And Then We’re Full In – Really?

new school bike racks

Stop me if you’ve heard this: Ignore the health experts. Misinterpret the science. Open it all up.

Our School Committee this week voted to bring everybody back to our school, in full, in a phased-in approach. This, despite a strong argument from our school district health leader (with support of the local health board) that our school, particularly our stressed and strained nursing staff, is not equipped for such an influx of students. This, despite the need for another isolation room. This, despite concerns over a new HVAC report that raised questions about air flow in places around our school, like the school nurses’ office. This, despite a long line of teachers expressing concern about teaching in classroom full of students. This, despite growing numbers of the virus in the communities, now spiking red, around us. This, despite the holiday season approaching, when many families will no doubt interact with other family and friends outside of the home.

Some members of the committee were adamant against this plan to re-open in full, but they were in the minority.

One almost expected to hear the phrase “herd immunity” by those in the majority voting forward the decision to open, in full (over Zoom, by the way). We didn’t hear that phrase, thankfully, but it felt a bit like Dr. Atlas might have been whispering in the ears of decision makers as they removed the 6-foot social distancing requirement we’ve been working with in our Hybrid Model.

Peace (calm),

A Lesson in Civics and Local Politics

CYB Civic Engagement for Young Professionals 127“CYB Civic Engagement for Young Professionals 127” by cityyear is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

After nearly 2 1/2 hours of discussion and comments from dozens of parents and teachers (including myself) about whether the School Committee should vote to bring all students back to the building, one thing stood out in my mind: this is how civic engagement looks at the community level.

Believe me, there were strong opinions in favor of full re-opening (from our current Hybrid Model), to a soft full re-opening (younger grades only), to keeping the current system in place. But everyone spoke respectfully, and the School Committee listened patiently to all concerned parties.

The only tinge of negativity was some parents saying they were nervous about speaking in favor of a full return because they feared retaliation from their children’s teachers (us). That saddened me, for nothing ever close that has ever happened at our school. But I guess the concern is real, from a parent viewpoint.

The meeting went later than I could attend, so I am not sure how they voted (and I don’t see anything in the newspaper’s online edition this morning). I spoke out in need for more communication between the School Committee and the town, and with our teacher union, and urged the committee to find ways to hear the voices of all parties, including students.

I suspect that meetings just like this are happening, or will be happening soon, all over the country. Maybe not all will have the respectful tone of ours, even with differing opinions, but the fact that people are engaged in the civic discourse and conversations because they have vested interest .. maybe that will spill over into some longer-lasting resonance effect of being more engaged in local politics.

One can hope so.

Peace (vote for it),

Slice of Life: Listening To Student Voices

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The School Committee in the town where I teach is poised to vote this week on whether to start bringing everyone — hundreds more students — back into our school building. The committee has been getting an earful on Facebook, apparently, from parents, demanding school fully re-open so they can get back to their jobs.

Meanwhile, numbers of virus cases all around us are rising – two neighboring cities just went up a level in the state’s data map of Covid-19 trends. I don’t see how we would do a full return, to be honest, as in our current Hybrid Model (half kids two days, the other half the other two days, Wednesdays full remote for building cleaning), the desks for my largest class of 11 kids at 6 feet apart take up nearly the entire room.

After the last School Committee meeting, where they discussed this possibility of a full return (meaning about 600 people would be in our building), I waited to see if they would be surveying families (nope); or staff (nope); or students (nope.). It seems to me, on listening to the discussions, as if Facebook is what many are listening to (and that scares me almost as much as anything – in that same Facebook group, some parents have apparently begun to turn on us teachers) as well as emails and letters from interested parties.

It galls me that we don’t regularly ask the very ones who are affected most by those decisions what they think: our students; their children.

So on two recent mornings, I asked my two homeroom cohorts the question of a full return, and what a lively and thoughtful discussion we had on this stop of a full return. Clearly, these sixth graders have been thinking deeply about this topic, but not often being asked.

My general sense is that students are happy to be back in school, even in the current model with all of the restrictions and safety protocols that limit their interactions with each other and teachers, and many want to remain that way until the virus is brought under control. There were some strong arguments in favor of bringing everyone in, however, including socialization and friendship and the pace of education.

I made sure to frame my questions as neutral — neither favoring a full return nor advocating against it — and I opened the floor to anyone who had a point to make, and the back-and-forth and follow-up-questions made me proud of these sixth graders. I just wish the small group of elected officials who only meet remote on Zoom out of safety precautions would find a way to listen to the young people who are in our building, doing their part to stay safe by bringing a level of cautious normalcy to our community.

Peace (listening),

Write Out Ranger Writing Prompts (the full collection)

Write Out 2020 officially ended yesterday but the resources and videos and writing prompts developed for this year will remain at the Write Out website, so if you were just swamped or knew you might come back some other day, no worries.

I really enjoyed the 13 different writing prompts introduced by National Park rangers from around the country. My students used some of these on the mornings they were at home, doing independent learning, and the responses were lovely to read as they engaged with the questions. Now, they are finishing up writing postcards to various rangers, and I will be packaging them up and mailing them off in the next week or so.

The slideshow gathers together all of the prompts. You can also always access each individual prompt at the Write Out website, or use the link to this show as you need.

Peace (sharing inspiration),

Audio Postcard: The Sixth Week of School

DSC01722 (2) -01 DSC01722 (2) -01 flickr photo by suzyhazelwood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

This is the sixth and final audio postcard for a research project I have been part of, documenting the first six weeks of school in a Pandemic year through weekly audio postcard. In this one, I mull over how exhausted it feels to be a teacher right now, worries of my students’ well-being and emotional health, and concerns about upticks in the virus numbers and what might happen if we reverse course with our current model (hybrid).

Here is:

Peace (now and forever),

WriteOut Walk in the Woods

Fall Hike 2020

The other day, my wife and I took our puppy for a hike in the woods in our neighborhood, and it was just a beautiful Autumn day. We would do this on any day, but with Write Out underway, I made sure to grab some photos from the walk.

Fall Hike 2020Fall Hike 2020Fall Hike 2020

We noticed that some trees had some tags on them, as the local nature group teaches hikers about the woods.

Fall Hike 2020

Peace (outside, in),

A Few #WriteOut Poems

poem“poem” by spo0nman is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’ve been writing small poems regularly with the Write Out community, sometimes using the daily prompts by National Park Rangers to consider a theme.

Here are a few of my poems from the past week:

We’re all caretakers
of these mountains,
we are, of buildings
and rivers, of near and
of far, of dams and bridges
and lakes and volcanoes,
of even the scars of what
we’ve done with these lands;

We caretakers, we are not
always gentle with our gifts,
nor always appreciative
of their splendor, this Earth
accepts our flaws, for now,
these battered spaces of quiet


Such tender
paths on this
tender map

the seasons
always seem to
linger when we
need them most

we pocket the leaf
that maps the tree
that maps the wood
that maps the love

what once was seed
now becomes journey


Black Iron Fence

and spears on the
black iron fence

One mile
one quarter,
the perimeter of the
black iron fence

Ten thousand,
seven hundred
distinctly-made pieces,
the skeleton bones of the
black iron fence

Cannon iron;
collected, gathered,
blacksmith-ed, forged,
held, and hammered into the
black iron fence


this river releases
small secrets, broken
shards of pottery
and glass, worn
smooth, cloudy
by the constant embrace
of eddies and currents,
leaving us with more
questions than answers
as to who it was who
came before us
and where they have
gone, since

Peace (in poems of place),

WMWP Virtual Writing Marathon for #WriteOut and National Day on Writing

SPAR Marathon SiteWe’re excited to be hosting a Writing Marathon for the National Day on Writing and for WriteOut with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site. Last year, we gathered and wrote inside the Armory museum itself; this year, we’re using a Padlet digital wall to offer a series of self-guided writing prompts, with videos from SPAR park rangers, historical documents and more.

If you are interested, you can still register at any time, and we will get you into the mix. This is all self-paced and choose-your-own-writing prompts. Be inspired to write!

Here are some of the prompts we have posted at our site:

  • Ranger Pearl and teacher Harriet Kulig ask you to explore the role of women at the Armory and in the workforce during wartimes. Many women in the Pioneer Valley were recruited as WOWs (Women Ordinance Workers).

  • Park Volunteer Carl gives insight into the recognizable fence around the Armory, and it has an interesting historical story. Consider the role of fences — who do they keep out and what do they keep in?

  • Workers at the Armory came from many different countries, as the war efforts sparked an influx of immigration of workers to the Pioneer Valley. Listen to the historical stories of some of the Armory workers, and get inspired to write them a letter, from the present to the past.

  • Ranger Alex gives an insight into the grounds and landscape and buildings of the Armory site, and asks us to imagine the site from the viewpoint of trees, structures and more.

  • Ranger Dani explains how museums like the Armory cherish and protect historical objects, as a way to remember and share stories of the past, through thoughtful curation. What artifact might you leave behind? What object would help tell the story of us, today?

  • A few summers ago, Springfield middle school students at our WMWP/SPAR summer camp curated videos about the museum floor for the public. Take a look at the YouTube Playlist of their work and respond in writing to either the students or to the museum displays.

  • Ranger Scott gives us a historical look at the Commandant’s House, a celebrated building where the leaders of the Armory often met to plan and party. Scott asks us to consider what happens when Nature takes over buildings, as part of a prompt he did for students in Write Out this year.

  • And more …

Writing Marathon Flier 2020

You can also access more ideas:

Peace (in words, gathered),