Reflection by Eileen Sharbaugh
“Welcome back to school!” it felt good to say it even if it seemed odd to do so from behind a mask. That was not the only unfamiliar part of the first day of school. Instead of welcoming families inside the classroom, I was saying hello to parents from their cars in the parking lot, as their child exited without them and headed into the building. I believe this is likely the most unusual start to a new year that St. Paul’s Nursery School has ever experienced or honestly one that I could have ever imagined. One year ago, my mind was far from coordinating a remote student drop off area, developing small classroom cohorts, practicing temperature taking, or assuring we had an ample supply of PPE for the start of the school year.
Earlier this year, as the pandemic continued into the summer months, the focus and conversations at the nursery school shifted from what we were no longer able to do and began to draw attention to what we could do and to work to discover what was possible. How could we provide appropriate early learning opportunities for young children at this time? In what ways could we best support their families during this global crisis. Following the guidance of the experts (CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, Department of Health) the nursery school Board of Directors and staff constructed a reopening plan throughout the summer.
The current model, based on the school’s summer camp program, provides outdoor opportunities for a large portion of the two and a half hour sessions. The school is richly blessed by its location near Bird Park and tucked in a residential neighborhood with sidewalks. We have even found new ways to reimagine the playground space as well as other areas around and near the church building. We know there are many benefits to children spending more time outdoors. Nowhere is better than the outdoors for running, jumping, throwing, catching, pulling things, lifting, and carrying objects. All these actions require gross motor skills that get better only with practice. Children are more likely to be inventive, explore, and learn about the world around them when they spend time outdoors. Spending time together with peers helps children to do the important work of developing social and emotional skills which we know is foundational to future learning.
It has been an unusual start to the school year. Though much has changed, much remains the same. The children arrived, masks donned, willing to accept the “new normal” without too much fuss. They were ready to play, eager to explore, and will undoubtedly grow in mind, body, and spirit. Together the children and the staff will continue to learn throughout this most unique year ahead. I am confident all of us will be stretched in surprising new ways this school year and in ways that I could never have imagined.