I Am Somebody
Maxfield Elementary School Principal Ryan Vernosh had just four days to lead Maxfield into a completely different learning environment. AT RIGHT The poem ‘I Am Somebody’ is said each day by Maxfield Elementary students to encourage them through their day. (Photo submitted)[/caption]
School happening remotely has impacted students and families with more than just technical problems.
Maxfield Elementary School, 380 N Victoria St. in St. Paul, has a food pantry on site for students and families in need. They collaborate with Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, an organization that works with families and students in the Frogtown, Rondo, and Summit-University neighborhoods to support their needs and approach the gap between education and opportunity.
Maxfield provides dental care, extra clothing, counseling, social work and mental health care to students and families. All of these have been greatly impacted by COVID-19.
“Some families lost employment, so access to healthcare became more challenging, access to food became more challenging. We’ve seen the current unemployment crisis that we’ve had in the city and our community, which was just exasperated by the pandemic,” said Maxfield Principal Ryan Vernosh.
During school hours, Maxfield Elementary would normally be bustling with 300 students going in and out of the library, gym and classrooms. Teachers would be preparing for another day of classes. Their rooms filled with colorful banners and encouragement for the students. But, for the last four months of school, the halls were mostly empty. COVID-19 had drastically impacted what Maxfield, and all schools around the state, looked like in their last stretch before summer break.
Four days to restructure
Vernosh has been principal at Maxfield Elementary School for three years now. He’s overseen budgets and paperwork. He supports the students and staff – and makes sure they are doing well socially, emotionally, and academically. He’s never had to deal with something like this before. Maxfield was tasked with changing an entire learning environment in just four days.
“Our staff really rose to it and we did the best that we could to connect with our kids and keep them learning and supported,” Vernosh said.
The staff had meetings on a weekly basis in order to stop and assess how online learning was going, and to make any changes they felt was necessary for their students. St. Paul Public Schools has a one-to-one iPad policy, so everyone had access to online classes. The district provided hot spots for families without high speed internet, although, they still had many technology issues. Professionals came in for classes in order to instruct the teachers on how to use Schoology and Seesaw, two online learning platforms, to their full advantages.
They also had educators’ workshops and presentations. During these workshops, teachers presented what was working and what wasn’t to other educators around the school. Each teacher visited at least three other presentations in order to get ideas about how to better their online classroom. But, it was still difficult to keep students engaged with online learning.
“You just can’t mimic in person instruction,” Vernosh said, “Our teachers did the best they could to carry on instruction, but it’s just not the same.”
I Am Somebody
I am Somebody!
I am capable and loveable.
I am teachable,
therefore I can learn.
I can do anything if I try.
I’ll be the best that I can be.
I will not waste time.
Because it is too valuable
And I am too precious and bright.
I am somebody.
I am somebody.
I AM SOMEBODY
Cocreating safe places
Vernosh wanted Maxfield to continue being a safe space for both staff and students to come to. Especially after the murder of George Floyd two weeks before school ended, students began to have more questions. The St. Paul Public School District sent out information in order to support teachers, and to help guide them through questions students may have or how to go about explaining the events happening. The staff had many conversations about how best to create a community of support for their students. They needed to keep things grade appropriate, as well. Kindergartners may understand less of the situation than a fifth grader.
“Our kids are aware of what’s going on whether it’s COVID or the murder of George Floyd,” Vernosh said. “Part of our role is to listen and be supportive; to cocreate a safe space for our students and families to be able to process these things.”
Maxfield aimed to never shut down a conversation that brought up any questions about COVID-19 or the murder of George Floyd. In order to fully create this safe space, the school implemented things like a restorative morning circle. This was a time where students could sit and express themselves. It also included guiding questions, activities, or a review of what lessons would be taught that day. The school wanted to focus on community building along with mindfulness for the students. Through the Cultural Wellness Center, an organization that helps communities solve problems that come due to loss of culture, the students take African drumming and dance classes in order to make sure students see their culture in each area of the school.
“If our students don’t feel seen and heard and loved, learning is not going to take place,” Vernosh said.
They have a call-and-response over the intercom each morning to let students know that they are here and being heard. This daily affirmation poem, “I Am Somebody,” is said to remind the students that they are teachable, loveable and capable.