COVID Chronicles is a series to capture Baltimore County Public Schools’ activities during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Have a story idea to share with us? Please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MIDDLE RIVER—“Sitting right in the heart of Middle River.” That’s how Glenmar Elementary School Principal Dr. Delores Tedeschi describes the school.
“It’s a true community school,” she says, “surrounded by townhouses.” Almost all the students walk to school except some students with special needs who arrive on two buses. “At the end of the school day, often family members come to walk students home.”
After the pandemic led the state to close Maryland’s schools, and after Baltimore County Public Schools initiated its Continuity of Learning plan, Tedeschi says her first thought was about how to reach all the school’s students.
“We immediately instituted morning announcements via Google Meet,” Tedeschi says.
“We go through our regular routine, saying the pledge of allegiance, reviewing our code of conduct and virtue of the month, making birthday shout-outs, and sharing mindful moments. We have guest speakers throughout the week, like our math and reading specialists. They give updates and share ideas. We are trying to give the kids their routine back.”
LETTING PARENTS KNOW THEY ARE NOT ALONE
Tedeschi herself is a mother of three now grown children: twins now living in Miami and a daughter, Dr. Taisha Martin, school counseling department chair at Dumbarton Middle School.
“You don’t know what the parents are going through,” says Vivian Kerner, Glenmar’s Title I school to community coordinator. “We wanted to let them know that they are not alone. Our families have all kinds of different needs. A lot of elementary students might be using an older sibling’s device.Some students are bouncing between households or staying with grandparents because their parents are essential workers. We wanted to find a way to support everyone.”
“That’s how I came up with the idea for an online Parent Wellness Course,” Tedeschi says. “We have so many resources. I wanted to create a simple way to share them.”
Tedeschi’s first step was to bring together Glenmar’s school counselor, Jessica Platt, social worker, Simona Parker, and two of the school’s Title I staff, an academic engagement teacher, Donna Krach, and Kerner.
What they created, the Parent Wellness Course, offers online gatherings each Tuesday through Friday as well as a library of online resources organized in easy-to-access folders.
On Tuesday, the group meets at noon. Wednesday through Friday, it meets at 2 p.m. On Tuesdays, parents can drop-in for a Lunch Bunch with the academic engagement teacher.
During lunch bunches, parents can ask questions about what their students are learning or discuss other issues. Wellness Wednesday is hosted by the school counselor, who does mindfulness activities and talks about physical and emotional self-care and community resources. The school social worker leads Thoughtful Thursday. Fun Friday is the Kerner’s responsibility. She shows the parents fun virtual games and tours to do with their kids or on their own.
SUCCESS — AFTER A LITTLE GLITCH
“When the school building is open,” says Kerner, “one of the things I am known for is my family lending library of games, books on parenting, and other materials. On our last day of in-person classes, games were flying off the shelf. The library media specialist was trying to send the students home with plenty of books, and I was trying to send them home with plenty of games and activities.”
“My Fun Fridays are kind of an extension of what I was already doing. This is a stressful time so I want to suggest new ways, fun ways that families can spend time together and keep learning. I want to help parents get ready for the weekend. By the time they get to Friday, they are thinking oh boy, Saturday and Sunday, now what. I highlight virtual field trips, read-alouds, and activities as well as things families can do in their own backyards.”
“I try to help parents think outside the box. Many of them feel like they have pulled out all their tricks. They are looking for new ways to spice it up.”“When we first launched the Parent Wellness Course, initially there was no response,” Tedeschi says.
“I had sent a call out, put it in an email. Teachers had called all the parents to be sure we had their correct email addresses. We didn’t understand why no one was interested. But then, a parent emailed me and said that she couldn’t sign in to the course.”
“That’s when we realized that no one was participating because parents didn’t have access… We asked for parents to send us their email addresses if they wanted to participate and that same day 26 parents indicated their interest… Now we are up to 67 participants, including some staff members. They are staff members but also parents.”
“The reaction we are getting from parents is overwhelmingly positive,” Tedeschi says. “They appreciate the consistency of it, and they like that they can go back later and see the resources that were shared and even see recordings of the sessions.”
One of the really exciting developments, according to Tedeschi, is that parents are now volunteering to also be presenters and to share their skills and knowledge – like workouts and yoga. Other parents are reporting that the sessions have helped them change their attitudes.
“What we are trying to do at Glenmar,” Tedeschi says, “is to keep students as engaged as possible and to make things a little easier for parents.”
Tedeschi says Glenmar teachers are pleased with the change to class meetings every day. Many were already teaching mini-lessons twice each week. “We are really excited to see the children every day and to have them get to see us and their classmates.”
Something else the school community is looking forward to? Upcoming virtual dance parties on Thursday afternoons with DJ Clark.