On Thursday, April 23, Harbor Day School hosted a Zoom presentation on how parents can best support our students during this time of distance learning. Those speaking included Angi Evans (Head of School), James Gapp (Director of Technology), Susan Johnson (Director of Upper School), Melissa Mullane (Director of Lower School), and Susan Wood (School Psychologist), with a question and answer segment at the end of the presentation. They gave parents an overview of Harbor Day’s distance learning priorities by grade levels, guidance on how to handle screen time in our homes, and advice on how our families can cope and support each other emotionally during this unprecedented time.
Mrs. Evans opened the meeting by assuring parents that Harbor Day’s mission statement is the foundation for the distance learning program for our students, particularly emphasizing “Developing self-reliance, building strong moral character, and encouraging social responsibility are hallmarks of a Harbor Day education”. Mrs. Evans also provided insight to the restart of classes at Harbor Day’s campus – the school created a specialized task force to determine how to structure student attendance while following all legal guidelines for social distancing. If school is to reopen during this current school year, it is highly unlikely that all students would be on campus at once. School attendance would probably be on a staggered schedule on alternating days for the remainder of the year. As far as the new construction project, the target date is to start on June 8. All construction workers will adhere to strict health protocols, likely including daily temperature checks and use of personal protective equipment. All faculty and administration are eager to have school reopen, but will err on the side of caution for the health and safety of all the students and their families as well as faculty and staff.
James Gapp addressed the technological demands for the best home learning environment and spoke to many parents’ concern about monitoring screen time. Although parents should monitor screen time, the mental and emotional wellness of our children is a top priority and, in many cases, means screen time with friends. Video chats are important for our children to keep in touch with their friends at Harbor Day as well as other social connections in their lives. Mr. Gapp recommended that we stay connected as much as possible with our children and how they are spending their time. It is helpful to make a family plan - create a daily structure for our families, talk specifically about how we all can best handle our stress, and schedule specific times for breaks and family activities. When deciding what social media is appropriate for our children, he recommended Common Sense Media as a great resource summarizing online options.
Susan Johnson offered insight to the expectations Harbor Day has of their students in upper school. The online schedule for classes is mission-focused, with continued learning and connecting in both synchronous and asynchronous structures. Students are expected to be on time for classes, ready to learn, understand the technology involved, and in all settings show academic integrity. Students are encouraged to hone their organizational and time management skills throughout this distance learning experience. Students are encouraged to email their teachers to advocate for themselves and make it a priority to check emails and other communications by their teachers in a timely manner. As parents, she asked that we have a general understanding of our children’s school schedules and assigned homework. Mrs. Johnson also requested that we talk specifically with our children about the importance of their character and integrity in all aspects of their education. In closing, she encouraged us to look for the good in our children during this time; praise their efforts and recognize their accomplishments.
Melissa Mullane shared how our lower school is reaching our students - specifically emphasizing connections and fostering a sense of community. Teachers are actively interacting with students, students are engaging each other, and parents and teachers are working in partnership during distance learning. Expectations for lower school students during the school day include being on time, refraining from eating, no pets or siblings around during class time, sitting at a desk or a quiet place, and above all, participating. Mrs. Mullane encouraged parents to support their children throughout their school day and homework assignments, and in particular to work with them to create an environment optimal for their learning. Creating consistency in their day is crucial. Technology demands vary by grade level according to their general proficiency, and lower school faculty is gaining a greater understanding of how technology can support and enhance their curriculum. Students have a good variety of learning options now, from virtual field trips to read-alongs with our librarian Mrs. Meyer. Ultimately, Mrs. Mullane assured parents that lower school students are learning skills for life - by focusing on problem-solving, communication and collaboration, and resilience and flexibility.
Susan Wood discussed specifically how to be the best parent possible during this time. She expressed that it is impossible for parents to do it all at this time, and to accept ourselves and acknowledge that we are doing our best. Our focus should be on what we are accomplishing, not comparing our productivity levels from before to now. She reassured us that our families are not in this alone. Resiliency is a key skill we desire for our children and this is our opportunity to demonstrate this to them during this time. We are role models to our children - how we are responding to everything going on is definitely being noticed by them. Mrs. Wood offered great suggestions as to how we can best demonstrate resiliency to our children now: expressing a positive attitude, showing optimism, maintaining self-regulation, problem-solving, sharing a healthy handling of our feelings, eating well and staying active, and utilizing bonding moments with our loved ones at times such as family dinners. Most importantly, we need to be actively communicating with our children to help them navigate their emotions. We need to check in with them frequently and do our best to reassure them. Small changes such as limiting news, watching and sharing what is going on honestly but without anxiety will help them to better feel empowered. Throughout this time, she encouraged us to give ourselves a break and enjoy the bonding we are sharing with our families.
Parents are encouraged to reach out to their children’s teachers and administration regarding specific concerns. Harbor Day will continue to actively communicate with parents through the Weekly pushpage. Click here to view the slideshow from the meeting.