HeadSpaceBlog3
Sara Huneke

Its tongue lolling playfully on the ground, as if in response to the humid heat, the tire(d) dragon on the playground appears eager for someone to scramble on top of him and take a ride on an imaginary adventure. Sometimes I feel the residual energy of Green Acres students weaving in and out of the Castle or climbing atop the Mary Veronica pirate ship. Echoes of their laughter ring joyfully throughout our campus’s lush July greenery, vivid wildflowers, and butterfly bushes (already quivering with early Monarchs).

A few parents have asked about the potential for expanding our use of outside campus spaces. Part of the beauty of Green Acres is our woods, fields, creek, and student-friendly open spaces and structures (like the Gaga Pit) that invite exploration, play, and community. We are considering ways to extend the classroom through awnings, tents, and outdoor seating, and have been working with GASPA and our staff to envision age-appropriate, social-distanced activities, regardless of the on/off-campus status. As an experiential outdoor educator, I recognize the importance of our young people being immersed in nature. It is also a pillar of the Green Acres experience.  

KidsOutdoors

I am happy to announce the new names of our buildings, and to give appreciation to everyone whose participation offered some great options. We now present to you The Castle Building (formerly The 1-2 Building) and The Alice Mendham Powell (AMP) Building (formerly The 3-4 Building). As a newbie, I am not as attached to the previous names and am still working on getting to know the campus, its nomenclature, and special nooks and features. 

On the staffing front, we are wrapping up the search for a new art teacher (Shellie Marker announced her departure in the Spring) and were fortunate to have several talented candidates among whom to choose. 

A search for a new 1st grade teacher is also now underway. Jen Kaufmann, who taught at Green Acres for the past eight years as a much-beloved 2nd and 4th grade teacher, and who we anticipated would serve as one of our 1st grade teachers this upcoming year, will not be returning in the fall. I may not have gotten to know Jen well, but I know that her passion for social justice work at Green Acres has been noteworthy. Jen was an active participant in Staff SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity), SIDC (Staff Inclusion & Diversity Committee), and a variety of professional development related to this important work. Furthermore, Jen served twice as our CAPS (Capital Area Progressive Schools) representative, encouraging collaboration among like-minded progressive schools and planning events to foster that. In a departing email to staff, Jen shared: “My time at Green Acres has been such a gift to me.” Jen, I know I speak on behalf of the community when I say you will be sorely missed! 

Staff have been busier than ever this summer, from packing boxes and cleaning spaces in preparation for Diener’s arrival on campus, to hopping on Teams meetings that address the many topics of virtual learning and instruction. (Regardless of our final plan, there will undoubtedly be the need for online lessons.) I have been impressed by the depth of thinking and problem solving evident in those staff giving their time and energy. The care with which we proceed reminds me of the same premise for wearing face masks: we do it not just for ourselves, but out of respect and compassion for everyone around us. 

Speaking of caring, I am enjoying the opportunity to connect with Green Acres parents on my Friday “get-to-know-you” chats. (You can sign up for them here.) The bonus is seeing the students who join the call, and who are eager to impart their wisdom and perspectives. An 8th grader enthusiastically suggested that a middle school leadership idea I shared for feedback be tried starting this year. Folks have told me what the Green Acres experience has meant to them and their children. An alum (and current high schooler) on the call said that Green Acres helped boost their confidence in public speaking. Families shared how meaningful it has been for their children to learn self-advocacy, to be themselves at school, and to know that their opinions are valued at Green Acres. 

Your voices matter, too, and the end-of-year feedback you shared with us about our remote program adds an important lens to our planning of remote lessons for the fall. We learned that generally, folks were happy with the timing, schedule, and frequency of classes—but it goes without saying that some wanted more classes, and some wanted fewer.  

In the Lower School, you shared enthusiastic appreciation for synchronous lessons and one-on-one sessions with teachers—and many of you expressed that you’d like children to experience even more of that. Wanting more synchronous time with specials teachers was also a common theme. We learned that families generally found the Early Childhood and Grades 1–4 websites helpful, but that you’d like us to continue to find ways to refine, simplify, and streamline our communication with you.  

Student Playing Recorder
MS Remote Learning

100% of Middle School parent respondents were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with our remote program. They also expressed the need for advisory sessions, as well for as a lunch break. Both have tentatively been built into the schedule, should we go remote. Globally, Middle School student respondents liked the daily schedule, appreciated the synchronous collaborative work as well as the ability to work independently, and shared gratitude for how their teachers made learning engaging, despite the unprecedented circumstances. 

Across the board, effusive praise for our teachers—their flexibility, commitment, passion, and effectiveness—came through loud and clear. Similarly, we appreciated the same qualities in you as parents. A solid home-school partnership is always essential, and last spring demonstrated how very strong we truly are! I'm excited to continue this partnership with you as we journey through what awaits us in the fall.

We are not yet in a position to decide what fall re-entry will look like. As you know, Montgomery County health officials made a recommendation to the County school system earlier this week, and they will be addressing independent school administrators next week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidance for schools only yesterday. And we actively are tracking a rapidly changing public health picture in our region. As we consult with healthcare professionals and listen to our teachers and staff, we are evaluating closely our own capacity to deliver quality progressive instruction and experiences in a way that accounts for the challenges that COVID-19 presents. While we do benefit from flexibility as an independent school, we must be both practical and thoughtful in our decision-making. We anticipate sharing more definitive information by the end of the first week of August. Your patience, understanding, support, and guidance are most appreciated. 

In peace,

RebeccaGHeadshot
RebeccaSignature

Rebecca Geary (she/they)
Head of School
rebeccag@greenacres.org

Read More about Post #2: July 24, 2020
Rebecca Geary, Head of School

A “You Belong Here” sign greeted me when I first toured the Green Acres campus as a candidate. The words had a calming effect on me then, and that feeling endures as I reach the end of my first week as Head of School. I’ve begun to settle into my space here, and with excitement, I’ve started to deepen my sense of where things are, though the spaces are palpably absent of people and chatter. Our students’ masterpieces and projects still adorn the wall, vibrant vestiges of your children’s creativity and hard work—and a bright reminder of the invigorating environment that awaits us all when we return to campus.

Speaking of returning to campus, I sense the immediate pressure to share a detailed plan of what fall will look like, as we keep abreast of the ongoing changes that government and health professionals advise. While our decision-making is driven by the safety and health of all community members, as well as by our mission of child-centered, progressive teaching, it takes time to understand the needs of both individuals and the community, and to hear your voices, hopes, and concerns. The following is what I can share with you as of today:

Our plan is to establish a HyFlex model, which is a flexible plan that provides for various combinations of on-campus and remote learning. Once we finish evaluating class size related to classroom space configurations, we will secure any additional space, resources, and support that may be needed. At the same time, we will build out a robust, remote-only plan should regulations require a change, or if certain circumstances dictate a return to remote.

Many teachers and staff are meeting biweekly to address the student experience and staff considerations. A staff COVID-19 task force meets regularly to fine-tune our procedures as we learn more from the experts at the CDC, and from the leadership at NAIS. Now, as our plans finalize, we will be incorporating additional perspectives from our Board and advisors who hold expertise in relevant fields, such as epidemiology, medicine, and risk management. We will share a more comprehensive plan framework in the next week or so, which will take into account the updated requirements from the County and from the State of Maryland.

You as parents played a role by participating in our recent survey about Fall 2020, for which we had 120 respondents. According to our findings, the breakdown of parents who indicated that they would or probably would send their child(ren) to campus this fall is as follows:

  • Early Childhood Unit: 69%
  • Grades 1-4: 67%
  • Middle School: 71%

For those of you who are unsure or uncomfortable with the idea of sending your child to campus, please stay tuned for more information about how our HyFlex model may accommodate your family's needs.

Hearing and seeing students and their parents at the virtual Popsicles on the Playground was a treat! We had over 100 participants, including staff and families, returning and new. We even had a few special appearances by beloved pet members! I could feel the effusive energy through the screen. At that event, I announced Friday virtual office hours to give us a chance to get to know each other. Please find the link to sign up here. I look forward to hearing your Green Acres stories, as well as hopes and ideas from our new community members.

In my next blog post, I will share a summary of the end-of-year survey results. Our data tell a story not only of lessons learned from our atypical end to the school year, but also point to opportunities we can leverage to our benefit as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of our new normal. I will also share some thoughts about the work we face in answering our nation’s cry for help, as we heal and learn together from incidents that have both divided and united us.

I leave you with the words of Booker T. Washington, historic educator of color who founded the Tuskegee Institute (in my mother’s hometown of Tuskegee, Alabama): “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” While today we face many obstacles, I am buoyed by your caring, your engagement, and most importantly, your love for Green Acres that inspires our work to overcome whatever is thrown across our path. I am excited to journey along that path, wherever it leads us, together with you and your families.

In peace,

RebeccaGHeadshot
RebeccaSignature

Rebecca Geary (she/they)
Head of School
rebeccag@greenacres.org

 

Read More about Post #1: July 10, 2020
Reading in Castle Nook

Let's Connect!

Nina Chibber, Director of Admission, Pre-K–1
Sara Huneke, Associate Director of Admission, Grades 2–8
Judy Shniderman, Admission Assistant

P: 301.881.4100 x189 | F: 301.881.3319
admission@greenacres.org