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We Can Be Together, Even Though We Are Apart

We Can Be Together, Even Though We Are Apart
Silvia Davis

“I just want to say thank you. I had a good time. I would still rather be at school for Field Day, but I had fun dressing up my dad and playing the fun games. So, I just wanted to say thank you.”

We Can Be Together, Even Though We Are Apart

“I just want to say thank you. I had a good time. I would still rather be at school for Field Day, but I had fun dressing up my dad and playing the fun games. So, I just wanted to say thank you.”

Just yesterday, I was listening to the podcast of two of our fifth grade students where they are reflecting on elements of their communities. In fifth grade, as a part of their Capstone Project, the students write and produce podcasts where they conduct interviews and then reflect in partnerships or groups of three on the ideas they have uncovered in pursuit of answering the question, “What is a community?” With their time in Lower School coming to a close, the girls were talking with one another about the teachers they have had over the years, and while one student has been at Wardlaw+Hartridge since Pre-Kindergarten, the other just joined us in fourth grade last year. It was mentioned that the newer student only had physical education class two times a week in her prior school. This came as a shock. “What? Only two times a week?” her podcast partner replied in surprise. I laughed a bit to myself as I thought about the privilege our students at W+H have in the Lower School with physical education classes five days a week. It is no secret that Lower School students, for the most part, love physical education. Children love going to their PE classes to run around, learn new skills and new sports, and be with their friends in a more free way then many parts of the traditional school day allows. So, when it comes to Field Day, basically a full day of PE, I’m sure it does not come as a surprise that this is one of the most beloved days of Lower Schoolers. Field Day might very well be the unofficial elementary school holiday.

This year, with the quarantine restrictions keeping us all in our homes, the predicament arose as to what to do about the most wonderful day of the year in the eyes of our students. Each week, our Teaching &​ Learning Specialist, our two School Counselors, and I meet with different grade levels and specialist teaching faculty. About a month ago, when in these meetings with the Health and Physical Education Department, this question came to the table. Mr. Lee Nicholls, Wardlaw+Hartridge’s Health and Physical Education Department Chair, quickly said, “We have some ideas. I think we can still have the day and use it as an opportunity to bring our community closer together even though we are apart.” That seems to be the phrase of the year, doesn’t it? It’s also the question of the year for schools: How do we bring our community closer together, even though we are apart? In fact, that question fully inspired Mrs. Shannon Sari, our Lower School Music Teacher, to write a song and have the Pre-Kindergarten through first grade students sing it in a virtual choir. “We Can Sing Together, Though We Are Apart.” If you have not seen this video on the Wardlaw+Hartridge Facebook page, do take a look, but only if you have tissues ready as it is a tear-jerker.  

Fast-forward a few weeks and Mr. Nicholls brought together the group of specialist teachers and pitched the idea of a Field Day Community Challenge. Instead of doing the traditional Field Day activities, Mr. Nicholls thought we might have a Community Challenge. In this version, some of the specialist teachers and I could join the physical education teachers in challenging the Lower Schoolers through different activities that they could do at home without specific equipment. In addition, it was decided to add a competitive element of two teams or houses: the Green Team and the Gold Team. Dividing the Lower School between the Green and the Gold and keeping families on the same team would add a Lower School-wide competitive element and really bring the grades together as even though they are apart, they can compete together. Mr. Nicholls, with his assistants Deanna ‘27 and Cian ‘25, put together instructional videos and created their own mini-Field Day in their home to help guide the Lower Schoolers through their challenges. Through the efforts of Mrs. Sari; Mrs. Erin Maciorowski, Lower School STEM Teacher, Mr. Matt Bergman, Lower School Band Teacher, Mrs. Maria Hinestroza, Lower School Spanish Teacher, Mr. Mike Romeo and Mr. Mike Howell, Lower School Physical Education Teachers, and countless hours of Mr. Nicholls’ time, we ended up with the first Lower School Virtual Field Day. SeeSaw is our student portfolio platform, and it has been key to gathering all of our students’ work and teachers’ communications in this time of distance learning. We decided to make SeeSaw pages for each grade level and their team. Students could find the links to videos of the challenges and then post their own photos and videos on the page to earn points for the Green and the Gold Teams. 

While we had high hopes for the day, we could have never expected what resulted. On Friday, May 22, 2020, after going to bed perhaps just before the sun arose due to last-minute loose ends to tie up, Mr. Nicholls sat down to see what might happen on Lower School Virtual Field Day. Each homeroom teacher held Morning Meeting on Zoom to gather their class together at 9 a.m. and assure all students could see their pages and knew what to do. Within an hour, when I looked on SeeSaw, I saw I had over 300 notifications! I started to go into each of the pages and not only did I see hundreds of videos of students challenging themselves with the scavenger hunt I created, but I saw children enjoying the Jump the River and the Potato Sack Races with their parents and brothers and sisters. The genuine smiles on the faces of all as they participated either inside or outside (on what turned out to be a beautiful day) elicited a feeling of joy I am not sure I can quite describe.

As the day went on and my notification numbers grew into the thousands, yes, thousands, I could not do much other than go in and out of each grade’s Green Team and Gold Team pages to see what was happening. I watched children doing soccer trick shots in their back yards and jumping for joy as if they had won the World Cup when they made it. I watched children playing their favorite song on their band instruments and doing so with their older siblings who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to do so. I watched children create incredibly complex obstacle courses and their whole family traverse the paths to victory. And, I watched the event that may have brought the most laughs, smiles, and joy – the Rammy Bonus Challenge, where children got to dress their parents up in silly costumes and dump buckets of water on them.

Mr. Webster and I watched the whole day, and we both agree that Lower School Virtual Field Day was the highlight of the week, and perhaps the year. We have made a video of just a few of the contributions of all of the Lower School students and their teachers to allow you to see the magic that was the 2020 Lower School Virtual Field Day.  Of course, we would much rather be physically in school with our students, as no educator is in this field to not be around children. But, given that was not an option, I’m so thankful that through the hard work of our teachers, most especially in this case Mr. Nicholls, we could be together, even though we are apart. 

  • Distance Learning