During their first month back to school, school leaders and staff members at North Dayton School of Discovery have focused their remote learning on relationship building and making connections with students. The kindergarten through second-grade dean team recently hosted its first virtual Moral Focus assembly, which was well-attended by both students and in some cases, their parents.
Nearly 120 students logged on to the virtual program to learn about September’s Moral Focus virtue of the month, wisdom. “It was a hit and parents loved it!” said Victoria Simmons, principal at North Dayton. The assembly was led by Angela Wyckoff, dean of lower elementary at North Dayton, who spoke to the young learners and shared a video featuring the Kid President.
In preparation for the virtual assembly, each grade level was assigned a virtue for the month with direction to create a presentation that involves the students. “It is important that we empower our staff to lead events, and for everyone to see we are a community of learners,” said Wyckoff. “I encourage the team to present something that will be engaging for the students.”
Wyckoff also shared that while the school is in session in a traditional environment, students’ families are invited to attend, and that tradition has carried over into the virtual space. “Parents are a huge part of the success of the school community and of course their child's success,” said Wyckoff.
During the monthly Moral Focus assemblies, students honor the Student of the Month and recognize those who achieved Perfect Attendance. “Students are acknowledged by their peers, receive certificates, and are given a Dean Treat, usually a ‘Super Star’ pencil and a bookmark,” explained Wyckoff.
In addition to the Moral Focus assemblies, North Dayton has largely focused on enhancing their remote learning. “Virtual instruction takes quite a lot of effort by both the teacher and the student,” said Simmons. “It is a false perspective to think remote learning is easy. The teacher must be relentless and creative in how to engage students during live instruction and keep them wanting to join every day. We really work on teacher dynamism; teachers showing their passion and personality through the screen.”
Simmons shared that in addition to the creativity it takes to aid student engagement, her staff has focused on setting clear expectations and mirroring as closely as possible a traditional school day. Since they have students logging in from different settings, including students joining live sessions while their parents are at work, or logging on from daycare, it’s the responsibility of the teacher to break down barriers.
School leaders turn to teachers to share these vital details, such as learning environment information, so students can be provided necessary tools for success. For example, North Dayton’s school administration is providing headphones to students who are learning in a noisy environment to help minimize distraction. “Our goal is to break down barriers in ‘remote land’ so all students can learn because we do our best to create equity,” shared Simmons.
Another key goal of school leaders is aimed at learning about childhood and adult trauma and how it relates to creating a positive learning and working space. “Our students in Dayton have experienced trauma, following a tornado, COVID, and social injustice,” explained Simmons. “It was very important to the Eagle team that we build in PBIS [Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports] time in the calendar to promote positivity and relationship building.” She also shared that North Dayton invested time during the school’s opening week, holding professional development during staff meetings to learn more about this topic, led by the school’s trauma task force.
“Our trauma task force has implemented several mini professional development sessions to support both staff and students, focusing on mental, emotional, and academic needs for all,” Simmons said. “It is a lot, but as a team, we are getting through and improving.”
North Dayton will continue hosting monthly Moral Focus assemblies via Google Meet, following a rotating schedule that allows a variety of staff to be involved. Simmons also hopes that parents continue joining their students during these assemblies as “it allows them to see who we are and what we do as a school.”
While Simmons and her staff agree that they prefer face-to-face instruction and seeing their kids in person, they are taking the school year in stride and learning what they can do to make it a positive experience for students.
“We do our best to keep a positive mindset and work as a team to make online learning fun,” said Simmons. “Our teachers and dean team work closely to work on best practices to provide quality instruction while engaging students simultaneously. We have had bumps in the road with technology, however, teachers have really stepped up to provide development on resources and tools.”