Principals Perspective (January) - Rabbi Matthew Bellas
Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Reflection on Our Expanded Hybrid Program

As we welcomed in the New Year of 2021, we also made the exciting transition into our two full days hybrid program for grades 1-4. This was a much-anticipated move for everyone in the community, students, and families especially as well as teachers. On behalf of the administration, I want to express once again our gratitude to our families for staying committed to our school and community as we navigated and continue make our way through these uncharted waters of a global pandemic. It has taken a great deal of patience, perseverance, and collaboration to get us to this next phase of our program.

The Great News
With more of our students and faculty being on campus for full days, the Lower School felt more “normal” this past week than it has since March 2020.  Classrooms buzzed with activity and there was a genuine feeling of joy and excitement pulsing through the school.  My personal, most joyous times have come while walking through the hallways hearing happy students across grade levels call out to me, “Hi, Rabbi Bellas!”  It’s a small moment that has deep meaning and impact.  As a whole Lower School community, there are several specific elements of the new program for us to celebrate:

  • More live instructional time with GS and JS teachers: Our full days provide our students with a more typical instructional day including complete instructional blocks of GS and JS with their teachers. In cohorts that are half the size of a regular class grouping, our students also get more personal attention and time with their teachers. The full-day schedule also eliminates the need for the long midday breaks that were necessary for commuting to and from school for partial days.

  • More social time with friends: In order to control the spread of COVID-19, one of the greatest losses our students have experienced is the inability to spend time with friends. Longer days in school means more time with friends and classmates and the important addition of lunch and recess to our students’ days. As a school that prioritizes social-emotional learning, having more opportunities for formal and informal social time is a very welcome addition.

  • Renewing areas of executive function skills: Distance learning at home is so different from school, and as students returned to school, we noticed that their stamina, comfort with routine, and organizational skills were not at typical levels. The longer days allow us to rebuild and reinforce development in these areas.

  • Live Science and PE specials: We’ve been able to bring all instruction in science and PE into the building.  These hands-on and active subject matters benefit greatly from taking place on site and have the added bonus of being able to be taken outdoors.

  • Outdoor activities: With the beautiful weather this week, we were able to hold recess, lunch, and PE outside. Being outdoors helps us to be as safe as possible and to maximize the amount of time students got to spend together socially.

  • Safety Practices: Our students wore their masks, maintained physical distancing, and remembered to wash or sanitize their hands regularly. Our students understand what these practices mean for keeping our community healthy and safe.

Areas for Improvement
Every transition presents challenges that we must work to overcome, and the following are those which we view as most critical:

  • Distance learning day schedules: We are aware of the time gaps that continue to exist on students’ distance learning days. Because “Zooming” into the live on-campus classes is generally not an option, we are planning for these unscheduled times to be taken on by our proctors who are coming on board in increasing numbers over the next few weeks. Time with proctors will include opportunities for students to receive help with and supervision of independent work and virtual informal educational activities.

  • Carpool backups: The increased number of students has led to more significant traffic backups than anticipated. We are exploring a few different options to alleviate the backup on East Jefferson Street during dismissal, including reopening B’nai Carpool. Please keep an eye out for more information on this very soon as this is a traffic safety issue we wish to resolve quickly.

  • Balance of Cohort A/Cohort B days in school: We are currently reanalyzing the school calendar to see what the balance of school days looks like through the end of the school year for Cohort A and Cohort B students. The first four months of school had several Thursdays and Fridays off while the remainder of the year has more Mondays and Tuesdays.  While our original calendar calculation had the number of school days for Cohort A and Cohort B generally balancing out over the year, many students switched cohorts with the shift to expanded hybrid and are now missing a disproportionate number of days. So, we are revisiting this and may consider flipping days for the cohorts. 

Next Steps
There are certain institutional infrastructure items in our school that cannot be changed (number and size of classrooms, available faculty members, mandatory physical distancing requirement, etc.) that limit some of what we can do in terms of additional changes to and growth of the hybrid program. However, the next two elements of the model that we are exploring are adding an additional live day of school for all 5th graders to bring them to two full days and adding a Supervised Distance Learning program for Fridays. If you are interested in learning more about this Friday option and possibly participating, please see and complete this Google Form

We continue to review and reflect on this past week and are, as always, open to feedback and input from families. Feel free to reach out to any member of the administration or guidance teams or the Parent Advisory Committee.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Lower School Principal