Hello Barrows Families!
This time of year we are filled with transitions. The wrapping up of a school year, although exciting and filled with celebrations, can also provoke anxiety for students around change and leaving beloved teachers or peers. We will do our best to be mindful of supporting our learners through this time, and also encourage you to talk through these feelings with your children. Let your child know it’s common to feel happy/excited and sad/nervous at the same time. Consider strategies that may help them work through these feelings (talking to a trusted adult, writing in a journal, drawing a picture for their friend or teacher, reflecting on past transitions and their success, etc.)
One of our upcoming transitional activities is our Move-up day. Here at Barrows on Move-up day students travel with their current class “up” to the next grade level teachers/classrooms. Students have the opportunity to travel into each of the next grade-level classrooms, meet all of the teachers, and hear a bit about the things they will learn next year. Many of our grade level teachers collaborate and work together to support students, and this structure provides an opportunity for all of our students to get to know all of our teachers and vice versa. The goal is that this time allows students to continue to enjoy the end of the year with their current class and teacher while also providing a preview and thoughtful transition to the upcoming year.
I recently had an inquiry about the design and structure of our day so I hope that this information will help to answer questions about why we structure it this way and how it came to be. As I noted at the start, this time of year holds heightened emotions for all involved. During the 2013-14 school year staff shared concerns about the Move-up day structure. For many students the desire to keep their best friend in their class or a perception of a desired teacher feels like the most important values for their forthcoming year. We understand and acknowledge the benefits of positive peer and teacher connections; unfortunately what was happening in practice was we had many students that had difficulty with the day as they became very focused on not being with a particular peer or feeling left out of a group. This translated to students feeling stressed and anxious, tears, and feelings of disappointment (instead of hope and promise) for their upcoming year. It was also observed that students seemingly missed information that was being shared, as their focus was elsewhere. Staff reported that this lead to the end of the school year turning into a ‘recovery’ with students about than a celebration of a successful positive experience as a classroom community, leading to the all-important last day reflection and wrap-up being lost.
I have spent time over the last couple of months asking other principals around the state how they handle Move-up day to inquire if there are alternative ways to best support our transitioning learners. I have found that the majority of schools that I have heard from either follow the last-day notifications similar to Barrows or do not release the names of teachers to students until mid-summer or the week prior to school starting. Their reasons (which are ones we face and try to manage as well) include the fact that there are inevitability staff changes that can occur, student move-ins, student move-outs, and other information that is shared that could impact class dynamics/sizes/needs. While we encounter those challenges as well, I agree with the sentiment that it is helpful for a child to know whose classroom they will be in to help build peer connections over the summer and envision their future teacher/year.
I have had communication from parents and staff over the last 2 years about this day. Some parents have communicated a desire to have the Move-up day be with their assigned teacher and with their future student group as a way to decreased anxiety about whom they will be with and also arrange opportunities to get together with peers over the summer. An overwhelming majority of parents and staff that have provided feedback to me about this structure have been in favor of the way we manage it and have reported that it has been helpful in having a more positive end of the school year. At the last PTO meeting last spring (June 2015) some parents requested that I send the report cards later in the day after students were released. Parents have shared that it allowed the parent to process with their child in a calm environment and discuss questions and concerns in a way that met their child’s individual needs. Some parents have also shared that their students experienced less worries about being away from a friend or peer when they weren’t learning it right alongside peers that were celebrating their placement.
An additional change that has taken place is that in order to comply with confidentiality laws, we no longer release the entire class list of names. I know that this creates challenges for students seeking to find out who their peers will be. Thankfully to meet this need our PTO has hosted an online “GoogleDoc” within which parents and families can ‘opt-in’ to sharing their child’s names to build a list of classroom peers for those that want to share their info. It may not be complete, but it does allow those families that would like to build connections over the summer to participate.
Please know that we all understand the anxiety that comes with this process and I hope you can see how much thought has gone into the structure and design that we hope best benefits our students. This also follows many hours of thoughtful student placement by our staff that incorporates parent input that was provided. We know there is not ‘perfect’ system but we continue to do the best we can to meet the needs of our learners. That being said, I haven’t formally sought feedback about our Move-up day process. In hearing request and questions and such a wide range of perspectives, I understand that this would be beneficial for us to do to ensure we are continuing to do the best we can collaboratively as a community. Our Move-up day is scheduled this year for June 17th. Following this event I will gather feedback from students as well as send a survey for staff and parents to help inform our future practices.
I thank you all for your ongoing dialogue and efforts to support all of our learners here at Barrows. Please enjoy the wonderful celebrations of learning through this last stretch of our school year!