Each Friday during the school year I share with staff, volunteers, nonprofits and contracted personnel who work with our students at Roots and Wings Community School a communication titled "Solid Roots, Fluttering Wings," which reviews the past week and previews the coming week. The goal is to reflect on challenges and to celebrate successes, while preparing to deliver a richer educational experience for our students and a more gratifying professional experience for our educators in the weeks ahead. What it means to be "solidly grounded" or "fluttering with enthusiasm" has changed significantly in the last two months.
Like most schools in the country, Roots and Wings has had to re-examine the meaning of the core of our mission: to engage the head, hands and the heart. On nearly every pre-isolation school day, students spent at least one and a half hours outside. Typically, in the spring there are days of scurrying about with outdoor gardening and building projects. Students would have had up to three off-campus whole-day field trips and extended camping and wilderness adventures ranging from three to six days. Those are distant days ... a reality only 60 days old.
Currently, teachers are offering projects that call for an application of knowledge built up prior to our spring break the week of March 9. Our semester expeditionary theme is "the human body," and students were exploring human anatomical systems and functions built around state learning standards. In our education model, this exploration culminates with a final product that is shared and celebrated publicly at the end of each semester.
Under the guidance of Ms. Annalise Zosel, the kindergarten, first- and second-grade students are using information learned in January and February on four body systems and applying it to circumstances related to life with coronavirus through the medium of a 60-second Care-mercial filmed at home. One student is focusing on the need to get outside. Another will explore the benefits of sunshine. A different student will share a plan for movement between screen time.
Our third-, fourth- and fifth-graders have chosen a human body system to research and write about. Under the supervision of teachers Rose Dragoo and Evan Sanchez, these students will have the option to deliver their final product with illustrations in the form of a comic book.
Also facilitated by Ms. Dragoo and Mr. Sanchez, the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students are writing historical fiction about choosing "your own adventure" stories set in the Middle Ages. The original works must remain historically accurate while splintering in several directions and offering various potential endings based on choices of the reader. Students are conferencing online with a classmate and one of four participating adult mentors through an intensive editing process. Stories will be published in an anthology that will be available later in the summer. Nathaniel Heaton's (7th grade) story has already been selected for an animation project through TrueKids1.
All of these classes will share their final products through virtual Celebrations of Learning in late May. Until that time, we are sharing student and family projects in a photo gallery on our website. We also seized the opportunity when parent Stephanie Owens offered a Zoom dissection of a sheep brain with sons Asa Hutchinson (1st grade) and Kendrick Laidlaw (7th grade) assisting.
In preparation for our next learning adventure in the fall, older students are keeping written and/or digital journals of curiosities, emotions, troubles and delights during this new living and learning situation. The final product just may be coming to a (home?) theater near you in December.
Lastly, to paraphrase Dr. Gwen Perea-Warninent, Deputy Cabinet Secretary at the Public Education Department (PED), our job now is not to drill the next academic standard or benchmark, but to help our children feel comfortable and safe in this world. To this end, PED accepted Roots and Wings' idea for families to keep a "Mission-Inspired Home Learning Log," in which families record their activities that engage the head, hands and heart. Parents have shared stories of their kids making and posting signs advertising food distribution sites for the Taos Municipal Schools; of a kindergarten student helping his dad lay a new gravel walkway; of a brother and sister designing, cutting out and sewing clothes for their stuffed animals. Is this school? No. Are these kinds of home projects essential? Yes, more than ever. Solid roots and fluttering wings.