New York, NY – PS/IS 18 Assistant Principal Donna McGuire packed up and left her Washington Heights school on March 19, not yet realizing that she and the rest of her staff would be gone for the foreseeable future. But the way the Park Terrace School’s faculty and students are responding to the challenges of the coronavirus shutdown is helping to mitigate the pain.
“The secret to success is the human connection and staying together,” McGuire tells LaborPress. “This is a time where you have to keep positive and keep hopeful.”
Morning check-ins using What’s App are not only helping teachers and administrators at the K-8 school take care of academic business, but also to share birthday wishes, get interpersonal updates and cheer each other up.
“People are sending inspiring quotes, little cartoons, happy faces — it’s been beautiful,” McGuire says. “It’s actually created more camaraderie amongst staff members who may have not been working totally together because of the different floors they’re on or different grades.”
PS/IS 18 is part of District 6 — one of the largest school districts in Manhattan. Many of the students are English language learners predominately from the Dominican Republic.
Fortunately, McGuire says, PS/IS18 was already utilizing online technology before the pandemic struck in January and that has helped make the necessary transition to remote learning easier.
Online educational programs including Class Dojo and TeacherEase are allowing Park Terrace teachers to conduct classes and interact with both students and their parents.
“Families have a different appreciation because now they see what’s happening first hand,” McGuire says. “They hear the teachers’ voices. Sometimes, you see a parent and a student together in the room. They can work with their children. We’ve been receiving a slew of positive notes and messages [from parents]. A lot of good has come out of this situation.”
To pull it all off, however, teachers at the school have been forced to be a lot more flexible.
“We told them that in certain families, it could be that there’s only one laptop or device,” McGuire says. “So, you can’t be so structured to say, “My third graders are meeting online at 8 o’clock” — because the kindergartener brother of that third grader may need that computer, too.” So, teachers stay in touch with the families on Dojo or Google Classroom, they provide a host of online resources, assign tasks and they do direct instruction as well.”
Not all of the Park Terrace School’s 350 students had a desktop computer or laptop in the home when the school shut down in March. McGuire and her staff reached out to parents and caregivers — ultimately providing families in need with more than 70 laptops.
“Everyone did get a device in a timely fashion,” McGuire says. “We didn’t have any problems.”
The Bronx native has been an assistant principal for 16 years — five of those years at the Park Terrace School where she is also a member of the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators [CSA] and chair of the district leadership team.
During the school shut down, McGuire says she still wants PS/IS18 to do “anything and everything to help families.”
“Many of them are immigrants and in the country a short amount of time,” she says. “Many people are in an apartments; some people have food insecurity, job loss, or are sick. We really wanted to be the rock for students and their families and be a resource, not just for academics, but so much more.”
As it stands, chances are 50-50 students will be able to return to PS/IS 18 in September. Whether or not that happens, McGuire says everyone at the school has already gained a greater appreciation for one another.
“Sometimes, you can only grow when you’re out of your comfort zone,” McGuire says. “We see that people are resilient, they’re working together, being so humane — everyone’s pulling together to make it work.”