Pandemic Teaches Abington Friends School Lessons for a Successful School Year

Student and Abington Friends School students
Images via Abington Friends School.
Abington Friends School Logo

While the last school year brought with it some previously unforeseen challenges, it also ushered in a whole new understanding of the academic year and learning to students and staff alike, in both a personal and professional way at Abington Friends School.

Andrea Emmons, Lower School Director, said that she learned the importance of community. “It was friends, colleagues, families, and students working together that made the school year the success that it was. While we never lost focus on learning, we emphasized community and caring for one another, which made learning happen in ways we’d not thought possible,” she explains. “The emphasis on outdoor learning and expanding an experiential, well-integrated curriculum was definitely something for the better. In returning to school fully in-person this year, we really see  how much support and teaching is needed to help all students settle into the new school year.”

Student and teacher at Abington Friends School.
Students and teacher at Abington Friends School.

Felix Chen, the Third Grade Teacher at AFS, spent the 2020-2021 school year teaching remotely, with his students also learning from home. Felix is back on campus this year and he is grateful that the experience opened him and his students up to a new way of learning and developing connections.

“Teaching virtually with students in their homes as a school environment turned out to be an opportunity for students to bring their whole selves to our class and to share with their friends,” he notes. “Instead of confining our students into a camera square, we had our students bring us on tours of their room and their homes, introduce us to their pets, and show us all the different things they were playing with or projects they were working on at home.” 

Abington Friends School Middle School Director Matt Eskin said that last school year felt “enormously different.”

“I’m incredibly proud of how our teachers quickly learned new strategies for meeting students’ needs. Another beautiful element of last year was that students, even masked, loved the times when they could just play and be together! We look forward to many, many more of those moments this school year” Matt says.

Lower School AFS teacher Saidah Giraud had her first year at AFS in 2020—and what a year it was! “Even through Zoom I felt the love, light, and acceptance of my colleagues teaching from home. This year, I look forward to interacting with everyone in person and feeling the true  capacity of their joyous love!”

The Upper School Dean of Students, Tina Yen, said that the biggest difference in last school year was not seeing all the students on campus together. For the majority of the 2020-2021 school year, Upper School students rotated on a schedule in which half of the students were on-campus Monday and Tuesday and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, all students learned from home and participated in virtual clubs and activities. Tina explained,“It fractured the full sense of community we value and are so familiar with at Abington Friends. It’s hard to build relationships when people aren’t together and it can cause discomfort, stress, and anxiety.”

This year, however, the campus is already returning to some sense of normalcy and stability as we start anew. “This is a reset, but not to re-establish what was; it’s a reset to build something new, something more inclusive, something more human-centered,” Tina says. At AFS, this school year started with a week-long reorientation program that centered on students, student relationships, and student-teacher relationships.

Tina emphasized that to move to a place of learning, they needed to start with intentional relationship building and engagement. “We wanted our five days to be filled with the things that we value—relationships, student voice and input, Equity and Inclusion, Quakerism, and clearly defined high expectations so that every student has a roadmap to be successful here,” she notes. “Our students were involved in the planning and the execution of the programming. So, many stepped up to share their passions and interests and demonstrated to younger students what it means to be engaged members of this community. That, to me, is magical.”

Now that the students and staff are back in the classroom, Andrea, Lower School Director at Abington Friends School, says ”I am most excited about further expanding experiential learning opportunities and giving Lower School students more options in terms of studying topics of interest to them. It is also so incredibly wonderful to have all our students back on campus!”

Learn more about the powerful academic program at Abington Friends School at their upcoming Open House on Saturday, October 16, at 1 p.m.