When the fledgling community of Belgrade watched the beautiful brick building (now named Quaw Elementary) being built on the north edge of town, I envision that they had a real sense of community pride. The district had moved from meeting in churches to meeting in a small wood-framed schoolhouse that they soon outgrew, but this new Belgrade Elementary School was a stately, Willson-designed masterpiece that would serve as a point of distinction. It was a place of gathering and learning and has remained that way since 1909.
The sincere hope of everyone at Belgrade Schools is that conditions will allow us to gather when classes are set to resume on August 26th. We are developing plans for various contingencies if health concerns prevent us from opening as usual. We want to be vigilant about protecting the health of over 3,600 students and our nearly 500 staff members. At the same time we realize that there are certain limitations to online learning.
Children are naturally social beings and the vast majority of children will seek out others with whom to interact. The Covid 19 isolation was not only difficult for extroverted adults, but also challenging for kids whose natural inclination is to play with others. That play opportunity is a great educational experiment and critically important to a child’s development.
The recent events have taught us that it is possible to deliver instruction remotely. Virtual classrooms can work, especially for older students, but we have to acknowledge the distance learning deficits. With distance learning we diminish that sense of community. Schools aren’t bringing people together to learn, to laugh, to play, to debate, to brainstorm, to give high-fives.
As a former elementary school teacher it’s been my experience that every classroom develops a sense of community. In turn, each school develops its own climate and culture. I’m pleased to say that the Belgrade Schools have developed positive, welcoming environments for children and visitors. Our schools are a big part of the identity of the melting pot we call Belgrade.
During the crisis, staff and parents have done a great job of planning activities to forge that sense of community while social distancing. There have been online events, drive-by parades, outside celebrations, and other creative ideas. We applaud those efforts.
The isolation of Covid-19 has likely changed us. We may not fully realize it until life goes back to a BC (Before Covid) routine. I may never shake hands with anyone again and hugging is totally out of the question! I do look forward to a few high-fives followed by a generous dose of hand sanitizer. And I anxiously anticipate walking through our Belgrade school communities to see the great learning that’s occurring and the bright faces of students. After all, schools bring people together and that’s a good thing!
Mark Halgren is the curriculum director for Belgrade Public Schools. The editor asked him to submit more columns.