Pioneering in a New Educational Landscape
When Becky Friend, our Director of Operations and Academics, wrote her doctoral dissertation on leadership in virtual instructional settings, she never imagined seeing those ideas in action as a necessary response to a global pandemic! Having taught college classes in online formats for better than a decade and coming to PSCS from a one-to-one technology school, her experience of virtual and E-learning was the backdrop of the work the Pioneer Springs staff would undertake this past March. Her poignant experience coupled with our staff’s adaptability, creativity, and commitment to students laid the foundation upon which we built our virtual practices. Just as it was then, we enter the fall with a primary focus on building a sense of community and training students (and parents) to be successful E-learners.
Pioneer Springs Community School, was among the first schools in Mecklenburg county to close its doors in response to the Coronavirus pandemic and open to virtual learning. On March 12th, 2020 the school’s administration notified its community of the plan to begin remote instruction stating, “What is easy for us at Pioneer Springs is the priority of safety.” What was not expected to be easy would be a transition from nature-based learning to a digital curriculum.
“When I signed in for our first Morning Mindfulness Meeting for virtual learning, I was feeling so sad, I missed my students already, and was very worried about them feeling disconnected from our community. But, then the meeting started, everyone was there, students were laughing, joking, even teasing each other and I realized that our community is still strong. When you are working on the foundation of a strong community, you can maintain that community in virtual spaces. That community becomes a really important source of emotional support in a trying time. It also remains a wonderful springboard for rigorous learning.” Heidi Magi, Middle School Educator
Pioneer Springs has a strong culture which embraces connections, hands-on learning, and the education of the whole child. However, within days last Spring, the educators pivoted from their charming classrooms and wooded campus and fully embraced virtual learning. Teachers created instructional videos, Zoom classroom meetings, and innovative plans for grade-level curriculum with an eye toward preparing students for the next grade. Virtual morning meetings, video bedtime stories, nature challenges, online book clubs, digital field trips, even spirit weeks, are engaging students and keeping up the momentum of learning. Students' days are structured with assignments, virtual meetings and personal check ins peppered with art projects, music lessons, and nature-based challenges. Earth Day 2020 was celebrated virtually with a campus wide “Trashion Show”, an opportunity for all students to showcase an article of clothing, a complete outfit, or an accessory they have created from things that normally would be disposed of either in recycling or trash. Further, associate teachers call students in all grade levels, K-9, on a weekly basis for one-to-one check-ins to maintain community and keep the fire for learning burning bright.
“Even though I miss my teachers and my friends I feel like it is awesome we are still learning from home and it’s been fun! We get to do a lot of fun and creative things with materials we have at our house like building obstacle courses or following a recipe and baking bread when we were learning about units of measure. Thankfully we have Zoom calls with our class so we can still know what everybody is up to and hang out while doing social distancing!” Quinn, 3rd Grade Pioneer Student.
“When it's all said and done we will return to the learning in the classroom with not only a greater sense of appreciation for physically being together, but also highly elevated levels of computer literacy.”
“As a parent at Pioneer Springs I have been so impressed with the proactive decision making happening collaboratively with administrators and teachers. Administration made the choice to close school before other area schools or CMS and, in a matter of a few days, they had moved from nature school to online school almost seamlessly! The teachers aren’t just sending us to random websites to learn, they have created lessons as usual and are posting to YouTube with valuable follow up content the kids can do on their own. They are teaching in small and large groups with Zoom calls and doing fun activities like online scavenger hunts and show and share on Zoom as well. The nature elements are still there, having kids do activities that get them out in nature (such as looking for letters in nature and spelling words) which helps with sanity and stir craziness of the whole family!” Caitlyn Boyle, Pioneer Parent
We love celebrating our extraordinary staff and their joyful and intentional efforts in remaining flexible and creative while adapting to a new environment of teaching and creating community.
1st and 2nd grade
Both Ms. Kara and Ms. Page created YouTube videos to engage their kiddos and keep kiddos connected.
Click here to check out 1st grade teacher Ms. Page’s virtual St. Patty’s day morning meeting. Click here for a bedtime story with 2nd grade teacher Ms. Kara
3rd Grade: Not only did they have a virtual pillow fight, 3rd grade has just started a new project of students' creating their own cross-curriculum board games as well as doing scavenger hunts when they sign on to their virtual meetings to help continue the momentum of student engagement.
4th Grade: 4th grade is doing a virtual spirit week, Ms. Michele sends daily doses of wildlife videos to her families and the grade also did a pet parade! The winner of the video contest entered by 4th grade will be announced on Wednesday April 15th- cross you fingers!
Click here to read the Spring Animal Rehabilitators of the Carolinas newsletter which features Pioneer Springs and Ms, Michele!
“The thing that has struck me most about the transition to online teaching is the importance of having a strong classroom community. I think that creating strong classroom communities is a one of the strengths of Pioneer Springs. We spend the first six weeks of school focusing on building a caring, respective, dynamic and cohesive community. Then we nurture that community every day with explicit strategies, including Morning Mindfulness Meetings and standing O's, as well as implicit strategies, including conflict resolution, modeling kindness, and bringing as much joy and laughter into every lesson as possible. We have daily Morning Mindfulness Meetings so that everyone has a chance to check in with each other, share how they are doing, and laugh together. We are also running Book Clubs twice a week. In these clubs students meet via Google Meet in small groups to talk about our current novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In these groups students talk about the plot points that confused them, speculate about why Harper Lee chose to structure the book in the way that they did, and analyze the theme of the book. I sit-in on part of the meetings, but pop out so that students can have frank conversations about the book (I don't want these meetings to be about performing their understanding in front of me-I want them to really dig in). After the meetings, they write reflections on what they have discussed. The students come up with questions and insights that I never would have thought of on my own, which leads me to see the book in a new way. Virtual learning is in no way ideal, in my opinion, learning is a deeply social activity--we need to hear the ideas of others, clarify our own ideas by talking about them with others, and respond to other's thoughts in order to learn. For all of this to happen we have to feel connected to the people that we are talking to, and we have to know that the value and respect us, as well as our ideas. So much of this is enabled by being in the same physical space as others. That being said, when you are working on the foundation of a strong community, you can maintain that community in virtual spaces. That community becomes a really important source of emotional support in a trying time. It also remains a wonderful springboard for rigorous learning.``