Tag Archives: school

Teacher-Parent Joy

On Friday, I had to give a series of short presentations about the middle school GSA to students in every advisory in the building. I was with my two wonderful colleagues, Kate and Vito, who have been co-leading the group with me for the past few years. Over the course of 90 minutes, we gave the presentation to a dozen different groups of students. We tried to keep it high energy, so we were running a bit ragged by the end of it. One of the last groups, however, made my day.

As we wrapped up our presentation, a girl called out, “Mr. Roy, are you Griffin’s dad?” I said, “Yes I am. Why do you ask?” She responded, “He is the nicest person I have ever met!” At which point, a bunch of other students chimed in in agreement.

This wasn’t surprising in the sense that I feared that Griffin wasn’t nice—my sense has always been that he is uncommonly kind—but it is rare for seventh graders to put themselves out there to compliment a classmate so publicly. Moreover, it helped quell any lingering anxiety about how he is settling into his new school.

Way to make an entrance, Griffin!

Rocky Start

Maggie and Oliver’s school made it three whole days before needing to temporarily shut down due to a COVID scare. They closed on Monday and Tuesday of this week because a vaccinated staff-member tested positive and may have had close contact with a wide array of people. They wanted to make sure the entire staff could get tested and recommended that all students do as well.

As long as we were testing the kids, we decided to just do it as a family, so we all traipsed over to the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in downtown Saint Paul on Sunday to spit in five vials. It went as quickly as it could have, with no line and plenty of tables. We were all pleased to have negative results.

School reopened on Wednesday. We’re hopeful that we’ll have a smoother ride from here on out.

Courage Retreat

Every fall, my school hires Youth Frontiers to conduct a day-long activity for our eighth graders called the Courage Retreat. I was skeptical about it the first time we ran it in 2010, but they won me over because they were able to win the students over.

This morning, while discussing the retreat with some new faculty members, one of my colleagues discovered a video on the Youth Frontiers site that features our school. These were our eighth graders three years ago, so they are in eleventh grade now. It was a great class.

The video is obviously an advertisement, but it warms my heart nevertheless. I thought some of you might enjoy catching a glimpse of one of the many things we do at SPA. Sharp eyes can even spot me in the background in a few shots.

In case the YouTube link above ever goes defunct, I made a personal copy of the video that should work in perpetuity below. (My guess is that YouTube’s streaming protocols are far more efficient, though, so I would watch the above copy as long as it is working.)

Griffin’s Application to SPA

As the school year kicks off, I’ve been spending more time on my laptop, and I keep running across files that I intended to post over the past year. (It was a very busy year!)

Attached below is a scanned copy of Griffin’s handwritten admission “essay” that he filled out last January when he first applied to St. Paul Academy (where I teach). I love it that he filled it out on his own without any input from Sarah or me. It’s a great snapshot of his thinking in the middle of a his sixth grade year. At this point, he hadn’t been at an in-person school for ten months.

You can view it below or click the download link below to view it in a larger window.

Barricade Day

One of my students is an ardent fan of Les Misérables. For the past few weeks, she has repeatedly asked if we can celebrate Barricade Day by building a barricade in our classroom. I laughed. But she was serious. I had never heard of Barricade Day. She was happy to fill me in. I hemmed and hawed. Finally, at our last class, it became apparent that this particular group would finish their video projects early. (They’re a pretty sharp, dedicated bunch.) I told my student that if she came up with a lesson plan that would teach the class about Barricade Day, I would give her 45 minutes to run the show today.

Sure enough, last night she emailed me a lesson plan with a 350-word mini-lecture about the June Rebellion of 1832, including images to share with the class and a short video. I honored my end of the bargain. at 1:45 sharp, we ended our regular social studies class and went to Paris to learn about the unrest there. At 2:00, filled with revolutionary zeal, we tore apart the classroom and built a barricade. (I did have two recommendations: don’t break anything and don’t get hurt.)

Here are the pictures my student shared followed by a picture of our 8th-grade version.

A Bit of Hope

As mentioned in prior posts, Oliver was in preschool this year for a few months at the beginning of the year. Now he is back at an outdoor preschool for three mornings a week.

Griffin and Maggie, however, have been in full distance-learning since last March. They’re used to it now, but it has been a major blow. A normal day in their Montessori school would involve 6-7 hours of constant interaction. Working with classmates, moving around the classroom, attending mini-lessons from the teacher, playing at recess, lunch, the school bus, etc.

Now they’ve got Zoom meetings, independent work, and an occasional minecraft game with their friends. I’m not knocking the school; they’re doing a great job. But the social gulf between this year and last is enormous.

It is with joy, therefore, that we dove into a program at their school where individual classes come to campus once-a-week for a few hours of all-outdoor social time. Maggie had her first day yesterday and Griffin went in this morning. (We only have a picture of Griffin at this point.) Hopefully this is the first step on the long road to normalcy.

Griffin with his friends at school together for the first time in 11 months.

No New News

No change on the home front just yet. Oliver remains free of symptoms. Sarah, Maggie, and I have intermittent sore throats, but nothing that would normally phase us much.

We await our test results as patiently as we can. Today was the first day of the 2–4 day window wherein we expect to hear back. Nothing yet…

This week has been an unusual teaching week for me, involving me teaching classes with students at school while I’m at home. Let me back up and provide a bit of context.

For the past seven weeks at my middle school, students have been in “distance learning” mode on Mondays and Tuesdays. On those days we all stay home and do school via Google Meet, similar to how we did it last spring and for the first few weeks of school in September. On Wednesday through Friday, we’ve been in hybrid mode where most students and teachers go to school. There are lots of policies and procedures to maximize safety (masks, desks six-feet apart, fancy air filters, hand washing and desk cleaning procedures, etc.) but it runs mostly like school used to be.

Owl camera

The only unusual wrinkle is that the students who are at home (for whatever reason—health risks, a family member with COVID, etc.) join the class remotely. We have these funky “Owl” cameras that provide a 360-degree view of the classroom. They zoom in on audio sources (like students or teachers talking in the classroom) and make the remote experience a bit more immersive. Naturally, they don’t always work as intended and there are lots of little issues, but it’s a cool idea.

Until this week, I’ve never really been on the other side of the Owl except when getting some training on them at the beginning of the year. This week, however, since I am in isolation, I attended my classes remotely. It was a strange experience seeing the bulk of my students through the Owl’s camera. We always have another adult in the classroom to help with physical things like collecting work, setting up the camera, managing a break in the middle of class, etc.

With more practice, I expect I would get better at it, but it’s hard to be seated in front of a camera when my students are mostly together in a classroom. I’m usually a pretty mobile teacher, gesturing wildly, jumping around the front of the room, checking on students individually, etc. It’s a lot harder to feel connected when I know that my face is hovering on a big screen at the side of the room.

But, this was a short-lived experiment. Due to skyrocketing COVID rates around the state, my school is going back to full-distance mode next week through at least the middle of January. The metric that Minnesota is using to guide schools is the two-week “cases per 10,000” rate for each county. I’ve been graphing the data for the counties around the Twin Cities (from which we draw the majority of our students). It’s pretty grim. Saint Paul is in Ramsey County and Minneapolis is in Hennepin. (Recently they’ve been nearly identical.)

Chart of cases per 10,000

The state recommends that middle- and high-schools move to full-distance mode if their county rises above 30 cases per 10,000. Elementary schools are also included when they hit 50 cases.

Both Hennepin and Ramsey counties hit 50 by the end of October. Based on daily case figures since then, we are estimated to be at around 70 cases now. In short, it’s a hot mess around here. (If anyone is interested in the raw data, here’s a link to the spreadsheet where I compile the information. It includes a link to the latest PDF from the state.)

That’s it for now. We’ll provide further updates if we learn anything new.