As an elementary Principal, I often get asked, “How is school going?” My grandpa visits each Saturday morning and asks routinely. Although I don’t remember being asked this question quite as much prior to this year, I do see the conversation as a chance to inform others. When I respond with, “Fabulous!” or “It’s going so, so great,” I sometimes get a look of surprise from the person who asked the question. From there, I am able to share about what school really looks like considering all of our realities.

COVID19 has definitely changed the way things look at school and even some of the routine practices within our systems. Students and staff wear face coverings, there is less interaction between students of different classes within the building, and the quiet sound of the hand sanitizer pump can be heard around every corner all day long. Staff spent a great deal of time prior to school starting discussing changes in routines such as exit and entry patterns to avoid mixed groups, visual markings so groups maintain at least a six foot distance, and additional sanitizing practices. Staff continue to focus on ways to provide the safest possible environment for students at school. Pictures we are able to take at school show just a small portion of what one might see in the building, a classroom, or at recess, but they don’t do justice to describing the feeling.

When preparing for the year, we had a conversation as a PBIS leadership team about how we want school to feel. Mr. West, Principal at Atkins Elementary, said it best. “I want it to feel like school.” This may seem like an obvious statement but it summarized what everyone in the group was describing. At school, students feel connected. I observe collaboration occurring between students, adults, and students and adults. At school, students feel safe. As shared previously, I see everyone working together to create a safe and healthy environment for all. At school, students feel engaged in rigorous, relevant content. I observe teachers providing direct instruction in all contents including reading, math, science, social studies, physical education, music, art, technology, and social/emotional/behavior. This comes in a variety of forms including whole group, small group, and individual instruction. A range of tools to support that engagement are also being used such as books, manipulatives for making words or practicing a math skill, technologies, and more. None of these feelings are new, specific to this year, or a result of COVID19. All of this makes the feeling behind the pictures feel like school.

A few students at Keystone Elementary are learning in a new and different way. Due to health concerns, a few families have made the choice to learn from and with Benton CSD at home. This is another new look to learning for us. While this environment looks different from home than it does in the building, students in the Hybrid Tier 1 At-Home Learning plan are experiencing what they can using tools like Google and Seesaw to access information. We cannot fully replicate the school experience and learning opportunities, but our teachers are working incredibly hard to create meaningful, relevant learning for these students until they are able or ready to return.

Although learning looks different in some ways than it did in the past, there are certainly key pieces that haven’t changed. At Benton Community, those key pieces are rooted in relationships amongst Bobcats and are absolutely what makes Benton Community A Place to Belong.

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