Lower school navigates in-person learning


Friends Seminary Communications

Lower school students work on a project from their desks.

Lila Safer-Bakal, Staff Writer

Lower school students have continued in-person learning this year. Unlike upper school students, they can take all of their classes in small cohort groups, which has allowed them to attend school on campus.

Class, however, has been far from normal. Mask wearing, an altered schedule, and constant reminders to practice personal hygiene have been some of the measures enforced by faculty and staff to create a safe work environment.

Students rarely gather in large groups to limit interaction between students. Classes meet in two pods of nine, rather than as full classes of eighteen. Associate teachers have been hired so that more rooms can be monitored. The hope is that by limiting exposure, there is less risk of transmission amongst students. Erin Gordon, Head of the Lower School, said that this is “one of the main ways that [they] are mitigating risk.”

The only time that the class can convene as a whole group is during recess and P.E. All of the students have recess outside – in one of the courtyards, the roof, or Rutherford Place.

To prevent potential spread in the classroom, it has also been essential to enforce mask-wearing throughout the day. This becomes more difficult during lunchtime, when students must take off their masks to eat. To mitigate risk, students sit at desks six feet apart to eat at their desks. “They’re not allowed to talk, so we watch videos, and they’re really good about it,” said second-grade teacher John Behling.

The academic schedule has also been changed to limit COVID-19 risk. In regular years, lower school students took subjects like Spanish, art, and music alongside their homeroom class. This year, subject-specific teachers have been assigned to a single grade level for eleven-week periods to minimize their exposure to students.

There have also been some schedule changes to accommodate other grades and limit the number of students on campus. Kindergarten through second grade comes into school every day because their classrooms are designed to accommodate smaller students, while third and fourth graders have Wednesdays online so high schoolers can come into school. On these days, third and fourth graders have their assigned subject – music, art, or Spanish – virtually.

Because multiple grades convening in the Meeting House presents a safety concern, Meeting for Worship is also online. Kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders Zoom into Meeting For Worship through a camera in their classrooms. Parents and the third and fourth grades Zoom from home. “I really miss the Meeting House,” said Shane Willard ’30. “So I try to look for my friends on the screen.”

Teachers have been impressed by the ability of lower schoolers to adapt to some aspects of this unprecedented version of school. When it comes to wearing masks, teachers have been surprised at how well the students have adapted. “The masking has been amazing… they’ve been really great at it,” Gordon said.

Teachers, however, frequently need to prompt students to stay six feet apart. “They’re good at trying,” Behling said. “They’re just not sure what six feet is, and they want to go right up to their friends.”

As COVID cases rise in New York City, many students and parents are worried that school will have to go completely virtual again. Even if this is an eventual necessity, Gordon is grateful that the year started in person.

“To have the opportunity to start the school year in person, where kids can form relationships with their teachers that can anchor them if we have to go into a virtual space has been a really necessary and helpful thing,” Gordon said.