Nobody totally saw this coming, and none of us expected the school year to be so suddenly disrupted in this way. However, as we all watched global then local news filling with COVID-19 information, we knew this year would be different. We started to realize we may have to flex, at least temporarily to slow the spread of this virus and protect our community. Then the announcement came that school buildings would be closed, what a shock.
Roots staff and teachers spent the week and weekend before the closure collaborating and planning to ensure all students from our school would have access to online classes and platforms. As a private school, we do not get funding from the district for technology or curriculum, so added expense due to this pandemic had to come from our already tight budget. However as a small, independent school, we were also able to pivot much faster than larger schools and districts and begin distance education the day after schools were closed. Roots students did not miss one day of school due to the school building closures, which is pretty impressive.
Initially we, like everyone else, had hoped the closure would be temporary and we could return to our classrooms and resume the project based learning, individualized pacing, enrichment courses, small group instruction and multi-age learning that we love so much. Teachers and students spent the first few weeks of distance education with daily zoom classes that attempted to simulate some type of normal class and teaching students online etiquette and expectations for this new class setting. Students also used the “task time” concept which allowed them to exercise their budding independence and self sufficiency to complete weekly checklists of learning tasks. This “task time” technique had already been established during the school year, where some students would be working independently on their unique assigned tasks while the teacher worked with small groups. Generalizing this and making it work in the home environment without the teacher present was a big challenge for students as young as 7 years old! As the closures extended, Roots teachers knew they could do even better. Our teachers began to redesign, rethink, and optimize the distance education experience for Roots students. Teachers knew the heart of Roots community school is the individualized education at the right level for the student in each academic area, not based on age or class grade. Teachers knew we needed to somehow capture this and give it back to students in our new virtual space. So again, Roots teachers would pivot into a new style and redesign the educational experience.
Enter phase two of distance education! Classes continue to have a daily zoom meeting where all students from the class get to see each other, check-in, have general grade appropriate lessons and share about their lives and experiences. However, teachers now began to provide smaller, targeted zoom classes for groups based on their academic level so students receive the “just right challenge” with their peers and collaborate and challenge each other. By having these small, leveled groups, students are able to progress at a level appropriate for their unique learning journey. Nobody left behind feeling totally confused, nobody falling asleep because the work is far too easy. Book clubs allow student groups to discuss, predict outcomes & dive deep into the characters of a book that’s chosen by the teacher to meet their emotional/reading level & interests. Math groups are small and right at each student’s level. Students who need more assistance are scheduled for 1:1 tutoring via zoom or phone calls to keep them working towards the year’s goals. Another great addition was our specialist teachers adding their content back in! Roots students have nature studies class, art lessons, social studies, coaching for creating their own gardens and virtual PE!
We are incredibly grateful for the ability to continue to provide an amazing academic experience to our students, even if it’s not anything close to what we had initially planned for the end of the year. We miss so many things about our school- playing basketball with JD, play practice with Cheryl-Ann, sound therapy with Lauren, recess with Kristin, our Friday rotation teachers, we miss all the parents who come in and assist and we miss field trips! (Don’t we all miss going places?!) But we continue to be grateful above all. Grateful for our health and safety, grateful to our community, grateful to teachers everywhere who are turning on a dime and reaching out to their students any way they can. We are grateful for resilience and tenacity so we know no matter what challenges come our way we will succeed. This may be the greatest lesson of all for our Roots Community School students. We hope they also know that they can succeed and thrive during hard times with hard work, innovation and determination. After all, our Roots Vision is “To Cultivate Generations of Humble, Tenacious & Innovative Learners”.