HeadSpaceBlog3
Rebecca Geary

This is a perfect time of year: warm, fragrant days that harken to the summer not far behind us, and a winter not yet on the horizon. On campus, the mums are starting to bloom, and we are harvesting our Green Acres–grown pumpkins and watermelons. It is almost easy to forget the trying times we face amid the joyful voices of Pre-K racing trikes outside, the Kindergarteners reuniting for the first time today for on-campus instruction, and our animated 6th graders playing at the Woods playground for their meet-up.  

We are engaged in next steps of bringing more students on campus. Having reviewed several proposals and ideas for our next re-entry phases, I am prepared to announce those re-entry dates for the remaining Green Acres students’ return to campus with the Green Acres community on Thursday evening, October 8, after sharing them with staff and the board. At this point, the more notice folks have to prepare, the better. I will host monthly Town Halls for the Middle School and for the Lower School/Early Childhood Unit, respectively, to share updates, field questions, and hear your thoughts on how things are going to-date. We will start with a Pre-K to Grade 4 meeting on Thursday, October 8 from 8–8:45 PM and Grade 5–8 meeting on Friday, October 9 from 9–9:45 AM.  

Your perspectives are valued and will be taken into consideration. Please continue to stay engaged as we work through the constant changes and shifts this pandemic presents. Your support as a community bolsters us through the hard work we continue to tackle. 

I expressed to staff that, for me, this has been a time of reflecting on our recent past and on the year ahead. One thing I sense is the uncertainty that people feel on several fronts. With that in mind, I want to share the data and factors we are using to inform our re-entry process: 

  • Infection rates and transmission rates remain steady in Montgomery County (as of 10/5):
    New Confirmed Cases:  
    99 (3-day avg); declining numbers for 7/14 days 
    Most other data is declining for 14/14 days  
    Source: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/data/#dashboard
     
  • Test positivity (as of 10/5):  
    3.4% (3-day avg); declining numbers for 13/14 days 
    Source: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/covid19/data/#dashboard
     
  • Performance results from current students on campus:
    Having had Pre-K on campus for four weeks, we have streamlined our processes and followed health protocols. 
     
  • Ability to social distance and offer space for student activities 
    We have sectioned our many spacious playgrounds to allow equitable use of spaces as more grades come onto campus. 
     
  • Independent school networks and connections 
    We are observing and learning from independent schools in the area and nationally that have successfully brought many of their students on campus in a variety of ways. 
     
  • Analysis of decisions and reasonable accommodations 
    PPE is available to staff members, and the nurse is instructing them in its proper wear and use. 

    We meet as grade-level teams for those grades that are coming on campus to review all needs/issues and supports to address. We hire help (Pre-K assistants and Kindergarten shared assistant) and set up outdoor spaces (chairs, benches, tables) for use. 
     
  • To test or not to test, and how often 
    Whether we require a negative test result for staff and students on re-entry, or at regular intervals, is being weighed for the next phases from 1st grade up. 

By now, most families have signed and returned their Green Acres Community Agreement. Signing is the first step, but the most important is that we all practice behaviors that keep us all safe. I have been talking to heads of schools who shared that they see students on social media without masks and being unsafe. The consequence for older students is that schools restrict them from in-person instruction. I personally do not want to be a social media detective, but I know that your friends and students’ classmates are watching to see that you uphold the agreement you signed. Your risk puts others at risk, so let us care for each other and wear masks, clean and sanitize, social distance, and stay in cohorts/family groups to ensure best outcomes all around. Someone’s life may depend on it. 

In peace, 

 
RebeccaSignature

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

Read More about Post #6: October 5, 2020
Rebecca Geary

I write to you this morning, buoyed by the enthusiasm families brought to campus this weekend at our Playground Time event. As children made new friends and reveled in our beautiful green spaces, parents chatted and got to know each other. Of course, everyone remained distanced and wore masks. Kudos to Annie Groat, our Director of Institutional Advancement, who did the heavy lifting of planning. I also want to thank GASPA Co-chairs Aimee Wadeson '92 and Jennifer Lowe for their help in making this event a success. Who knew that pool noodles tag would become a new sport? 

Kids on playground

Over the past few weeks, I have joined colleagues and trustees in orienting and welcoming new families at our virtual coffees, as well as new trustees at this past weekend’s Board Retreat. I ask that returning families, staff, and trustees join me in supporting our newer community members, and likewise, that we open ourselves to learning and growing from the fresh lens our newcomers offer. 

This coming week, we will be assessing and deciding the timing of having Kindergarten join Pre-K on campus, as well as the subsequent timing of grades 1 and 2, should everything remain the same. As I mentioned before, while we review current State and County statistics, we will determine what works best for our community and space, given our 15 acres and low student-to-staff ratio.  

Likewise, we are finalizing a process and schedule for regular on-campus get-togethers (at the end of the school day or on weekends) until those grades are back on site. 

The first week of Pre-K was filled with joyful voices and activities—both planned and emergent—that made for busy, exciting days. The children even tracked a large katydid that visited campus! Seeing the Pre-K students make art outside was a treat, and I am impressed with how well they manage to keep their face coverings on (especially for an age where keeping track of shoes on their feet is no small feet feat!).

katydid

As you know, we continue to support staff who must work and teach while their own children are in virtual classrooms, and we have called upon some Extended Day staff to accommodate this need. A highlight was seeing two staff siblings share a turtle they rescued crossing the road on their way to Green Acres. They made a temporary habitat and, with staff help, released the critter during Choice Time. I have a soft spot for “save-the-animals” stories and enjoyed seeing the light in their eyes as they attended to the turtle. 

kids and turtle

The question came up recently about use of pronouns, both in nametags, as identifiers on video calls and in general. This practice is one of the many ways that we at Green Acres recognize and affirm gender non-binary folks and support their right to be identified correctly.   

Coming up for families this and next week are our virtual Back-to-School Nights. Responding to parent/guardian needs, we are providing the opportunity for you to hear from the adults who teach your child(ren), along with a Question & Answer time. We look forward to seeing you on screen, and to hearing your feedback about how we communicate so that we may be more responsive to how you access information about your child’s Green Acres experience.

Here's to another week of learning together, thinking critically and creatively, practicing our growth mindset, getting outdoors, and deepening our connections and friendships! 

In peace,

RebeccaGHeadshot
RebeccaSignature

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

 

Read More about Post #5: September 14, 2020
Rebecca Geary

I write this on the eve of the March on Washington 2020, and by the time you read this, the event will have passed.

Today our nation is hurting, from the violence against some people of color, to the rhetoric that inflames and pains. Please join me as I take a moment of silence for peace, humanity, and justice.

Together, let us reflect on what action and advocacy mean to our community at Green Acres. Engaged citizenship and participation in the democratic process are anchors of our School’s mission. We will continue to promote these practices now and in the future, through leadership and learning moments that amplify—and rely on—the voice of your children. You may recall that in 2017, our students and staff advocated and implemented a policy against the use of the Washington football team’s name and logo on campus; today, years later, this change is finally coming to pass. Change can begin with us—in small but mighty communities like ours that teach children to go out into the world and shape it into a kinder, more inclusive place.

Mentor and advocate for peace and education, Sonia Nieto, spoke with me before this year’s first all-staff virtual meeting. An educators’ educator, Sonia recounted to me her visit to Green Acres several years ago, and the impression that remained in her heart:

“I was so impressed when I visited [Green Acres]. I saw the kind of teaching and learning that went on... the expectations for students... The flexibility, the love, the encouragement, all of that was just wonderful to see. As I mentioned to you before, Rebecca, I walked out of that school saying: this is what every child should have.”

That recognition continues today, as one of our own, 4th grade teacher Alison Stern, was featured in Bethesda Magazine as one of six “Extraordinary Educators” in the region. (The article highlights Alison’s progressive teaching style and even features quotes from our families.) We are surrounded by teachers and staff who have a powerful impact on our students and each other as colleagues. They encourage, challenge, and motivate each other to do their best work, be their best selves, and work together toward a common goal.

Parents and guardians, community members and trustees, your continued feedback and shared perspectives help us to grow and to improve the experience at Green Acres for everyone. Yes, we will get some things wrong, and yes, we want to hear about this directly to address issues and adapt. The start of a school year is a perfect time to remind ourselves of the gift of making mistakes and the opportunity that missteps and stumbles provide to learn.

Last week and earlier this week, we invited Pre-K parents and guardians to engage in conversation with us about the HyFlex on-campus program, our health protocol, and remote experience. We heard thoughtful questions about how we would keep cohorts and groups isolated, the routine from drop-off to pick-up, what types of snacks folks should send with their children, and the flow of the academic and special subjects, balanced with time outdoors. We informed them that we would send each family a Community Agreement, as well as an addendum to our Community Handbook that covers COVID-19 procedures.

You will find these documents linked below. Please take a moment to read through them and to sign the Community Agreement prior to sending your child back to campus (for Pre-K, the return-to-campus date is Tuesday, September 8; for older grades, the date is still TBD). For easy reference, and to keep this request at the top of your mind, we will link to these documents in subsequent communications, such as our inaugural GreenLine, which you will receive in your email inbox this coming Monday.

I’ve also linked to the printable first-day-of-school signs we created for your children, and I look forward to seeing the joyful photos you send in from home!

Please read & sign: Community Agreement >
Community Handbook addendum for COVID-19 procedures >
First-day-of-school printable signs >

In addition to our moment of silence, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the stress and strain many of our families and staff may feel, between the isolation, the pressure to provide our young people with experiences that replace what currently is lost due to COVID-19, and the weight of caring for fragile family members and friends. I also acknowledge those who feel the responsibility as providers in a tough economy. Let us remember the importance of self-care, rest, getting out into nature, and creative expression through the arts.

I wish health, peace, and joy for you and your friends and families, and I am excited for the start of school for K–8 this coming Monday.

In peace,

RebeccaGHeadshot
RebeccaSignature

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

Read More about Post #4: August 28, 2020
Rebecca Geary, Head of School

“Progressive education, education as the practice of freedom, enables us to confront feelings of loss and restore our sense of connection. It teaches us how to create community.” -bell hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope.

It is safe to say that we all could use inspiration and hope as we chart these untested waters of what and where the pandemic may bring us over the next few months—and ultimately what our “new normal” may be.

As progressive educators and students, we seek to engage each other to ask questions, work together to seek knowledge, and benefit from each other's unique perspectives and talents. Students fan their creative and intellectual sparks through projects, discussions, and activities, which they have a role in shaping and engaging in fully. Equally important is that we strive to effectively create community, regardless of whether it is virtually or in person.

These new circumstances require us all to adopt a growth mindset, to be more self-reliant and independent, and to have a deeper sense of who we are as people and as learners. Fortunately, these are the very qualities we nurture through progressive education. The beauty of our approach is that we teach to the individual, allowing each child to excel as thinking, caring, passionate learners in their own style. Furthermore, students’ ability to advocate and express themselves among peers and with adults is a lifelong skill developed at Green Acres. The result? Lifelong learners who are enthusiastic, active participants in the school, community, and world.

A few years back, Director of Professional Development (and now also Lower School Head) Tracey Marks wrote a brief article entitled “What Kind of Teacher Does It Take to Teach Progressively?” As I marvel at the many ways in which your children’s teachers channel their inner progressive educator to take on today’s new challenges, I draw a connection to her description of the kind of teaching we value and practice at Green Acres—just as true in these COVID-19 times as they were in 2017:

A popular adage says that great teachers are born, not made. But is this true? I would venture to say that great teachers usually are born with a love of children, an enthusiasm for spending time with them, and an ability to connect with them at a deep and fundamental level. But the craft of teaching itself involves much more. 

This important work requires that teachers create curricula that meet students’ needs and interests. They must plan engaging lessons and identify students’ developmental levels and readiness to learn. To teach in a way that involves children, stimulates their desire to acquire knowledge, and unlocks their intrinsic motivation is a skill that takes time to develop and grow as teachers learn educational theories, familiarize themselves with educational research, and practice over time what they have learned in the classroom. With reflection, feedback, and practice, lessons improve in a recursive cycle. Teachers who thrive in a progressive classroom value the process of learning itself and find joy in developing in their students a lifelong love of it. 

Most notably, progressive teachers realize that they are impacting the lives of children—and this affects the future and changes the world. In his seminal book To Teach, William Ayers defines teachers as “relationship builders, inventors and creators, protectors and advocates and doers” (Ayers, To Teach, p. 12). I would argue that this best describes the progressive teacher, and the kind of teacher who thrives at Green Acres School.

Our talented progressive educators are harnessing their passion to practice their craft in new and unexpected ways, and I look forward to hearing your stories about the teaching and learning you witness, as well as sharing my own anecdotes, once school resumes. As we take a moment of gratitude for our community of teachers, I am also pleased to share that we recently made new hires for 1st grade and art, respectively.

Ryan Elias will be joining our community as a 1st grade Homecorner teacher, partnering with Ali. Ryan has been teaching since 2008 at a number of schools in New York City, both public and independent, including Park Children's Day School and TriBeCa Community School, among others. most recently, Ryan taught at The Langley School in McLean, VA. Ryan holds a Master's degree in Early Childhood & Special Education from Bank Street College. Ryan is a progressive teacher with broad experience as an early childhood educator. A graduate of a progressive school herself, Ryan believes that teachers have much to learn from children, and that learning is a lifelong endeavor. She is well-versed in offering young children engaging learning opportunities virtually, as well as in person, having produced numerous videos for children which are both enjoyable and instructive. 

Innovative teacher and gifted artist Eric Butters will be our new art teacher. Eric has worked with ceramics and photography in addition to drawing and painting, which are his areas of greatest passion as an artist. You can view Eric's artwork on his website. Eric has lived in the area for over 20 years, and he has taught students from a broad range of ages. Recently, he has been teaching art at Laurel High School, where among other things he led his students in developing a diversity mural for the town. Eric’s work in a virtual environment last semester highlighted his creative lesson designs and his technological savvy. He is especially excited to work with our younger students this fall.

Just as we welcome Ryan and Eric, we also say goodbye to Lara Marks Finder, who accepted a position as Director of Operations at her child’s preschool. Lara writes: “I feel prepared for this new position in many ways because of my experience at Green Acres. Watching all of you do your jobs with such creativity, passion, and expertise has been such an education. When friends ask me what it's like to work at Green Acres, I always talk about what a nice place it is, as if you have stepped into some alternate universe where people are decent and caring and love each other. I truly believe Green Acres makes its students better people, but I also feel like I've become a better person too. I'm so appreciative of the opportunity I've had to work and learn and laugh with all of you. I plan on taking those Green Acres priorities with me to my new school.” Our search to find a new Registrar and Head's Assistant is already in progress, and we hope to share more with you in the coming weeks.

Today I met with parents and guardians during three coffees to field questions and share information about our fall plans. I had led a similar town hall conversation with staff two weeks prior. What I gain from these conversations and perspectives is hearing the many different needs of our families.

While we strive to meet these needs, it is inevitable that some people will not agree with our decisions. We discussed the sample class schedules for Lower School and for Middle School, shared some health and safety protocols, and clarified what HyFlex means for families for whom in person may not work as campus starts to reopen in the future. We recorded the K–4 and Middle School talks and will share a link to that early next week, along with FAQs we derived from your questions. As you think of new questions or seek clarity, please reach out to your child(ren)’s division head, teacher, or me. Your feedback and input are most welcome and appreciated.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

In peace,

RebeccaGHeadshot
RebeccaSignature

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

Read More about Post #3: August 14, 2020
Rebecca Geary, Head of School

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