provided extra time for free play and socialization. The additional time was very beneficial for the kids because of the importance of play to aid development, and more physical activity helped afternoon concentration. 

The teachers were thrilled to spend more time working with children, whether giving lessons, providing individual instruction, or additional time for big projects. The kids embraced hands-on activities and collaborative work.

Unfortunately, we did not attend camp. But the outings around the city this spring were wonderful and made us hopeful of all we will experience as we go forward.” 

Janeen Cohen, Director of Educational Technology:

“We decided to take teaching on the road to help those families for which hybrid learning was not an option. After being at Near North for 31 years, the Distance Learners were my first actual classroom!  The joy of starting each morning with the 6-9 students is my forever moment. We developed beautiful genuine friendships, and I will be forever grateful to these children and their families for our partnership. 

A real highlight was watching the children building their own networks. They would set up reading groups, lunchtime chats, and afternoon Zoom calls. The result was a strong, loving community and a support system that carried us all through. This bonding also benefitted the children as they transitioned to in-person learning in April. 

We managed to hold back the hugs when we actually saw each other for the first time after 34 weeks, but we would not stop the smiles, the tears of joy, or chorus of, ‘Thank you for remoting me, Janeen!’”

Annie Stone, Art Director

“Creating a year long curriculum for a group of at home learners under the age of six was a fun challenge for all of the adults involved. We established a weekly routine, allowing time for a variety of activities. Some activities were guided by teachers during video calls, and some were suggested for time away from the computer. We played language games that got children up and moving around their homes, bringing things to share with the group. We practiced yoga and mindfulness together, listened and improvised stories, and became authors and solvers of complex math story problems that we wrote to include each member of the group. 

We also created and sent a series of packages with math, language and sewing supplies to the homes of our remote learners. While we were in completely different places, we were able to open identical boxes and have our hands on the same useful tools. Having a space at home that was dedicated to school and classroom materials at home to choose from allowed actual free choice as they would have if we were together under one roof. 

On one of the very last days of school, with two children in different parts of Florida and one in the foothills of Colorado, we assembled our embroidery hoops, threaded our needles, and prepared to sew. One of the children in Florida could not find scissors — and the child in Colorado said that she would lend her pair. We laughed about how funny it was to feel like we were together, and then, reminded of our actual distance, we plainly acknowledged the strangeness and wonder of sitting together sewing while so far apart. Everyone worked quietly for a minute, and then the oldest child said, ‘Well, even though I can’t give you these scissors, and we are hundreds of miles away, we are really only separated by this piece of glass.’”