SCHOOLS | April 28, 2020
How One Principal’s Focus on Staying Connected has Strengthened the Bonds within her School Community
Every morning, students at Barnard Elementary in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood have a virtual read aloud with Principal Kathleen Valente to look forward to. Favorites such as Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day and Last Stop on Market Street have been featured, and she’s sometimes joined by custodians and other staff members so her students can see as many familiar faces as possible.
“Keeping my students’ spirits up is so important to me during this time because I know everyone misses each other,” she said. “Our ideas have all been centered on being caring, warm, and working together to support our students as much as we can.”
Earlier this month, the school’s largest morale boost came in the form of a car parade. Principal Valente says she relied on a veteran teacher who lives in the neighborhood to coordinate the event, which celebrated the beginning of the final academic quarter of the school year while social distancing. Though she got great feedback from her families whose students loved seeing their favorite teachers drive by, Principal Valente notes the parade may have been even more impactful for her teachers.
“Almost every single one of my teachers participated in the parade, which really made it a schoolwide celebration,” she said. “I think my teachers really needed that boost. Everyone has been working so hard and having those moments to share together was really important.”
Principal Valente says she could not be prouder of her staff and the way they have gone above and beyond to serve their students during these difficult times. One teacher dropped off personalized signs at each one of her students’ houses. Others have created unique, project-based learning opportunities for students instead of simply assigning worksheet after worksheet. As a parent of three students herself, Principal Valente says her biggest piece of advice for her school community to stay motivated and engaged is to stick to a routine.
“Through my daily read alouds and by consistently checking in on my staff, I hope to establish a rhythm for my students to keep learning,” she said. “However, sticking to routine does not mean you need to accomplish everything all at once. I would encourage my students to take things a day at a time and break things into smaller chunks.”
Even though she can’t deny that being separated from her students and staff is difficult, Principal Valente asserts that these challenging circumstances have improved communication between staff members and increased parent involvement. Above all else, it has solidified a sense of teamwork that she hopes will continue to grow, even once schools reopen.
“Everything we’ve done over the past month has been in the spirit of working together. We’ve been sharing ideas more than ever before because we know that helping each other out is the only way we can help our students keep working toward academic success,” she said.