EASTHAM — Elementary students and teachers won’t be returning to school this year, but the community is trying to help make the most of the situation.
There were cheerful waves and a few wistful tears at the drive-by get-together staged by the Eastham Elementary School Parent Group on April 28. Now, the group is working with the council on aging to organize a pen pal program that puts students and seniors in touch with each other. Meanwhile, the school superintendent is looking into plans to keep students engaged — and active — over the summer.
Monica Keefe-Hess, a member of the parent group who has a daughter in fourth grade, said the group’s president, Ashley Foster, introduced the pen pal idea. Since Keefe-Hess works at the COA, she is helping coordinate the project.
The senior center has done intergenerational programming in the past, Keefe-Hess said, including a twice-monthly visit by elementary students in the “family support choir.” Eastham Elementary students also often participate in lunches at the COA and dinners at the Elks Lodge. “They miss those interactions,” Keefe-Hess said. “My daughter would come to the senior center and sing and she loved it.”
The parent group’s goal is to keep those interactions going. They are expecting a delivery of plants from Potted Plants for Seniors of Cape Cod. Students will write a letter to a senior that will be delivered with a plant to their home. The seniors will be encouraged to write a letter back, starting a pen pal exchange. Keefe-Hess said she has 11 students and 11 seniors interested so far. “The kids are already writing about some of the things they’re doing,” she said.
While academic issues — namely, how to introduce new material and how to integrate arts into distance learning during these final weeks of the school year — were the focus at a school committee meeting held via Zoom on April 27, school officials are clearly grateful for these extracurricular efforts. Following that meeting, in a May 4 letter to families, Elementary School Principal Bill Crosby named “meaningful connections with educators and peers” along with “opportunities for enrichment, exercise, and play” as, at this point, educational priorities right up there with language arts and math lessons.
Supt. Tom Conrad said the school administration is looking at summer school programs for students who feel like there was a gap in their learning. The administration is also considering how to integrate play and physical activity into those activities.
“Ideally, it would partner up with the recreation programs,” Conrad said.
The idea, he said, would be for kids to have the chance to participate in recreation activities, go inside for 45 minutes of math, then go back out to play.
“But I can’t tell you that the recreation programs are going to run this summer — we’ll have to watch to see what the decision is for that,” he said.
Conrad has his eye on reinforcements for special activities for the season. He said that he’s reached out to a group of retired teachers who may be willing to help teach kids over the summer.
“I believe I could get up to 50 retired teachers who would be willing to volunteer their time,” he said. No detailed plans have been settled yet, though.
Meanwhile, remote learning continues. Keefe-Hess said each morning Eastham Elementary students participate in a remote morning meeting to interact with their friends and teachers. But students are feeling the loss of not being physically together.
“They’re missing their friends,” she said.