During this time of distance learning, parents of younger students are navigating a learning environment where the lines between school and home are blurred. Considering the circumstances, students and parents need extra support, and finding joy in learning is more important than ever. We spoke with our Dean of Students (PreK-Grade 2), Ms. Becky Hodges, to discuss how we accomplish this no matter where we are.
Although this interview was conducted prior to our school closure due to COVID-19, the philosophy, approach, and level of support are just as relevant and applicable.
Can you explain your role as the Dean of Students for our Early Learning Program?
I am part of our Student Affairs team that works to support students and parents, as well as teachers. Uniquely, my role is focused on PreK through grade 2. With my extensive background in early childhood development, I can help students through the peaks and valleys and various transitions that take place during these years, while providing parents with guidance on setting their students up for success along the way. Another aspect of my job is to be there for the teachers as a thought partner or a liaison to parents, connecting them for successful collaboration. My number one goal is for students to be happy and safe, and to enjoy school each day.
How do you support your students in this rigorous academic journey?
Even with our advanced milestones, our teachers find a way to use the curriculum in engaging and exciting ways so the students don't realize that they're learning because they're having fun. Also, having a social-emotional focus is just as important as academics. Without the former, they can’t achieve success in the latter. We infuse our curriculum with a social-emotional program called Second Step. The targeted lessons cover self-talk, self-regulation, repeating instructions, and other soft skills that support their development while the kids just get excited to sing the songs or see the puppets for these lessons.
Can you provide some examples of this joyful learning?
While we have expectations so that students finish their grade two levels higher than the standard reading level, we know that all students are capable of achieving this milestone because of the approach we take. Our PreK students start learning sight words with "Fred Talk," which uses a frog puppet to teach phonics. Fred teaches children to blend oral sounds, which leads to blending letters and results in reading words. At this age, there is no expectation of mastery, but rather a foundation building that extends into Kindergarten where sight words are reviewed and their knowledge grows to prepare them for the next level. This also is true and used in Mandarin where students learn through songs and dance, so it is fun and they don’t realize they're building vocabulary and starting to understand a new language.
One more example I really would like to highlight is our unique class called World Discovery (PreK–K). It is a departure from the typical skills-focused learning that dominates Early Learning because we are able to get into juicy content that is fun for kids. Early in the year, they did a unit on cultures of the world where students brought in an artifact representing their cultural background and parents came into the class and, along with their child, would do a cooking demonstration, teach a traditional song, or lead a craft reflective of their family's heritage. In addition to gaining a global awareness and learning empathy, the students were introduced to public speaking skills and how to do a presentation.
How do you make sure parents are clued into what is going on at school with their young child?
Our parents play a pivotal and incredibly important role in our students' lives. It is our desire for there to be a close partnership with our parents and it is imperative that they feel included in both their child's academic journey and as part of our community. Besides the in-class opportunities, which I briefly mentioned above, we host a series of parent workshops specifically tailored to our Early Learning Program families. Parents are invited to attend these topic-specific workshops in the morning or evening that build the home-to-school connection. So far this year I have conducted two workshops: Building Independence in your Child and Bringing Academics Home. The next one was supposed to be on positive discipline and how what we do at school can be brought home, but now it will focus on how to guide your student during distance learning.
We send out a recap to all parents, so if they weren’t able to attend, they still receive the PowerPoint presentation and resources and can benefit from the key learnings. Following a workshop in the fall, one parent gave the feedback, "Thank you so much for the workshop. Getting support at every level of development is definitely appreciated. Although my child is pretty independent (on most days), I am happy that there are still things that I can do for her!”
If you’d like to learn more about the support and resources we offer our students in Early Learning and beyond, or receive further details about our program, you are invited to schedule a one-on-one call with our Admission team.