The Best Antidote to Cynicism In The Schools

I went into the schools this week. Twice actually.

The best antidote to cynicism is going into the schools, seeing the professionals engaged in the enterprise of educating children. The teachers’ union in the pandemic is a complicated issue. But seeing the teachers, admins, and staff in the buildings, in the classrooms, with their kids, is singularly clarifying – they are doing heroic work.

My first visit was to pickup 20,000 masks donated by our sister city in China as part of the China Exchange (Chex) program, that my wife is involved in. I tend to be the labor, moving boxes to & from schools. When we got to the high school, I had my first (gloved) handshake since March – from Anthony Meyer. He’s there with the other admins, teachers and staff, in person, overseeing the education of our kids. I didn’t appreciate that I’d feel this way, but it is inspiring to witness.

Second time in schools this week – the Driscoll PTO newsletter mentioned the need for volunteers to cover lunch periods so that teachers have a chance to step out and eat their own lunch, their only break in the day. At Driscoll, there is a volunteers sign-up list. This week, I happened to click through to the signup and saw … no one signed up for Monday and open spots on Tuesday. I signed up as I had some time off.

I spent shifts in the cafeteria with two 6th grade classes, then later in the classrooms with a 1st grade class, a 3rd grade class, and a 4th grade class. I read a book to one class, watched a couple of episodes of Magic School bus, and generally oversaw kids who knew the program and were largely self-directed in safely eating lunch.

There are not enough grown-up bodies in the building for it to work. The 6th grade classrooms were in the cafeteria together because of logistics – there just weren’t enough grown-ups to cover in-class lunches. They can’t hire enough paraprofessionals or substitutes. Please, if you can cover a 30 min shift, consider volunteering. I assume other schools are in the same boat.

There are a couple parents who have been in *every day* since school opened, covering lunch shifts. These parents are selfless, unnamed heros not seeking any limelight, but instead doing the quiet work of making sure the system works, supporting the school, and very possibly your children.

Some observations:

The number of kids in the classrooms is low – having a 6 year old explain “we are cohort A and we don’t see the other cohort” is both adorable and heartbreaking. There were 5-8 kids in the classrooms, well spaced out.

The kids understand mask protocol / etiquette – recall I’m there during lunch. Masks off during lunch. They generally have learned not to talk while eating, while masks are off. I was reading and asked a question to them. One of the young kids grabbed their mask, covered their mouth and answered. <shudder>.

Ventilation: Attached are photos of the windows. These are lovely, solid, well built windows that tilt in. Hepa filters were cranked in the classrooms too, but noise is very moderate – it’s a low fan sound.

The librarian was also awesome – she brought a rolling cart of books for kids to checkout for the vacation. Two kids at a time, hand sanitizer before touching books, don’t touch anything else until you’re done. The 1st and 3rd graders came back into the classroom beaming, books in hand, then stuffed into backpacks. Another trip to the in-class sink for handwashing, then back to their well-spaced desk to resume lunch. Did I mention the 1st grade classes have in-class sinks and bathrooms? Let’s keep those in any new buildings, please.

They are, and IMO should be, cranking the heat and opening windows this winter. Yes, we are going to be wasteful of heat and energy. I’m 100% good with this trade off. Ventilation, masks, and hand hygiene keeps kids in school.

I didn’t realize that alternate stairwells had been designated either “up” or “down” stairs, to reduce crowding and interactions. I made the noob mistake of walking up the stairs designated as “down”. Someone politely asked if they had it wrong, I apologized and slowly realized what was going on.

(Aside: I heard the new building design at Driscoll doesn’t have windows that open .. because of building code? That seems absurd. Please – let’s make sure these exact same type of window are available in all new buildings built in Town? Because we have to plan assuming another pandemic, sooner than we think.)

In short:

  • This works.
  • Teachers & admins & staff in the buildings are heros
  • We need more volunteers to help
  • “Asynchronous learning” for kids below … 5th? 6th? 7th? grade is not working.
  • We need more space & grown-ups to get more kids in person. Newbury College is empty. How have we not commandeered this complex of buildings to get more low-density programs going?

(This post was original posted to the Brookline Public Schools Discussion group on Facebook)

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