November 23, 2020
As we approach Thanksgiving, a season in which we traditionally give thanks for our blessings throughout the year, I cannot help but harbor a feeling of ambivalence: we have much to celebrate, but the year also brought many grave challenges.
The 2020-2021 school year began with a revelation that one of our students, Joel Sisson (Jody), was diagnosed with a serious illness. He is still hospitalized today, fighting off his illness as I write this letter. There has not been a day that Jody has not been on my mind since I became aware of his diagnosis. I am certain there are many others in the secondary school who will say the same. However, the Jody I know is a very strong young man. I have no doubt that he will pull through this.
We have so far managed to safely complete the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year. The highlight of last quarter was the introduction of a hybrid form of teaching and learning. This brought with it numerous challenges for students, parents and teachers. I will be the first to admit that this is not the ideal method of teaching and learning. It is currently the only method of instruction that allows us to safely accommodate students in the building.
One of the biggest drawbacks last quarter, and still a major threat to the current quarter and beyond, is students’ attendance. We knew there were some infrastructure deficiencies that would be a hindrance to students’ full participation, but my frustration with attendance goes beyond this. It has been a challenge to fully engage all our students every day even when internet connectivity is not the problem. The reality is that some students are not as motivated to join their classes virtually as others, and some students are genuinely having problems learning through this method of attending school from behind a computer screen. Students need to have the attention of their teachers. The teachers here at BKW Secondary are also desirous of having the students back in the classroom. However, COVID-19 has forced us to limit the number of students we can safely accommodate in each class.
To combat the problem of insufficient attendance, we have been accepting parents’ requests to have their children safely return to the building. This has been a pure numbers game—the number of students in each class has been capped based on the size of the room and the recommended spacing guideline. Unfortunately, we do not and will never have the ability to have all students return to the building full time under these conditions. Whenever possible, we were able to schedule students back to the building from fully remote, and full time in the building back from hybrid. Regretfully, we have not always been able to accommodate the requests of all parents.
At the conclusion of the second quarter, we will again be accepting parents’ requests for changes in their children’s schedule. Please understand if we are unable to grant your requests. It is not that we are unsympathetic to your child’s frustration as he or she struggles with hybrid learning, but there may be a shortage of space in the classroom.
Yes, this school year has brought with it a series of challenges and disappointing news, but there are some things for which I am still thankful: I am thankful for being surrounded by a dedicated group of teachers and support staff members who have made the reopening of school a success. It is because of these individuals that we have been able to respond to the needs of our students and safely accommodate more students to the building.
I am thankful for Jody. He is a fine young man whom I have had the pleasure and honor of interacting. I am thankful that he has loving and supportive parents, family, friends and an entire community who have been pulling for him every step of the way. I am also thankful for the lesson on humility and gratitude for what I have that I am learning from Jody through his battle with his illness.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, and we count the blessings that we have had in the last year, I ask everyone to remember Jody. Please keep him in your thoughts.
Along with this letter, I will be sending parents and guardians a contact information form that I am asking them to complete for each child you have in the secondary school. We want to ensure that in the event of an emergency, delayed opening or school closure, we are able to communicate effectively with you. Please return the completed form with your child as soon as possible.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
Mark A. Pitterson, Ed.D.