The Show Must Go On!

One of the most difficult things about our sudden school closure has been the loss of community traditions that we have come to treasure as milestones. This past Friday, April 3rd, would have marked our annual Shakespeare Night — a marvel of endearing and side-splitting performances by every grade in the school. However, the spirit of Parker perseverance shown by our students and faculty right now is inspirational. When it came to Shakespeare, our middle school students simply couldn’t bear to part with this long-standing tradition. So, they did what Parker students do best — they problem-solved.
Thanks to the hard work and thoughtful guidance of our middle school language arts teacher, Ian Marvinney, Parker middle school students have crafted a virtual Shakespeare experience for the entire Parker community to enjoy. Students composed thoughtful essays analyzing Shakespeare’s writing and created a “Shakespeare Personality Quiz” to direct readers to student work that fits with their interests. Parker students also produced a virtual Shakespeare performance!!! All of their work products can be found on the Parker ELA website , and we would like to invite you to both read and watch their amazing work!
In the meantime, please read on to hear more from our esteemed ELA teacher Ian Marvinney about the experience of teaching Shakespeare in times like these:
Why do you think it’s important to study Shakespeare? 
From an educational perspective, Shakespeare offers the opportunity to study poetry, drama, and all the important themes. From a community perspective, it offers a chance to perform. There is also the opportunity to put on our historical lens and observe the changes in social structures between his society and ours, and to reflect on our society. And of course there is the opportunity, with a little luck, to actually have real fun performing with the kids.
What do you like about studying Shakespeare with middle schoolers? 
I love how they jump on the social themes and are beautiful critics of social structure. I also love their surprise — surprise that Shakespeare can be so utterly crass. To quote Dylan (one of my 8th graders), “I thought Shakespeare was posh.” Or they are surprised that it’s funny. My 6th graders rarely expect so much physical comedy to come out of this work.
Why did you choose to continue your Shakespeare unit when Parker moved online?
There was genuine excitement about performing that we’d been building to all unit. The kids put a lot of hard work into reading, analyzing and performing both Romeo and Juliet (8th grade) and The Comedy of Errors (6/7th Grade) in the month leading up to our school closure. This year I also put special emphasis on the kids taking ownership of the performance. We had been generating ideas for weeks about what our work with Seano would look like. It was heartbreaking to step away from that.
Why was it important to you that your kids still had a “performance”?
There is an amazing sense of community with Shakespeare night. I was deeply moved by last year’s performance, and I didn’t want to lose this space. While our production this year doesn’t have the benefit of three professional entertainers to guide it’s development, it still produced some unexpected performances.
What challenges has studying Shakespeare online posed?
The space and the habits are not conducive to acting. So much of acting is REacting. Actors must respond to their peers. Middle Schoolers sometimes already struggle with authentically responding to their peers, and when you move this onto Zoom, where there is lag, poor audio, distractions on their home screens or in their workspaces, we lose the chance to be present.
Have there been any unexpected joys in studying Shakespeare online?
Where the presence and togetherness of performing was hurt, the solitude and thoughtfulness of the writing was enhanced. While working online, I was able to lecture, demo and work independently with students as they crafted their thoughts and writing in response to Shakespeare. It provided an opportunity for their work to be just about their work.
How has moving through this process with your middle schoolers impacted you?  
It’s made me a more effective teacher. I’ve learned how to craft, organize and implement online lessons that offer tools for all kinds of learners to flourish. I will certainly be better organized when I return to the physical classroom.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the effort and energy so many middle schoolers maintained over a month of distance learning. I feel buoyed and energized by their spirit.
*Shakespeare Night is meant to be a community event.  While this can’t happen as it typically would, we can still bolster our community! Please support our Parker middle schoolers’ efforts in one or both of the following ways: Have a watch party: Gather the family around and watch it together.  If so, please send us pictures of your watch party that we can repost online.Share the love: Send us back your shout-outs! Whose performance did you love? What was funny? Moving? Well-done? We will repost any shout-outs you send on the class website.All photos and reflections can be emailed to Ian Marvinney , who will be certain to share your love with his students:)
Parker Stuffy Census
Another wonderful example of Parker perseverance despite our campus closure is the 6th grade Stuffed Animal Census. Students began studying the census in math with Rose Nolan back in early March. Prior to moving online, they had conceptualized their own project to emulate the census work, and they were preparing to roll it out for our entire student community. The adversity of this past month has not impeded their work in the slightest. 
Undaunted by the school closure, Parker 6th graders “ZOOMed” into different classrooms around the school for their morning meetings to discuss their project and solicit student participation. Their survey was sent out via email, and they are now working to process the data that they collected. 
Here at Parker, we emphasize projects that encourage learning by doing. The census project is an excellent example of how little has changed about our students’ learning, despite the many changes in their physical environment. What’s more, this project will also facilitate multi-age, interdisciplinary learning. As Laura Graceffa explains, “Our older middle school students can look at these numbers and imagine what would happen if policies and resources were distributed according to which class has the most stuffed animals. Those decisions will be made using the US population data, and this gives the students a chance to think about the impact of census data.”
“Ultimately, we are educating to foster participation in a democratic society,” said Laura. “By practicing a census at school, we give students a memory of participation that will encourage them to be involved for the rest of their lives.”
“It’s a fun project with real world parallels, “ added Rose. “During this time that we are apart, it helps bring our school community together.”