When emergencies happen in your life, you hope that you are prepared to protect the people most important to you. When you bring children into the world, that hope increases exponentially and transforms into a primary necessity to ensure they get everything they need to survive and thrive. When the news broke that there would be a county-wide shut down of all schools due to the COVID-19 outbreak, I had many emotions: fear, relief, uncertainty, desperation, anxiety. First and foremost, I wondered how my children—Connor who is in the 2nd grade and Charlotte who is in the 1st grade—would be affected and how they would continue to flourish and grow as they had so far this 2019-2020 school year? I had a few doubts, but mostly hope that the kids’ school, Impact | Puget Sound Elementary, would rise to the occasion and respond with the care, dignity and love that we have felt since becoming part of this amazing community….and they did. I have never seen an organization embody and truly live out their core values than Impact Public Schools has during this crisis.
The last days of school before (what we believed) would be a 6-week shutdown were fraught with a sense of hurried concern. I helped cover the front desk at the school, as did a few other parents, and we all witnessed an uneasy, yet steady countenance in the school faculty. What never wavered was the rigor and joy with which the teachers led their students during this time. They still smiled bravely and kept their scholars' needs at the forefront. It became clear that the school would have to act fast to react to the ever-changing reports on the pandemic and do so with as much grace as they could. As the extent of the closure became clearer, and limits were being placed on large gatherings of people, more school events that had been previously planned began to get cancelled. A field trip to Woodland Park Zoo was cancelled, school-wide Community Meetings were cancelled, as well as the much-anticipated Showcases.
March marked the second round of Student Showcases at Impact | PSE. Showcases are quarterly open house events that allow all scholars to proudly present their project-based learning to their families and community members. They work hard to create quality pieces that demonstrate what their learning had been focused on in the months leading up to the Showcase. Before the news about school closures, all of the Showcases were scheduled and scholars were eager to share their work. When the scheduled Showcases were cancelled, both of my children were crushed. My 2nd grader, Connor, created Native American-inspired art pieces and my 1st grader, Charlotte, had worked very hard on a fabric unit in her class and was anxious to share a weaving she made. In true Impact fashion, championing one of their core values of Bold Ambitions, the school quickly changed course and pulled together a last-minute Scholar Showcase, partnering classrooms together to provide an opportunity for each student to show off their work. Charlotte’s teachers even arranged for her to be able to share her work with her brother, Connor. The quick thinking on the part of the staff and their ability to see how much their scholars were invested in demonstrating their Bold Ambitions made it clear they truly care about supporting each other in excellence.
After school, at the playground, you will often find many parents standing in the shade of the trees, sitting on the benches or huddled in groups on the basketball court, watching their children play together to get the last bits of energy out before heading home. The sense of close-knit community shared amongst parents is natural. Families have bonded over their children being in the same class or the same grade. They have grown close over volunteer projects they have worked on for Impact. Sometimes they just wander into a group that is chatting and can comfortably join in on the conversation. They convene on this familiar playground, sunny day after sunny day because the community is warm and inviting and we have the common bond of our Impact scholars. I am the 2nd Grade Lead for the Village Action Committee (or VAC), which is the community of families that meet to discuss how we can best support the school. Even though we meet monthly, and sometimes families can’t join due to work schedules or childcare, these times at the playground are precious for building valuable relationships and a sense of community. As a family community, we join in the core value of Brave Solidarity for and with the school. It is a safe and wonderful place to be, especially when we were faced with such uncertainty in the weeks ahead.
In the last week before school closed, many parents were worried. They worried about how the school would provide what their scholars needed. They worried about their jobs and livelihoods. They worried about childcare while they had to go to work. They worried about how their children would be fed breakfast and lunch every day, as many of them receive free and reduced lunch at school. They worried about how far behind their already-struggling child would fall without being at school for 6 weeks. I stood beside families as the week unfolded and shared in many of their fears. I thought about how the VAC could support parents through the closure. Would we still meet monthly? Would we still be able to plan for a fun field day? Could we still have Teacher Appreciation Week? What would happen to our community? With true and passionate intention, we met and voiced our concerns together. We developed a plan to continue meeting as a committee throughout the closure. If, for no other purpose, it would keep us connected as a vibrant family community, all striving to support our scholars the best way we knew how and to find ways to support the hardworking teachers and staff at Impact. Our first virtual meeting happened on Zoom on March 18, two days after the first day of the school closure. Eight families attended, including our devoted principal, Ms. Bean, and it felt like a warm hug for many of us still grappling with the newness of this situation while homeschooling our children. This meeting gave me immense hope in maintaining the family involvement we have cultivated all year.
During the last week of school, I watched Impact respond to the closure and to each concern with Brave Solidarity and Bold Ambitions. On the last day before closing, families cried alongside teachers, who were also grieving with the uncertainty of whether they’d see their scholars again this school year. They sent home bags of books, supplies and comprehensive packets of work along with a rigorous plan to continue with their online learning platforms. They checked out Chromebooks to as many scholars as they could possibly accommodate and, when that stock was depleted, raised funds to get devices into each scholars’ hands. They offered meal services to every single child who came to Impact each morning, taking care to follow the new and foreign “social distancing” guidelines, handing the meals over with love, care and encouraging words. Along with twice-weekly mentor check-in calls to each scholar, they created an interactive Impact at Home learning model that incorporated all aspects of scholars’ learning, including daily read-alouds with writing and art extensions, science spotlights and movement challenges. They demonstrated the core value of Team WA (all of Washington is our team, not just our school) in sharing their Impact At Home learning model with surrounding communities who’s district schools were still scrambling to come up with content for their students.
The unbelievable and unprecedented news of the rest of the school year being cancelled was announced by Governor Inslee during the first week of April. Already, Impact had a Phase 2 plan cued up and ready to launch on April 27th, which is the day the kids would have been returning to school. The VAC Lead Team met with the School Advisory Committee (a group of school leaders and lead teachers) the day before our next scheduled meeting on April 15th . The purpose was to discuss how Phase 2 DIstance Learning would work and how it would be presented to the families at large. I am so grateful that the voices, needs and concerns of families were included through the representation of our VAC Lead team in making such important decisions for our scholars and for their learning. Our VAC Meeting on April 15th was conducted on Zoom and was the most well-attended meeting we have ever hosted with over 45 families represented. It gives me great hope that we can continue to build this family community throughout the remainder of the year and, with Brave Solidarity, get through this together.
I am so excited for the innovative and heartfelt way Impact has embraced these changes to take my children’s learning to the next level for the remainder of the school year. I appreciate the hard work of all the teachers who have been forced into a strange world of remote teaching. Throughout this incredibly tumultuous time of great uncertainty and instability, I feel very fortunate to be an Impact Public School family.