The Importance of Carrying On

These past two weeks have been laden with processing the news from our governor that school is closed for the remainder of the year. Although this news is difficult on many levels, it is wise to acknowledge that we do our students and teachers a grave disservice in interpreting it at face value. While there are certainly factors to mourn, it is also important to remember that here at Parker, school is still very much OPEN .Students at Parker are currently engaged in a rigorous online curriculum that includes daily meetings with teachers and specialists, asynchronous learning assignments, and teacher-facilitated social gatherings that include middle school advisories, lower school lunch chats, and PreK tea times. Most importantly, however, Parker students are moving forward with new content and curriculum, buoyed by our conviction that nurturing interests and curiosities facilitates a natural drive for lifelong learning.
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As our esteemed Academic Director Jennifer Gresens reflects, “Parker students are accustomed to being engaged and excited about their learning. In school, they are completing interesting projects, reading compelling books, playing fun games, and having meaningful conversations with friends and teachers. None of this has changed since we’ve moved online. It continues daily, and is propelled by the intrinsic motivation of our students under the guidance and encouragement of our exceptional teachers. Parker students are accustomed to having a great deal of control over their own learning. They are used to having a voice in the classroom and creating meaning from the knowledge they acquire. Even in a remote learning situation, our students are well equipped to continue this kind of independent study.”
So what new learning have Parker students been engaged with? Well, students in PreK are currently working on a building exploration unit, completing fairy homes and Tall Tower Challenges and welcoming an architect as a guest into their morning meeting. K-1 students are engaged in a backyard study, looking closely at trees, flowers, plants, and animals. Our 2-3 students just completed their Groundbreakers presentations (stay tuned for next week’s Snapshot!). This project was inspired by their study of the Civil Rights Movement and challenged students to extend their learning and look for other ways in which the spirit of the movement was very much alive. Each student studied a Groundbreaker who pushed boundaries, changed our culture, and helped open our world up more to include everyone. Nellie’s 4-5 students are continuing with their autobiography projects. This year, Nellie has challenged each student to move from their past (incorporating pivotal moments in their life that define who they are) to the present (and their view on the world and themselves today). Students will finally be asked to look towards their future, creating their world as if from a blank canvas.
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Under the direction of Leiana Hawkins, our lower school scientists are capitalizing on being home as an opportunity to slow down and notice the world around them. K-1 students have extended their backyard study to outdoor nature explorations, examining what they can find in buckets of soil, under rotted tree logs, and creating earthworm habitats. 2-3 scientists are choosing a scientific question that speaks to them (like “Which flowers bloom the fastest?”), and then using their weekly lessons to explore how science can answer their question. Students in 4-5, meanwhile, are deep in a study of birds leveraged by their own backyard observations.
At the middle school level, our ELA students have commenced with Book Clubs. As Ian explains, “Book clubs are an opportunity for students to take ownership over their own learning as they direct the conversation around their reading using skills that we’ve practiced throughout the school year. Students work with small groups to set reading goals and complete differentiated “jobs” that drive group discussions.”
Middle school math students are also in the process of starting their end of the year projects. Options include imagining, designing and building Tiny Dream Homes; Cooking Show and Cookbook projects; building Dream Houses including video tours or building manuals; or Math in the World Around Us: Personal Perspectives – conducting an interview with 1-2 people in the career field(s) of student’s choice.
Meanwhile, our 8th grade scientists recently started a game/simulation about renewable energies. Working in groups, they choose a power plan for Parker based on the real world and “Parker specific” drawbacks. As John Sherry explains, “I gave the students a very basic outline of the energy sources, and each group has gone far beyond my expectations. Some asked for the surface area of Parker’s roof to calculate how many solar panels they could fit up there. Others who work for the fossil fuel companies have thought of very elaborate ways to make their points seem very enticing to the non questioning observer.” 
As is typical for this time of year, middle school social studies students are deep into their thesis writing projects. 6th and 7th graders are in the process of researching and writing mini-theses, while the 8th grade class has been working on their theses since January. On May 21st, our 8th graders’ will present at their virtual Thesis Night. Derek Fox, our social studies teacher, reflects, “On this night, the 8th graders will have an opportunity to make themselves, their family, and the Parker community proud. They will display their research to a live audience on Zoom, and defend their theses with scholarly evidence to support their positions. I commend their effort and sacrifice, especially over these past few months, and I am looking forward to seeing them shine.”
Across all grade levels, our arts curriculums are moving forward with new and exciting content as well! Music teacher Sara Feltes is leading her 2nd-5th graders through their much-beloved recorder curriculum. Spanish teacher Jen Baker is continuing to host all Zoom lessons in Spanish, progressing on students’ vocabulary and conversation skills. K-5 art students have been hard at work creating their Coronavirus Time Capsules, and art teacher Claire Sherwood is also ending the year with a whole-school museum challenge.
So why is it significant that Parker students are continuing forward with novel content and curriculum? Jennifer Gresens explains, “It is so important to continue with new learning at this point so that kids continue to see themselves as students, capable of great things. Just because we are not together physically, the excitement of learning something new should not stop. The thrill of discovery never ends. Parker teachers have always worked to develop their student’s love of learning, self-knowledge and identity, agency, and sense of belonging. Rather than looking at learning as a set of facts to be memorized or skills to be learned out of context, teachers at Parker are working to support their student’s capacity to engage with, understand, and interact with the world around them.”
Jennifer concluded with the following thoughts: “One of my greatest takeaways about academics during this time is that learning is happening everywhere our children are. The common assumption is that learning equals school time, when we are in our seats with a teacher at the front of the room. This time online has shown us that when children are provided the support and encouragement from a caring teacher and supportive parents, learning continues. Children are learning about the natural world when they notice flowers blooming and hear birds singing while out on a walk, they are learning valuable household skills as they assume their share of the family chores, they learn patience and understanding as they cooperate with siblings at home, they are even learning to collaborate as they engage in video games with their friends online. Learning isn’t something that happens only to individual children. Children learn with and from one another in a caring community. Despite our current challenges, we’ve maintained that community, through the love and dedication of Parker teachers and the unwavering support of our Parker families.”
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More Character During Crisis
“Savannah has been working on building a hydroponic system with her dad. They have started many seeds in dirt for our garden too. They are growing everything from lettuce, to raspberry trees, to cantaloupe, and mom’s favorites – lavender. Savannah especially enjoys harvesting wheat grass and making juice out of it. Another thing she has worked on is mortaring bricks together from a torn down building to make a fire pit.” ~Suzanne Martin (Savannah, Kindergarten)
“Laying in bed this morning she says excitedly, ‘Today’s the day for my pretend trip to the Caribbean!’ Then she proceeded to pack:)” ~Amanda Weller (Devi, 3rd grade)