Christ Church Day School Principal Nancy Funk, a born educator who comes from a family with an array of teachers from all over the U.S., can still be found in her office at CCDS most days. Throughout this pandemic, she is overseeing the eight classroom teachers, five specialty teachers and three assistants that all provide distance learning for the 91 CCDS students.
When they closed the school on March 13, Funk says that she thought classes would resume and they would have a week or more to get organized for distance learning, but that didn’t happen. She and her team had just two days to come up with a plan and then hit the ground running with a strategy. They saw what was working and what needed fine tuning leading up to spring break and they were then able to re-evaluate and come up with some more flexible options.
At first, they mainly focused on the students’ academic needs, but quickly learned that the emotional needs were equally as important if distance learning was going to be successful. Funk points out that the younger children are sad not to be in the classroom with their teachers and friends, so it definitely affects their outlook on wanting to do schoolwork. Older students are upset that they are out of their routine and can’t do their normal activities. “There is no doubt that this is a hard time for everyone, including teachers, students, and parents,” she comments.
CCDS is using a mixture of teaching tools for learning at home including books, packets, Google Meet, Zoom, classroom websites, and videotaped lessons. When asked if math was one of the harder subjects for parents to help their kids with because it is taught differently than years past, Funk said that they use the Singapore Math method and parents are educated on it at the beginning of the year and the books come with explanation notes and videos so the parents can learn along with their children. She cited writing as one of the hardest areas because it is difficult for parents to know how much help to give their children with grammar and spelling. Since the teachers already know the childrens’ abilities, they can offer guidance on how to best help the children progress.
She notes their specialty education programs as a big plus during this unprecedented time sharing that the art teacher posts video art lessons and the music teacher hosts singalongs. The Spanish teacher has customized a program for the first graders to practice counting from one to 20, scaling up to the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders conjugating verbs and writing Spanish sentences. The physical education teacher is making videos with her own three children in the background to demonstrate exercise activities the students can do at home.
When asked what a typical day of distance learning looks like, Funk said the day starts with a Zoom class meeting to touch base and introduce the lesson of the day. Then the children work independently on their lessons via packets, book, or videos. The teachers are also available for one on one Zoom meetings and host the class reading books aloud together. Kids are encouraged to take a “brain break” and have a scheduled lunch, snack, mindfulness activity and exercise time. Typically, the kids probably spend less time on schoolwork than when they are in regular classes. But the same is not true for teachers, who work longer hours learning new technology, as they create new videos and lesson plans.
Funk says they have moments of joy throughout this process as 37 screens tuned in to Thursday morning Zoom Chapel while they pray for each class and later the group spontaneously bursts into song when it’s someone’s birthday. The kids love to see each other, and they were delighted when Funk hosted a virtual bingo game. Some families had three kids, along with mom and dad, participating and 28 screens were online as they won donated prizes from Fuzziwigs Candy Factory.
In addition to the school web site, the teachers created a page for each classroom where the children and parents can find information. “We are learning along the way. We didn’t fully anticipate the emotional component of this experience for our students. We are using mindfulness activities to help with this,” says Funk. She sends daily emails to all the parents and does read alouds for the kids.
“In these uncertain times, we also have to think about our families and their dynamics, especially if parents are working from home, and adjust accordingly,” says Funk. The parents have been incredibly supportive through this process and communication has been key. “We realize that the parents are doing a lot of work during this time, especially with the younger kids. We want them to know that we are in this together,” she comments. She was thrilled to receive an email from a parent stating how much it meant for them to see how much the teachers care via the Zoom meetings. Funk says, “It gives parents a peek into the classroom that they don’t usually get.”
When asked about the future of students returning to the classroom, Funk said that she is adjusting to daily changes and watching what the San Diego Unified School District is doing as a benchmark on how to proceed when they can return. For example, how will classrooms, assemblies and playgrounds be modified? If returning to school doesn’t happen this year, then she says they will figure out how best to organize a virtual closing chapel and sixth grade graduation. For more information about CCDS, check out their website at www.ccds.org.