The sounds of laughter and delight filled the playgrounds and classrooms at Dedham Country Day School this September as children returned to school after several months, happy to be back together with their peers and teachers. Despite the pandemic, school at DCD started as planned this year on September 9 with in-person learning for most of its 308 students in pre-K through 8. Just a handful of students opted for remote learning out of the total enrolled.
Sporting masks but otherwise happily engaging in a broad array of familiar activities, including arts, woodworking, and physical education, children were ready to begin the school year.
Teachers are also happy to be back. Kindergarten teacher Cheryl Price said, “I have been in complete awe of the start of school. It has been amazing to hear the laughter in children, see them engaged in many ways, and bringing life back to campus!”
To avoid the higher risk of the virus spreading indoors, much of the classroom instruction has been taking place outside, taking advantage of the mild September weather. Tents dot the fields and the new outside pavilion donated by the families of the Class of 2020 has served as an outdoor classroom.
Children were given mats to sit on outside along with portable writing tablets and desks to complete their work and cinch packs to carry their supplies. Middle-school science teacher Ruth Gow uses a Radio Flyer to bring materials outside and a portable whiteboard for her lessons on the field. Despite the hazards of the wind knocking her board over and blowing her hat away, she has continued to deliver a rigorous science curriculum.
Many safety precautions are also in place to ensure everyone stays healthy, including additional hand-sanitizing stations placed around campus. Classrooms have been reconfigured to ensure a safe distance between students with plexiglass shields installed where appropriate.
Organizing children and teachers into “pods” has reduced the number of potential contacts if someone does happen to get sick. Also new this year is a symptom-monitoring app, My Medbot, to ensure teachers and students are free of viral symptoms before they are cleared to come to school.
Students now receive a box lunch in their classrooms, and if weather permits, they are able to go outside to enjoy their meals. With a new food-ordering system in place through Flik Dining, families can customize their child’s meal selections a week in advance.
Although interscholastic sports had to be canceled because of the risk of virus transmission, there are still many opportunities for children to stay physically fit as well as learn new athletic skills.
Daily PE classes allow for a variety of activities, and students are getting plenty of exercise outside. Fourth- and fifth-graders have continued to develop soccer skills, while also learning new ones like badminton and disc golf.
Middle-school sports have continued to meet Monday through Thursday from 3:30 to 4:30 pm, with students working on their strength and conditioning and playing pickleball, disc golf, soccer, kickball, field hockey, football, and badminton.
Athletic Director Mark Jackson said, “Got to give credit to DCD for prioritizing athletics and PE as many other schools have shut athletics down. We roll on (aggressively!) and are taking every precaution we can to keep things safe.”
Middle-school students held their first service afternoon last Friday. Many spent the afternoon outside working on friendship bracelets for children in hospitals and decorations for the elderly residents of the Linden.
Kindergarten students and eighth-graders learned who their “Big Buddies” were during the first of many activities designed to bring them together for shared fun and connection during the year. They used noodles to help them learn how to stay socially distanced from each other.
Parents have been meeting virtually to discuss volunteer opportunities and getting together informally, and virtually, over coffee. Almost every aspect of school life has continued in a modified way to ensure that the educational excellence and strong community spirit for which DCD is known continues despite the pandemic.
As Head of School Allison Webster noted, “Many schools have prioritized simplifying the experience of learning, reverting to math and reading skill development in a way that suggests this alone will suffice. But a child’s education needs to be so much more than simple skill acquisition, and each piece of the school day they experience, in all of its variety and richness, contributes to this whole.”
The pandemic has brought about many changes, with programs and instruction moving to new platforms, but the school’s mission remains the same, to engage children in an excellent educational program with many opportunities for growth and to create a strong, resilient community of adults and children.