COVID-19 and Remote Learning Updates

In an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19 and support student and faculty wellbeing, Northwest School faculty have designed a Remote Learning Program for students 6-12. For the remainder of the school year, students will login from their homes and interact with teachers, receive new assignments, and complete projects.

On this webpage, we have collected all of our communications to families. Scroll down for local COVID-19 news sources and information.

  • Letter to Upper School Families and Students - Questions As We Finish the Year

    Dear Upper School Families,

    I have enjoyed spending the last several Saturday mornings reflecting on the week at school in my letter to the community. This week, though, I spent Friday night in the Emergency Room with my mom who had fallen and have spent all of Saturday in her hospital room. Instead of my planned letter, I am going to adjust Sue’s letter to Middle School families to the Upper School. I hope to see many of you on Wednesday, in our final parenting Zoom call of this school year with Sarina Natkin and Peter Berner-Hays. See Friday’s Enews for links to that call and many other opportunities this week.

    We participated in the parent forum offered last Tuesday, hosted by Mike in response to the specific questions we received for that event. Since the majority of questions focused on our plans for the fall, that is what we spent most of the hour addressing. Use this link if you’d like to view the recording of the Zoom event. Meg Goldner Rabinowitz, assistant head of school, and our 6 -12 academic leader, shared some insights from educator Greg Bamford, co-founder and senior partner at Leadership and Design. Greg articulates the three phases of school response to the pandemic as triage, adaptation, and resilience. We were in triage mode when we first pivoted to on-line learning, and we are now transitioning to adaptation. The ultimate goal is resilience. I love this framework because of the acknowledgment of both necessity and opportunity. We are adapting in ways that are necessary, but there are also opportunities to change in ways that will serve us better in the long run. For example, Zoom meetings have proved to be more accessible to parents in general because of work schedule, commuting, and parking. Some of us have picked up routines (some from Joe Bisignano’s newsletters) that we are going to stick with because of the health and well-being benefits. Disruption can lead to innovation. It is into that possibility that we are grounding a lot of our work.

    In our on-going effort to look back and to look forward, next Friday, we will be sending out what would have been the routine Trimester 3 survey to all parents/guardians. We hope this survey allows you and us greater space and specificity to share how Trimester 3 has gone for your students and you so that we can continue to utilize your insights in our future planning towards resilience. Returning Upper School students will also receive a survey about their advisor for next year, and will have the option to stay with their current advisor, choose a new advisor, or if their advisor is leaving, ask to stay with their current advisory group and work with a new advisor.

    Here are some specific questions we’ve received this week:

    • When do classes end for grades 6-11? The last day of official classes for grades 6-11 is Friday, June 5th. The week of June 8th will allow students time to finish late work, re-do work, and meet individually with teachers to finish out the trimester in good standing. We will also offer a daily art adventure, share some culminating work of the trimester, and celebrate the 8th graders Fly Up on Friday, June 12th, at 12:30.
    • When do classes end for seniors? The last day of official classes for seniors is June 2nd.
    • What’s the update on graduation? Graduation will be held in a virtual ceremony at 7 pm PST, Tuesday, June 9th. There will be a link to the livestream program accessible in all our seniors’ countries coming soon. The celebration will have both pre-recorded content and ways to participate from live watch parties. We are fortunate to be working with TPN, The Production Network to orchestrate this event.
    • What teachers are leaving Northwest? Here is the list of departing teachers in the Upper School and what they have shared about what’s next for them. Please join us in wishing them well!
      • Suzanne Bottelli, US Humanities teacher: “As I take my leave in search of ongoing opportunities for growth, I hope to bring my skills and experience to bear in work that is connected to civil rights, human rights, and/or immigration rights, specifically with a legal or educational focus.
      • Ellen Graham, cross-divisional theater teacher: “When theaters open again, I'm going to be picking up my professional directing career. I'm also returning to my first love, writing, and as I'm starting to get published, that's exciting for me.“
      • Mary Anne Henderson, US Humanities department chair: “Mary Anne is leaving Northwest to move to Thailand with her partner. She will be teaching social studies and language arts and serving as department chair at Keerapaat International School in Bangkok.”
      • Giana Craig, US Humanities teacher: “In January when I made this decision, my intention was to take some months to travel and connect with family/friends who do not live in Seattle, and then pursue opportunities outside of teaching. Now that travel is not on the table, I’ll be pursuing new opportunities.”
      • Sophie Daudon, US Science teacher: “Sophie is taking time to pursue graduate school options, live in the mountains, and to explore how to next nourish and share her passion for the natural world, science, environmental justice, and education.”
      • Sara Venable, cross-divisional theater teacher: “I've returned to Tennessee to be with my family during this uncertain time.”
      • Dani Kim, US Humanities teacher: “After five years in Seattle, my partner and I have decided to move to California in the interest of both our careers and to be closer to our families.”

    At the end of the school year, we will share the biographies of the new faculty members to the Upper School for the 2020-2021 school year.

    One last parting thought. There have been a number of stories in the news encouraging us to worry about lost academic time. While we are taking that concern seriously at Northwest, we encourage all of us not to panic. And from Sue specifically: “I was reminded this week of a phrase I heard when my own children were young: The days are long, but the years are short. As my son graduated from college this past month, I can say that that’s true. Wasn’t I just taking him to preschool or teaching him to drive?” Let’s think in terms of the long game. We are working hard, collectively, to support our students in response to this unprecedented time, and have a lot of faith in our and their ability not only to survive, but to thrive with greater resilience. Let’s keep working towards this goal together.

    Wishing you the best,

    Amy and Sue

  • May 22 - Letter to Middle School Families - Questions As We Finish the Year

    Dear Middle School Parents and Guardians,

    Thank you to Tamara Bunnell, acting Middle School dean of students, for offering her insights last week in our weekly communication with Middle School families! I hope you enjoyed her email as much as I did. Ask your child about the bingo challenge she is sending them today to bring some levity to the final weeks of school. Meanwhile, here is this week’s offering about what we are learning about online learning in the Middle School, answers to questions that have come my way, and some personal reflections.

    I participated in the parent forum offered last Tuesday, hosted by Mike in response to the specific questions we received for that event. Since the majority of questions focused on our plans for the fall, that is what we spent most of the hour addressing. Use this link if you’d like to view the recording of the Zoom event. Meg Goldner Rabinowitz, assistant head of school, and our 6 -12 academic leader, shared some insights from educator Greg Bamford, co-founder and senior partner at Leadership and Design. Greg articulates the three phases of school response to the pandemic as triage, adaptation, and resilience. We were in triage mode when we first pivoted to on-line learning, and we are now transitioning to adaptation. The ultimate goal is resilience. I love this framework because of the acknowledgment of both necessity and opportunity. We are adapting in ways that are necessary, but there are also opportunities to change in ways that will serve us better in the end. For example, Zoom meetings have proved to be more accessible to parents in general because of work schedule, commuting, and parking. Some of us have picked up routines (some from Joe Bisignano’s newsletters) that we are going to stick with because of the health and well-being benefits. Disruption can lead to innovation. It is into that possibility that we are grounding a lot of our work.

    In our on-going effort to look back and to look forward, next Friday, we will be sending out what would have been the routine Trimester 3 survey to all parents/guardians. We hope this survey allows you and us greater space and specificity to share how Trimester 3 has gone for you and your students so that we can continue to utilize your insights in our future planning towards resilience.

    Here are some specific questions I’ve received this week:

    • When do classes end? The last day of official classes is Friday, June 5th. The week of June 8th will allow students time to finish late work, re-do work, and meet individually with teachers to finish out the trimester in good standing. We will also offer a daily art adventure, share some culminating work of the trimester, and celebrate the 8th graders graduating on Friday, June 12th, at 12:30.
    • What teachers are leaving Northwest? Here is the list of departing teachers in the Middle School and what they have shared about what’s next for them:
      • Ellen Graham, cross-divisional theater teacher: “When theaters open again, I'm going to be picking up my professional directing career. I'm also returning to my first love, writing, and as I'm starting to get published, that's exciting for me. “
      • Heather Hall, half-time teacher of 8th grade Humanities: “I am leaving Northwest having learned much from and enjoyed the company of many colleagues and students, for which I am grateful.”
      • Julie Kim, full-time teacher of 6th grade Humanities: “I'll be moving to Michigan with my family this summer to pursue new adventures.”
      • Sara Venable, cross-divisional theater teacher: “I've returned to Tennessee to be with my family during this uncertain time.”

    At the end of the school year, we will share the biographies of the new faculty members to the Middle School for the 2020-2021 school year.

    One last parting thought. There have been a number of stories in the news encouraging us to worry about lost academic time. While we are taking that concern seriously at Northwest, I encourage all of us not to panic. I was reminded this week of a phrase I heard when my own children were young: The days are long, but the years are short. As my son graduated from college this past month, I can say that that’s true. Wasn’t I just taking him to preschool or teaching him to drive? Let’s think in terms of the long game. We are working hard, collectively, to support our middle schoolers in response to this unprecedented time, and I have a lot of faith in our and their ability not only to survive, but to thrive with greater resilience. Let’s keep working towards this goal together.

    Wishing you the best,

    Sue

    Sue Maul Middle School Director

  • May 16 - Letter to Upper School Families - Survey Results

    Dear Upper School Families,

    Happy drizzly Saturday. My letter today will include updates from this past week, information and lessons learned from the survey, and some news about things to look forward to. I have enjoyed this opportunity to communicate with you through these weekly updates and hopefully begin to build a connection with you as I transition into my new role in the Upper School.

    Lessons learned about the survey: We know our next survey needs a “Not Applicable” option, and many of you would like to be able to offer more qualitative responses to specific questions. Some people missed the survey or did not have time to complete it before it closed. We will continue to modify our surveys and make them more clearly accessible. Our intention with the quick turnaround on this one (and the one directly before) was for us to have time to make changes based upon the information we learned. As the school year comes to a close, you will have one more opportunity to share your experiences and offer feedback in the more comprehensive trimester survey which will help to inform our plans for the fall.

    As I mentioned last week, the surveys clearly suggest a wide range of experiences in this remote learning paradigm, so the best way to communicate on behalf of your individual student is to contact the teacher, advisor, counselors or me. Some students or parents and guardians want more challenging and enriching material, and some are wanting and needing much less.

    Student Response

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    Parent Response

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    We are all here to help with your individual concerns and want to help find a pathway forward that works for each individual.

    Other themes from the survey highlight that many students appreciate the later than usual 9 AM start, many students are finding it hard to focus and stay motivated, and some students are feeling quite anxious. Some are finding it harder to retain information. I think this likely resonates with all of us and is a shared reality in this time of great uncertainty. I want to encourage you to read Joe’s Health and Wellness newsletters, check out the resources on the Counselors’ page, and reach out if you need help. From the Zoom call on Wednesday on parenting in these challenging times with Sarina Natkin and Peter Berner-Hays, and the Thursday Screenagers facilitated discussion, parents and guardians shared some of the strategies that are working best for them, such as taking walks together as a family or alone, guiding their kids to find a way to do something meaningful for someone else, establishing and maintaining regular routines, taking the time to exercise, making sleep a priority, and cooking new things. We also talked about reconciling the desire for less screen use and the reality that screens provide social connection in these times. There was acknowledgement that gaming can provide real social time. We also talked about modeling the concept of living with and managing uncertainty, when we are used to having more answers, and the resilience this is helping our children develop.

    Students and parents both commented in the survey on the continued challenge of multiple platforms. We are moving to Canvas in the fall, and in the meantime, teachers are working to be more explicit with their students about where to find everything they need.

    Students and teachers are missing the deep connection which is hard to replicate over the internet. Some teachers are doing one on one conferences, and we will work to have more face to face connection through grade level meetings. RAs from the dorm continue to offer study help and meet ups throughout the night to support our international students abroad.

    Seniors in particular are suffering the loss of their senior spring. Senior teachers met this week and are working with their classes to find the most satisfying way possible to finish out their time together at Northwest. More than 50 seniors met with Arthur Ung from The Production Network, to begin to plan their graduation ceremony, which will be shared virtually on June 9th. Seniors offered some exciting ideas about how to make it a special event. More information about how to access the broadcast will come soon. I hope you have seen the great pictures of seniors receiving yard signs and care packages from teachers last Monday and the senior shout-outs on social media. Care packages for our out of country seniors are in the mail.

    Both in the survey and in conversations, several parents have expressed thoughts and concerns about the fall. We are busy planning for several scenarios so we will be ready as things continue to change. We recognize the need for more social connection in this time of physical distancing, and that we all need to continue to address our health and wellbeing in meaningful ways. Our teachers will take the time over the summer to recharge and will continue to improve on ways to deliver the most excellent education possible. They have done an incredible job pivoting to remote learning, and everyone has learned so much about what works and what does not. We are sharing resources with schools around the United States and the world to adapt the unfolding best practices to the Northwest School mission.

    In both the Zoom calls this week and in the survey, parents and guardians asked about resources for the summer and ideas for how to provide structure once school ends. We will gather resources and ideas for you before school is out.

    One final note, the Parent Guardian Planning Group (Felicia Job, Lesli Franklin, Val Nelson, Gladys Ly-Au Young, Aya Sethi, Elham Kazemi, Lynn Carr, Maggie Hooks, Nan Noble, James Drage, Mike McGill, Sue Maul, Beth Mulvey and me) has begun meeting to make plans for next school year. I am excited about the work of this group, and invite any of you who interested in learning more about how to be involved as an Upper School Class Lead or US Division Chair please reach out to me. We are hoping to establish a group that will help represent all voices in our school community to build partnership with the US Division and the school.

    I hope you all have a restorative weekend,

    Amy

  • May 15 - Health and Wellness Newsletter - Volume 6: How to Put it All Together

    After conversations with both parents and students over the past couple of weeks, I tackle this edition with great humility. You all are figuring out amazing ways to deal with these changes and showing a level of nimble thought and action that is inspiring. I am impressed with 6th graders who can relate how something wasn’t really working so, now, they are doing something new. Parents have invented new ways to connect and create safe and nurturing spaces, even amidst the upheaval and tumult of all being stuck under one roof. I think the lesson for me is that, in the end, figuring how to be well during a time without precedent takes creativity and a “beginner’s mind” as we reinvent our day-to-day lives. So, if all of that applies to you, close this email, enjoy a little less computer time and just go back to doing something healthy for yourself or your loved ones. Again, passing along any anecdotes, advice, pictures, resources for our crowd-sourced next newsletter would be much appreciated.

    For those still a little bit stuck between where you are and where you want/need to be, hopefully there are some reasons to read on.

    I took my first meditation class 42 years ago. I always felt a great benefit from meditating. I took other classes over the years. I paid annual subscription fees to meditation apps. And I established my daily meditation habit two years ago. Why did it take me 40 years to finally make a daily habit of something I knew was a good thing? Sorry, no one magical answer or formula, just a combination of forces coming together to make something that seemed really hard, suddenly pretty easy.

    If you are still reading these newsletters you have probably decided that establishing routines that contribute to your physical and mental health is important right now. Great. There are no new ideas here. Nothing new to try. For this wrap-up issue, I am going to suggest a bit of work, some exercises to help pull it all together and hopefully take some of the work out of things later.

    Step 1: Celebrate that you are healthy and have made it through two months of lockdown. Take a moment to write down the things you have done and are doing that are working and helping. You may want to organize that into a list of routines that are working. Just take a moment to note your actions towards taking care of yourself.

    Step 2: Commit to doing less of something. Time and energy are finite and precious commodities, so any lasting routines or changes start with making the space for them to live and grow. Make a list of anything you spend time and energy on that you are ready to let go of – either to stop doing altogether or to do less of. (For me, the critical step to my morning meditation routine was going to bed earlier the night before, which meant less of (or no) reading the news on my phone in the evening.)

    How much time and energy did you just gift yourself by doing less? If the number doesn’t bring you some calm and joy, maybe there is a bit more to cut out. Get creative and embrace the “reset.” Heeding the advice in issue #4, on problems of multitasking, or #5, on benefits of sleep, might even lead to less time and energy needed for work and homework.

    Step 3: Clarify your needs and intentions. Sure, having elements of meditation, walking, intense exercise, cooking, creating art, dancing, visiting with friends, writing letters, keeping a gratitude journal, doing some yoga and some self-massage, and looking at the clouds, etc., can make for a very healthy day. Trying to do it all would have just the opposite effect.

    So, look at the big picture. What is most getting in the way for you being your healthiest self, today (it is important to focus on the present) – sleep, stress, hunger, lack of social connection, lack of movement, etc.? Allow yourself to take on just one or two things right now.

    Step 4: Reflect on best way to meet that need. What practices (things you can do with your time and energy) best address that concern? If you need to reduce your overall stress level, have you noted more stress relief from walking, journaling, making art, petting the dog, etc.?

    Write those down – again, three things max, but start with one (you can build on your success later).

    Step 5: Take stock. At this point, you should have a few things you are going to stop doing or do less of that frees up some time and energy. You should have clarified your needs and intentions of your change focus. Finally, you should have a modest idea of something you would like to start doing, or do more consistently, that will help with meeting that need/intention.

    For example: 1) My 15-minute morning walk and before-bed gratitude journaling are really working as ways to start and end the day. 2) I can free up about a half an hour today or any day by cutting way back on the time I spend complaining to my friends via text about how annoying I find Zoom meetings. 3) Those Zoom meetings are just one of many technology-related things that are adding to my stress load, especially in the middle of the day, and I really want to feel less stressed. 4) My favorite stress-relief activity is taking a walk with my camera and taking pictures. I can take a half-hour walk with my camera today, or each day, right after my last class.

    Now the fun part – making it happen, making it easy.

    Make it harder to do the stuff you want to do less of.

    • Use signs and reminders. Want to stop sending complaining texts? Why not make your phone screensaver some cool graphic with “Complaining time is wasting time.”
    • Ask your friends and family. In example above, ask your friends not to respond if you send complaining texts.
    • Keep stuff out of reach. In example above, put the phone away somewhere for some time.
      • Find yourself mindlessly snacking on some salty junk food late at night and then feeling lousy and not being able to fall asleep? Don’t buy the salty junk food, or keep it in some cupboard that’s hard to reach.

    Make it easier to do the stuff you want to do more of.

    • Leave your gear and prompts out, front and center. A good friend was complaining about how hard it has been to lift weights at home since he can’t go to the gym. When I asked where he kept his kettle bells he said, “in the closet.” My suggestion: move them to the middle of the living room.
      • Every morning of every day, I get up and put on running shorts and a t-shirt and then add layers on top. I am always less than a minute from being ready to run. My gratitude journal is bright orange and lives right next to my bed.
      • I heard a great story this week about an NWS family who has a huge gratitude wall that they can’t help but see and interact with all day.
      • At least for a while, no one is coming over to visit, so maybe it’s ok to leave the art supplies, camera, or yoga mat out and ready to use.
      • Take any morning plan and put all the stuff that will make it easier (ingredients, clothing, supplies, etc.) out the night before.
    • Use the smarts of your phone. As much as smartphones can waste our time, they provide an endless array of nudges and reminders and alarms.
    • Write it down, check it off, give yourself a gold star.
      • I have gone here in earlier issues but when we start 30-day challenge activities in Middle School classes, everyone has a printed sheet, with a daily task and a bunch of smiley face or star stickers to put on each day when done. Why? It works. Figure out your own personal equivalent of a star chart or check list and use it. That might be reward enough, but if not, give yourself a “final” reward, maybe the gift of time you haven’t given yourself to do something you might have seen as frivolous.
    • Use friends and family to make things easier. Trust me, if you text a friend who lives a couple of miles away and say, "Tonight I am going to bake some cherry walnut muffins and walk over and bring you one tomorrow,” you will feel some combination of excited and obligated to both bake and walk.
      • Challenge a family member to a “triple world series” of some game, like basketball or badminton. Three games every day. Best two out of three wins the day. Four days wins the week.
      • The odds of being successful with any life change are exponentially increased when you have a partner in that plan. That 40-year inconsistent meditation practice was made consistent when my wife and I committed to each other to start every day that way.

    And be kind to yourself in the process.

    • We are under this misguided notion that the only way to stick with something is to beat ourselves up when we “fail.” If we don’t get out and run today, we just need to be harder on ourselves tomorrow, beat ourselves up a bit as a form of self-punishment. Is that how you would treat a good friend or family member? Why not? Because it is mean and counterproductive. It doesn’t work and science has shown that time and again.
    • When we treat ourselves with kindness and patience and respect, we are not only happier, but we accomplish our goals more often.
      • You can read about it here or here, or watch this video talk,
      • Or simply stop yourself when you start into self-criticism and pretend you are talking to someone you love and care about. Give yourself permission to be human and not always perfect, and then the encouragement to try again.
      • If this is particular challenge for you, then you may want to consider this great workbook or just this list of 10 self-compassion practices specific to these times.

    Thanks for reading and responding and I am serious about needing you all to help me write the next edition. I especially would love to hear directly from students with something to pass along to your peers. I can even give you a gold star or a sticker if you send me an idea. (That’s from my wife, the Kindergarten teacher, but maybe that’s a motivator for you!)

    Finally, and I am glad to be doing this in writing and not on Zoom (as I am getting quite emotional just in the typing) because these newsletters are part of my final work here at Northwest. I am “retiring” at the end of this school year. Below, you will find a separate letter with my farewell (and I do like that word when you pause between fare and well) thoughts.

    Be well,

    Joe

  • May 15 - Letter to Middle School Families - Insights During Remote Learning

    Dear Middle School Parents and Guardians,

    Sue asked me to write this week’s email sharing insights from “my office” as the Acting Middle School Dean of Students about what I am seeing and responding to during remote learning. I am happy to oblige, and I am happy to be part of this inspirational community.

    One of my first tasks as I stepped into this role, close on the heels of our move to remote learning, was to send an email letting 6th grade families know there had been potential exposure to lice in the grade. Within minutes, I got my first response from a parent thanking me for the email, not because of its practical nature, but to express how great it was to get a message that felt so normal. Fortunately, we had no reports of other cases, but as I said to friends later that evening, you know you are in strange territory when parents are happy to hear about lice.

    I mention this now, though, to acknowledge a dynamic. Yes, we are in strange territory as a school, you are in strange territory as parents, and you are not alone. Whatever thoughts or experiences you are having, someone else is probably having, too. In fact, there are a few things I know several of you are experiencing, and I'd like to share some frequently asked questions I've received from parents in the hope they can serve as connectors for all of you, whether that is just the comfort of knowing others are in the same boat or to use as a jumping off point for discussions you might have with us or with each other.

    How much should I be monitoring or helping my child with homework?

    This is a question that has special significance during remote learning, but also seems very normal. I get it every year at Curriculum Night and my answer is always this: as much as they'll let you while, a) ensuring their work is their own, and b) maintaining family peace. If it turns out that amount is very little to none, let us step in.

    One of the hallmarks of middle school is the move toward independence. Part of how that happens is through students forming their own identities, separate from their parents' identities, and forging their own ways of being and doing. This can show up as tension when a parent asks to see or help with homework, and while some kids at this age are open to and even welcome parent engagement in their work, others most decidedly do not. On campus, for those in the latter category, we can take some of that pressure off by providing peer structures that support student learning, by leading the conversations about homework, by offering one-on-one support during class or office hours, and so on.

    My answer to the question during remote learning is the same. While it is never going to be the same as being together with our students in person, we can still help. Advisors can help by watching for and noting patterns and helping to devise an action plan. Individual teachers can help by answering questions posed in class or email and by meeting individually or in small groups with students during office hours. Sue Maul, Middle School Director, and Rae Page, our Middle School Learning Resources Coordinator, can help connect you to tutoring services (yes, tutors are working online!). Though we are coming to you from our living rooms and backyards and even laundry rooms, we are still here for you and we can still help. Reach out and be in touch if you are facing this frustration, and we can figure out how to move forward together.

    I can see my child doing things they are not supposed to between and during class sessions. I'm not sure how I should respond.

    This is the concern that has come my way the most. Parents see their children texting, gaming, or otherwise not engaged as they should be, and wonder what to do. Some wonder if it would overstep the boundaries of teachers to address it, some are waiting for the teachers to address it, some don't know how or if to address it, and some don't have the bandwidth or mental energy to address it. I have a few thoughts about this, and the issue seems to break down into two categories: what happens in class and what happens between classes.

    Regarding what happens in class, first, thanks to those of you who have addressed any issues you've seen. If texting or gaming is happening during class time, this is a clear violation of our remote learning expectations. We cannot monitor what students are doing at home in the same way we can in the classroom, so it will take the village on both sides of the screen to enforce expectations. Most teachers, in addition to the sudden need to revamp everything about how they teach in a short time, are managing multiple tasks in the space of those 30-45 minute classes, including speaking, sharing materials, taking attendance, monitoring the chat, launching breakout groups, answering questions, etc. It's a lot. If you see that your child is engaging in behaviors that may be distracting to them or to others, we would love for you to support our overall learning environment by reviewing our remote learning expectations with your child. They are attached as reference.

    Regarding what happens between classes, this is more of a gray area. On campus, time between classes varies between 5 minutes to an hour, depending on whether it is passing time, break, or lunch. Sometimes this time has demands, like getting to and ready for class, and sometimes it has room for play or quiet time, when students might go to the roof, the gym, or the library. Like all of us, our students have needs for social time. Finding and using that time appropriately presents challenges for some students both on campus and off. We included longer breaks between classes in our remote learning schedule so that students can have time to prepare for class, take a bio/outside/stretch break, and avoid long stretches of uninterrupted screen time. Some kids are gaming instead. There is some research to indicate some types of gaming, managed in appropriately-sized doses, can be a good brain break and foster social connection. While we still encourage physical movement instead, if you find your child can manage those moments and still be on time and focused for class, and it aligns with your family rules and values, don't stress about it. If not, it might be worth asking what need your child is trying to meet and how else might they meet that need instead? I have spoken with families that are allowing the gaming, even though it has been distracting, because the family rule is no screen time after school and into the evening. If the gaming is social, and that is the only time your child is connecting with friends, consider offering some evening gaming time with friends as a reward for a focused school day. If gaming still doesn't feel right to you, how else can that social need be met? Can other parents be your allies in this discussion? Can we as a school? Or perhaps gaming is the only "private" time your child is getting at a time we are all in close quarters. If that is the case, is there another way your child can get some space?

    If, ultimately, you as a parent decide you need more control over the device, there is an option for you to become the administrator of your child's computer. This means you would be able to delete games or applications your child has downloaded, and prevent new ones from being downloaded. Unfortunately, this needs to be done in person with our IT team, which is difficult (though not impossible) right now. Greg Hampton, our IT Director, is the person to contact. This would also not prevent access to online gaming. To do that, you would need to purchase parental control software on your own. Parental controls for web-based resources can also be implemented through most internet providers home routers, and there are other resources that can help that are no cost, like OpenDNS's FamilyShield (which blocks adult content) and Home (which has customizable filters to block sites by category).

    I can see my child is lacking social connection, and I've tried to help them set up online time with friends, but it seems like they don't know what to say to each other.

    Middle school is a time when kids are learning how to build connections and are framing their identity in relation more to peers than adults. That process can be both lifegiving and fraught, and it is especially complex in a remote setting. Even in person, kids sometimes don't know what to talk about or how to read social cues and timing, but there is always the default of what just happened at lunch or at the game or the last time they spent time together. The longer we are away from each other and the larger school community in real life, the farther away those memories and shared stories will become and the less easily they will work as starting places for talk. Even if there's still plenty to talk about, hanging out via Zoom or Skype has a different vibe and calls for a different skill set, and it can feel really awkward. My instinct says that's okay. Having realistic expectations about social connection in this time, letting the silence be, and riding it out anyway is probably a good thing in the long run. Maybe it will get better with time and practice, and maybe it's okay if it doesn't. Sometimes there is comfort in just being in a "room" together, and some of the best social bonding I've seen has come out of older students looking back and making fun of themselves about their awkward middle school moments. If your child is open to it, helping them arrange more structured time with friends, such as an interactive game, some friendly competition, a shared online movie night, etc. might be more engaging. One thing that's been clear in my reading is that lots of other people are thinking about this, too. Here are some of the articles I've found most compelling.

    How to Keep Kids Social During a Time of Social Distancing

    How to Keep Kids Connected with Friends During Covid-19

    A Therapist's Advice for Helping Pre-Teens in a Coronavirus Lockdown

    These are unprecedented times, and we are all making our way. Hang in there! We really are all in this together.

    Tamara Bunnell Acting Middle School Dean of Students

  • May 10 - Health and Wellness Newsletter - Volume 5: Evening Routines

    Hi again,

    First, it’s my hope that our next issue of this newsletter will be purely crowdsourced. I am looking for your stories, your pictures, your ideas, your links, and any other offerings. I am hoping you will send me things that show how you are putting ideas from these newsletters to work for yourself and your family. I am also looking for ideas and resources that I haven’t touched on in past newsletters that add to the collective tool kit for surviving these times and whatever times are ahead. Thanks for passing those along this week so I can start to put that together.

    The two topics I am focusing on this week are big ones – important enough to get our full attention – Gratitude and Sleep.

    There is a lot of research that shows that folks who are grateful and practice gratitude experience all kinds of positive and healthy outcomes (Morin 2014):

    • More and Better Friendships
    • Better Physical Health
    • Better Mental Health
    • More Empathy and Less Aggression
    • Better Sleep
    • More Resilience

    So, the logical next question is, “Does being grateful cause these results or are people with these attributes more grateful?” To test the question, plenty of scientists have simply taken groups of people, had them start a “gratitude practice” and then noted what happens. And mostly what happens is the list you see above. (To be clear, gratitude is not just an evening thing. It can be a powerful tool anytime. I include it here just as one place for it to land for you and maybe as an evening check in, “Did I take some time to practice gratitude today?”)

    If you look up “gratitude” in the dictionary you will see it listed as a noun. In this issue we want to change that.

    Gratitude as a verb – It is great to “be” grateful but I am suggesting something more active: to “do” grateful.

    • Gratitude Journaling – One of the most common practices is to find a time and a place to write down things for which you are thankful. Some suggest daily, others a few times a week; some suggest lists: others, paragraphs: others, mind maps. You will find specific ideas in links below. My personal practice is just a nice journal book next to my bed that I write in each night before putting my head on the pillow. Four years in, I have a nice collection of late-night thanks and I sleep way better than I used to.
    • Gratitude Walking – Double goodness. Take a walk with the express intent of noting things you are grateful for. That can be the body you are walking in, the place you are walking through, or the things you hear and see along the way. This can be great done alone but also can be a great shared activity. Any time of day works. I am a huge fan of starting and/or ending my day this way. Can be combined with Gratitude Photo-taking.
    • Gratitude Letter Writing or Calling – This might be the most powerful item on the list. It has you focusing your gratitude on another person and, if brave enough, seeing the impact your gratitude can have on someone else. Watch this and try not to cry.
    • “Saying Grace” – The practice of giving gratitude before a meal “transcends religious and cultural boundaries.” I will quote one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, here. I think we’re in it for the pause, the quiet thanks for love and for our blessings, before the shoveling begins. For a minute, our stations are tuned to a broader, richer radius. We’re acknowledging that this food didn’t just magically appear: Someone grew it, ground it, bought it, baked it; wow. We savor these moments out of time, when we are conscious of love’s presence, of Someone’s great abiding generosity to our dear and motley family, these holy moments of gratitude. And that is grace.
    • More Ideas:

    I could fill pages with great resources on Gratitude. Here is a short list of some of the best. You will find the scientific research and concrete ways to practice gratitude.

    Sleep

    I wonder if I need to spend time trying to convince folks of just how important sleep is? I have a feeling the research is out there and the message has been said about a thousand times, and yet, even those of us who fully believe in science and can’t fathom folks who deny climate change or evolution, somehow think that all of that science doesn’t apply to us at 9:00pm when we are making some critical choices about the rest of the night. In the interest of bringing in some evolution and science, I ask you to consider two more little nuggets to chew on:

    • All of us evolved from the folks who survived in a time when dangers were plentiful and “life and death” situations the norm. At some point in human history there were constant threats to human life. And yet, those same ancestors slept, completely vulnerable to outside forces, for one third of their lives. Sleep was, and still is, that important.
    • For you, your organs would shut down and you would cease to be living way more quickly without sleep (scientists aren’t sure because that would be a very unethical experiment – but likely 12 to 15 days) than without food (40 to 60 days).

    How to sleep well – First, I want to clearly acknowledge that sleep disorders are a very real and common problem. Those sleep issues can have both physiological and psychological origins (including being woven into symptoms of anxiety and depression). I am not a medical professional and this newsletter’s only foray into the clinical world of sleep issues is to implore those who have tried the common list of things to help with sleep, and still cannot, to seek professional help. Finding that help can start with reaching out to parents, your doctor, or to Erin and Megan, the counselors at school.

    The advice from experts is pretty consistent, so instead of bullet points, let’s make this one a checklist.

    • Get physical exercise during the day, but not right before bed.
    • Stick to a routine – morning wake up and bedtime don’t vary much each day.
    • Be careful with caffeine – sensitivity is highly personal, but it stays in the system a long time.
    • Make the bedroom sleep-conducive.
      • Dark
      • Quiet
      • Cool
    • Eat a nourishing satisfying dinner and avoid heavy snacks before sleeping.
    • Turn off electronics – any light, especially blue light, keeps the sleep hormones from releasing.
    • Turn off school – extra studying is way less effective than extra sleep.
    • Establish a bedtime ritual – think Bath, Decaf Tea, Reading, Calm Music, Gratitude Journal, Meditation, Bedtime Yoga, Setting an alarm for being in bed.
    • Go to bed at a time that will allow you at least 9 hours (research actually says teens need up to 10 hours a night) before you need to wake up.

    So those are the basics. Here are a few other helpful things to look at or look into:

    I will circle back to gratitude in bringing this edition to a close. I am very grateful to not have needed the services of frontline medical providers but from a distance my gratitude is deep. Leanne O’Sullivan brought tears to me with a poem where fear and deep gratitude live side by side.

    “Leaving Early”

    by Leanne O’Sullivan

    My Love, tonight Fionnuala is your nurse. You’ll hear her voice sing-song around the ward lifting a wing at the shore of your darkness. I heard that, in another life, she too journeyed through a storm, a kind of curse, with the ocean rising darkly around her, fierce with cold, and no resting place, only the frozen rocks that tore her feet, the light on her shoulders. And no cure there but to wait it out. If, while I’m gone, your fever comes down — if the small, salt-laden shapes of her song appear to you as a first glimmer of earth-light, follow the sweet, hopeful voice of that landing. She will keep you safe beneath her wing.

    Thanks for reading. Sleep well. Be well.

    Joe Bisignano

  • May 9 - Letter to Upper School Families: Learning Opportunities

    Dear US Families,

    Happy beautiful Saturday. I hope you are all finding some time to be outside in a safe way this weekend. It was my intention to share the findings of our most recent survey in this letter, but we reopened it when we realized not enough of you had seen the link, which we resent to you on Friday. The survey will stay open until Monday night, and I will share some of the findings next week. As with all facets of our school, we continue to learn how to improve all of our systems and processes, including our surveys. We will use the feedback from Parents/Guardians and Students to inform the ways that we can continue to adjust our program. What is clear from the data we have reviewed so far is that there is an amazing range of experiences for our students. You should have heard from your student’s advisor this week if they have an LSP or if there are any concerns about their earning credit. The best way to help us navigate your child’s experience and support them as needed is on an individual basis with your advisor helping to set up a plan. Please reach out to them with your specific academic concerns or questions.

    One of the most rewarding aspects of my work these last several weeks has been having individual calls with each of the Upper School teachers. It has been so inspiring to learn how they are navigating this very challenging time. They care so deeply for our students and miss seeing them in person. It is impressive to see how teachers are continuing to learn how to deliver our program online while also navigating their own children being home full time, partner job loss, family illness, and uncertainty. They are also using Joe B’s Health and Wellness tips to stay healthy and positive so they can continue to do their best for their students. They share that they are figuring out how to do things better in their classes, and they acknowledge the fatigue we are all feeling. I hope everyone takes a much-needed screen break this weekend to recharge.

    There are two great opportunities this week for parents and guardians to connect with each other and with the school. I will be hosting another call on parenting in these challenging times with Sarina Natkin and Peter Berner-Hays on Wednesday from 7pm – 8pm and a Screenagers discussion Thursday from 7pm – 8pm. There are several other opportunities to engage with the parent/guardian community this week and in the weeks to come. Please see the E-News for all the options and links to the calls. We know it is not possible to attend all of these options, and we are trying to offer an array of ways to connect as a community.

    One of the core beliefs of The Northwest School that I value highly is that we are all faculty, and every adult has something to teach the kids in our care. In closing, I will share with you a song I sent to the Northwest Faculty in honor of Faculty Appreciation week. Perhaps, with this online schooling experience, you can relate. I share this song in appreciation for all our faculty do to support the kids and families in our community.

    Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

    Amy

  • May 8 - Letter to Middle School Families: Remote Learning Survey Feedback

    Dear Middle School Parents and Guardians,

    I am writing two different emails this week, one to parents and guardians and one to students. My goal is to share the feedback you shared with Northwest through the surveys sent out last week.

    Thank you to the 85 parents and guardians that completed the survey and to the 133 middle school students who completed their survey during advisory. The experience of remote learning continues to vary greatly, and this is seen in both the parent and guardian and student data. There is a little variation, however, between the groups in perception of workload. Here is how students responded to the question,

    image1.png

    And here is how parents responded:

    image2.png

    While the parent and guardian perception of workload has not changed much since when we surveyed in March, the student data shows an increase in “just right” responses. We will continue to work on this at each grade level, but we are still dependent on you and your students being in communication with your advisor to help address the “too much” workload for the individual students experiencing overwhelm. I’ve been in communication with some families this week about reduced course loads so students can focus on fewer classes. We want to continue to work with individuals as needed if the challenges are too great.

    The narrative feedback in the survey from parents and guardians ranged from at the very low end, "[Class practice] is a joke…All in all I would grade NWS online a big fat D-," to a number of comments like, "It’s all good. You’re doing a great job given the circumstances." And on the high end, "My student is actually VERY MUCH appreciating the independence and flexibility of home-based learning." There were also a number of comments of appreciation like, "In terms of the parent-directed communication and the efforts of the teachers and staff, you are all doing a great job; keep it up and thank you!" Let me just say how much we appreciate comments of appreciation! They are keeping us going.

    Another theme from both sets of data is the concern and reality of there being a lack of motivation. One parent/guardian wrote, "I think we are all tired of the situation and the newness of it has worn off." I agree with many of you in recognizing that this is a natural by-product of these extraordinary circumstances, and I want to encourage all of us to make the case for the worthy endeavor we are engaged in. School and learning matter. Reading The Parker Inheritance and studying the layers of earth are still important and worthwhile. We want to continue, also, to balance work with self-care and rest. Northwest is committed to that and from your responses, I can see that you are too. Let’s keep working together!

    Questions included in the data collected:

    • If I have a question about a particular class and don’t hear back from that teacher, who should I contact next? I, myself, am struggling with the volume of email I receive, all of which is so important, so I always appreciate when someone circles back to an unanswered email getting it to the top of my in-box. Let me encourage you to circle back to teachers unanswered emails, with me and the advisor cc’d. This extra step will allow us, collectively, to facilitate communication.
    • I don’t see STUDENTS joining the optional sessions. Perhaps a few should be mandatory? Due to the variety in students’ experiences and the challenge of the independent work of classes, we are going to continue to encourage opt-in classes, but not require them.
    • Is any of the homework graded so there is some indication of how they are doing? Yes. Feedback to students may look like comments in Flipgrid, One-note, or Word documents. On-line programs like Sendaros VHL report accuracy using percentages. Teachers are completing rubrics with the goal of making clear if students are earning credit and meeting expectations.
    • What’s next year going to look like? We don’t know the answer to this question yet. We are planning based on three scenarios (though, by the end of next week, it may be four). The scenarios include beginning the school year in person in September (the one we are hoping for), beginning remotely, and utilizing a hybrid that would allow smaller groups to gather on campus coupled with remote learning. How quickly the state is able to move through the phases of the Governor’s plan will dictate our planning.

    We are not done looking at the survey data and addressing concerns like motivation. Thank you again for taking the time to complete it and offering us this helpful feedback.

    I look forward to seeing you next week at the Screenagers discussion Tuesday, May 12th. I also will be joining Mike for a parent and guardian Zoom meeting on May 19th from 7pm to 8pm. Information will be in E-news for how to get access to the Zoom link. While I am grateful we can gather virtually, I miss seeing you and your kids.

    Continue to take good care and wishing you the best,

    Sue

    Sue Maul Middle School Director

  • May 3 - Health and Wellness Newsletter - Volume 4: Afternoon Routines

    Hi all,

    Thanks so much for the feedback and responses. In this time of challenged connections, feeling like this newsletter is connecting us with each other is very gratifying. It has been great to hear your stories and see your inspiration wall picture and know the way you are creating your own healthy practices. Keep those coming. Just a heads up, as I go through to edit this it is long. I got excited. I suggest looking for bullet points that call to you and zipping by the rest.

    It is probably not a stretch to guess that when 12:40 PM rolls around and that last class ends for the day, there is a combination of the relief that comes from hitting that “leave meeting” one more time and a bit of overwhelm as you picture the rest of the day and all that you want/need to do. And when our minds are both fatigued and faced with a whole bunch of thoughts and directives, with little imposed structure or routine, it does just what we might expect and starts spinning, like that colorful wheel or frozen screen on our computers, when we ask too much at once. Not a recipe for healthy or happy.

    I like a challenge and I hope you are willing to tackle the challenge of making this more wide-open chunk of time work to serve you and your mental and physical health well. Many people describe the experience of having a mind swirling around a whole bunch of stuff as “Noise”. With that in mind, for this issue I want to use the metaphor of listening to the radio and talk about four ways to listen that work well for us:

    • Tune In (One station at a time)
    • Turn it Down (Rituals for slowing down)
    • Turn it Off (Napping)
    • Turn it Up (When intensity is a good thing)

    Tune in to one station at a time

    I might argue that the single healthiest thing you can do with this chunk of time would be to simply do one thing at a time. Trying to do otherwise is inefficient, energy sapping, and is linked to being unhappy. Why and how?

    • Multitasking – Sorry, humans can’t really do it.
      • There is plenty of research to confirm this statement. You can read or listen here and one quote pulled from that link: "People can't multitask very well, and when people say they can, they're deluding themselves," says neuroscientist Earl Miller.
    • Set an Intention. Before tuning into any one station it can help to take a moment to think big picture,
      • “What is going to guide my afternoon today?” Your answer might be something like – “Connect with other people,” “Let my creativity out,” or “Act with courage.” Having an intentional way you want to live out your day can help make sense of all the details.
      • Writing it down and/or sharing it with others can make an intention more powerful.
    • Connect with one or two people – Sure, Zoom is great for being able to see and hear from a whole bunch of folks at once, and recent research tells us it can be exhausting. Think about spending quality time with just one or two other people.
      • It may seem by now that you are running out of things to say and do with that small circle you have been locked down with. Don’t let that stop you from connecting in some new or deeper way.
      • At the risk of inspiring, “OK, Boomer” responses, let me make an appeal for the old school phone call. For those of you raised on the convenience of texting and social media, let me suggest that a phone call slows things down and leads to a level of connection that is hard to recreate elsewhere. It might seem odd at first but give it a try.
      • Even more old school, think about writing a real letter, putting it in the mail, and in a perfect world, wait a week or two for a reply. Inspired by a good friend, I am breaking out an old school manual typewriter and starting to practice what I preach.
    • Worry-time Scheduling – The most common form of “noise” is worrying about one thing while trying to do something else. It is hard to turn off that voice in your head but one technique worth trying is to schedule time to worry.
      • The practice is pretty simple – 15 to 30 minutes – Scheduled – Write it all down – Tell yourself at other times that you have time set aside later for “worrying” – Look at lists a week later and look for patterns. More details here.
    • Doing Homework – This is a funny word now (isn’t it?) as all schoolwork is “home” work. And that can be problematic. Solving math problems, writing a paper, playing an instrument, etc. all require focus and intention. The “noise” of life at home makes schoolwork challenging and the “noise” of schoolwork can make the rest of life challenging. You know the result: a set of math problems that could get done in 20 minutes takes an hour, or hanging out in your yard is clouded with the specter of homework.
      • Reminder: We don’t actually multi-task. Netflix and doing your science homework don’t mix well. If you don’t want to spend extra hours on schoolwork, just do the homework.
      • We all have limits on our productivity and focus – 20 to 50 minutes is a common range – and when we pass that line we aren’t productive any more. Stop then. Get some movement. Change it up. Go back to it when your brain and body are ready to do that one thing and do it well.
    • Create Something – It is interesting how this time is leading to an increased output of creative work. Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Macbeth while in quarantine for the plague. My advisees and students are sharing stories about painting, writing poetry, cooking, and taking photos as a response to these times.
      • Creative endeavors are one of the best paths to a state of Flow – that place where, “The mind’s usual chatter begins to fade away, placing us in a non-distracted zone. The feelings that would consume you under normal circumstances (inhibition, hunger, fatigue, or aches and pains) melt away, and all that matters is your dedication to your craft.” (From the linked article at Headspace.com)
      • Reminder from last week that setting aside the time and space to do this is important.

    Turn it Down

    A few years back, my wife and I went to live for a while on the island of Ikaria in Greece to try to learn why people live longer there than anywhere else in the world. I can sum it up in the often- repeated wise words of advice of my best friend there: “Slowly, slowly.” Creating some rituals to help slow life down a bit can feel great in the moment and help you live longer as well. Please don’t treat this like a checklist, but more like an interesting menu at a very eclectic restaurant.

    • Making/Drinking Tea – “Tea Time is a chance to slow down, pull back, and appreciate our surroundings” Leticia Balldrige.
    • Cloud Watching – Am I the only one who has found themselves just stopping somewhere to watch clouds for a while? If so, you all are missing some fun and calming stuff. No instructions needed but offered here anyway. It is aimed at kids, but that is part of the point.
    • Journaling – I know many of you keep a journal already and some have started recently. There are so many reasons why this serves you well, both in the moment, as a way to slow down and give your thoughts some time and focus, and for the future, as record of this historic time.
      • Again, give this important activity the time and space (and ideally a nice journal) that it deserves.
      • Next issue, we will take a deeper look into gratitude journaling because that specific form of journaling is especially beneficial to mental health (and sleep).
    • Reading, Walking, Breathing, Yoga, and even (perhaps especially) Eating Slower are all great ways to build some slowing-down time into your day.
    • Share your ideas for how you slow down. I would love to hear them and maybe include in future editions.

    Turn it off

    Sometimes you need more relief than just turning it down and you need a bit of time to just turn it off, which brings up the lovely (though not universally endorsed) notion of:

    Turn it Up

    The afternoon and weekends aren’t all about slowing down and napping. There are some times when we really want to turn up the intensity, and afternoon can be a great time to do it.

    • Working out with Intensity – In issue #2 I talked about the benefits of exercising in the morning in terms of establishing a habit and sticking with it. But when it comes to intensity and performance there is no better time than the afternoon.
      • This article is about runners but the science of workout timing applies to others.
      • If you want to set a Personal Record or prepare for better athletic performance, the combination of body temperature, hormone levels, and muscle readiness makes the afternoon prime time.
    • Cooking with Intensity – Most of what I have shared in terms of cooking stuff has been about easy and healthy food, but maybe you want to really develop you cooking game. I, for one, find few things more fun than having every burner going and making a meal to really savor.
    • Playing with intensity – We know there are no ultimate, soccer, or volleyball games. No track meets. But that doesn’t mean that your play can’t be competitive or intense. The Upper School track team is hosting virtual track meets. I saw a guy the other day playing solo speed disc golf. Get inventive.
      • Have you taken the #athomechallenge? Great stuff and you can play too. Started as a soccer thing but basketball playing along as well.
      • Type “Virtual 5k Seattle” into a web search and you will be surprised at how many events pop up. This might be just your kind of race.
      • I will admit to being a bit of a video game skeptic (maybe because I am terrible at playing them) but while there are strong reasons to be cautious and play in moderation, there is probably a good reason so many are playing Animal Crossing and this article certainly raises some good points in its advocacy of video gaming.

    So, when I start advocating video gaming it means I have truly tapped into my full breadth and depth of ideas for this segment. Again, this isn’t a checklist to try to do it all. But if you can find a few ways to be present to one thing at a time, slow down a bit, turn it up once in a while, and maybe throw a power nap in the mix, maybe the “noise” of life can be a bit more melodic and joyful.

    Be well.

    Joe

  • May 3 - Weekly Letter to Upper School Families

    Dear Upper School Families,

    Thirty years ago, when I graduated from college, many of my classmates went to work for companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and other new tech businesses in Silicon Valley. I have worked over those years in schools, and for the last 22 years at The Northwest School. Schools tend to adapt and change very slowly. At Northwest, I would describe us historically as cautious adopters of technology. These last eight weeks, though, I have felt less like a school person and more like what I imagine life to be like in a fast-moving start up. We redesigned our program based on the latest available information, got things up and running, and pivoted to online learning in a few days. We continue to adapt and tweak things as we go. Information that was cutting edge a week ago is rapidly out of date. Our teachers continue to learn more and better ways to deliver their material and maintain connection and engagement online.

    While as a community we value in-person connection, one positive outcome of this transition online is families from around the world are able to attend some of our gatherings. The New Upper School Orientation last week had nine of our new international families “attend” from three countries, in addition to our local Seattle families. As we adapt and modify our daily practices, we are also busy looking ahead to the fall and planning for different scenarios. We will share details of this planning as we get further along in the process. As is our motto on our outdoor trips at NWS, we are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

    On Wednesday, April 29th, we hosted an event on Zoom titled “Parenting in the Time of COVID-19.” Forty families joined parent educator, Sarina Natkin, and former counselor and Head of School Peter Berner-Hays. The intention of these gatherings (next on May 13th and 27th) is to build community and share the challenges of parenting in these unprecedented times. Parents and guardians shared that they are appreciative of the school and the work of the teachers at the same time that they are sad watching their kids managing so much loss and uncertainty. There were many questions about what will happen in the future, and what summer and fall will look like. Peter responded to these questions with, “We don’t know. It is not going to be what we were expecting. One of the odd things about parenting is that it is full of expectations, but things change. Adaptability and a willingness to share with your children that this is hard is a good thing.” Sarina shared that “The biggest way our children learn is from watching us. It’s okay to sit in uncertainty with them and to not have answers. It frees us up to be real people with our kids.” Some parents shared strategies that they have found to be positive in this time at home. A parent shared that “One of the things about this is the blessing of time to be with one another. We have the ritual of dinner together and share our highs, lows, and “ah-has” of the day. We find it to be grounding. My kids like the structure around sharing and it is a nice way to connect with one another at the end of the day.”

    Some parents and guardians expressed concern over the amount of screen time for their kids. As a reminder, we are currently offering a screening of Screenagers and Screenagers Next Chapter to all parents and students through May 12th. There will be a hosted conversation about the film on May 14th at 7 PM. See E-news for a link. Sarina Natkin said “The second Screenagers film (there are two) is a really good resource on mental health in students. It is positive and inspiring for my own kids, and it opened a door of communication between them and myself. It’s an hour long. I would recommend it.”

    In attempt to get an update on student experience, Parents and Guardians, please complete this survey, which is very similar to the survey you completed after the first two weeks of remote learning. We are hoping to compare the results and to utilize the current results for further iteration. Students will get a similar survey to complete. In addition to collecting data from you, teachers are providing mid-trimester feedback for students with Learning Support Plans and any students that need support and a plan for 1) getting caught up, or caught up enough, on independent work and/or 2) accessing classes or participating in classes more successfully. Advisors will be following up with these students and their parents and guardians next week with this feedback.

    In my advisory this week, I asked the students what they want to carry forward from this time. They said they appreciate the relationships they have with their family and friends. They enjoy time taking walks and drinking tea. When things open up again, they want to be less tentative about actively participating in all of the opportunities they have in their life. I think this is a great question for all of us to consider: what are we going to carry out of this?

    Wishing you well,

    Amy

  • May 1 - Weekly Letter to Middle School Families

    Dear Middle School Students and Families,

    Here is my weekly letter to share what we are learning about online learning in the Middle School, answers to questions that have come my way, and some personal reflections.

    It’s data collection time. Parents and Guardians, please complete this survey, which is very similar to the survey you completed after the first two weeks of remote learning. Please respond by Tuesday, May 5th. We are hoping to compare the results from the two collections as well as to utilize the current results for further iteration.

    Students, you will get a similar survey to complete on Monday during advisory. In addition to collecting data from you, teachers are providing mid-trimester feedback for students with Learning Support Plans and any students who need support and a plan for 1) getting caught up, or caught up enough, on independent work, and/or 2) accessing classes or participating in classes more successfully. Advisors will be following up these students and their parent/guardians next week with this feedback.

    Here is a specific question I’ve received this week:

    • Can Parents and Guardians join the Tuesday/Thursday drop-in classes? Yes. After including the links to the opt-in classes in my letter two weeks ago, I learned that only students using their Northwest log-in could access the options. This security measure is to ensure that only members of our community can utilize the Zoom links. We are now announcing the options in E-news. Families can find the offerings for Tuesday and Thursday as well as Friday’s Wellness session here. Reminder: student log-in required.

    Part of my self-care regimen is hearing from people, organizations, and efforts that strive to support and/or celebrate humans and actions that are honest and noble. If you haven’t viewed Jon Krasinski’s Some Good News, on YouTube, I recommend it. Tonight, I’ll be tuning into The Call to Unite. The website bills this event as “a 24-hour global livestream event that invites people across the world to celebrate our shared humanity. We will stand in solidarity with those experiencing pain, fear, loneliness, and grief – and offer hope and support as we build a new future together.” I have no idea if it will be any good, but I’m going to give the effort my time, respect, and participation. Let me encourage you to do the same with the people, organizations, and efforts around you that are striving in small and valiant ways to keep us collectively going.

    I’m still taking early morning walks with my husband. The sun rises earlier than it did three weeks ago, but the morning view east continues to inspire:

    suephoto.jpg

    Wishing you the best,

    Sue

  • April 24 - Health and Wellness Newsletter – Volume 3: School Day Routines

    I will admit that for a few days I have been carrying around a less-than-great attitude about this edition of the Health and Wellness News. I was getting bogged down in the ergonomics of laptops (designed to be carried around but not used by humans with necks and spines), the dangers of being sedentary for long periods of time (you may have heard some studies that concluded that “Sitting is the New Smoking”) and the reality of just being “Zoomed out” long before my Zoom day was over.

    But challenges are exciting and the reality is that while it is possible for the school day to be detrimental to your health, there are all kinds of great ways to tackle that challenge and create a darn healthy daytime routine. For simplicity I thought we would talk about two key elements – Time and Space.

    Time – Part 1 Class Time – 30 to 45 minutes – 4 x a day.

    Being Ready for Class – The Big Three (plus one extra): There are lots of interesting and exciting things going on during class – things you want to know, things you need to remember, ideas you want to share, so you want to be ready to make the most of that time.

    • Sleep – I don’t need to tell you how hard it is to think and focus in an online class when you didn’t get enough sleep so I will let you take care of giving yourself advice.
    • Eat – I’ve noticed my 12:00 class students eating lunch during class and I get why. The brain is the most energy needy part of the human body. When it doesn’t have fuel, it gets cranky.
      • So, eat something before that 9:00 class, and eat something again if you need to before or during that noon class. (Some breakfast ideas from last week - One Two)
      • Just be warned that highly processed sugars are going to get used up or stored away in a very short period of time (usually shorter even than a single class) so don’t count on the candy bar solution to keep your brain going all the way through class. Not surprisingly, those fast carb foods are flying off the shelves these days as we seek comfort from those snacks. The consequences might not be worth the comfort.
      • And certainly, be careful with using caffeine to “wake you up” for class. Studies are mixed on its impact on focus and learning but pretty clear about its addictive qualities, so proceed with caution and certainly reconsider coffee as being your Plan A for waking up for class.
      • You might want to try making some no-bake energy bars. There are lots of recipes and videos out there but this is a simple one.
      • I do want to acknowledge that this part of things poses extra challenges for those of you observing Ramadan. My guess is that families have traditions that work well for sustaining energy but here is one more source of advice.
    • Move – This will be the main topic of the next section (so look below), but suffice it to say, getting up and moving around a bit, during every single break between classes will serve your brain and body well.
    • Bonus for Stressful Classes (Tests, Presentations, etc.) – Breathe – It was so interesting to hear MILCK (our musical guest on Earth Day) talk about her preparation for the stress of performing. She always uses her breath to find her way to being calmer. If you have a favorite breathing technique that you know works to calm you, then use it. (Reminder, it needs to be deep breathing, shallow breathing can increase stress.) If not, or if you want to experiment a bit:

    Laptops – If you are spending your class time on your laptop it is important to note that the impact on your body can be pretty negative. Here are a few tips about how to best compensate for those challenges. Also, ask yourself, can I participate in class today while standing or even walking around? If you don’t need to be typing during class you can be up and moving, so why not?

    Time Part 2 – Break Time – 15 to 20 minutes – 3 x a day

    The Perfect Time for Healthy Routines

    When behavioral scientists look at habits and habit formation, one of the key elements they look for is a trigger, some consistent element of the day that can be used to nudge a behavior. As of a few weeks ago, we all started living in a schedule with three clear and consistent triggers: those breaks between class. Being realistic (cause we all need to pee, etc.) let’s call it 10 minutes, 3 times a day, 5 days a week. Seems like so little time but oh, the potential benefits.

    I could make a list a mile long but the bottom line is to make a plan and make that plan routine. I challenge anyone to try this, even if the plan looks as simple as this:

    When

    What

    Details

    9:45

    Exercise (w/water)

    M, W, F 7-Minute Workout

    T, Th Yoga

    10:45

    Self-Care

    Play with and pet dog

    11:45

    Exercise and Self Care

    Short walk, paying attention to nature. Take two pictures. Grab a snack (energy ball)

    For international and other asynchronous students, the same principles apply. You will get so much more out of each class if you take a break to move and take care of yourself between each one.

    Space – Does your bedroom/workspace need a healthy upgrade/makeover? I was having a Zoom chat with my advisees when I noted this really cool wall of photos behind one student. It turns out she had been taking Polaroids for years and now took the time to cover an entire wall in an art-gallery-style layout of those pics. It was stunning and brought her such joy. Immediately, another advisee wanted to show how he had completely cleaned up, organized, and redone his desk/workspace. Again, joy was sparked.

    Ideas to consider that cost little or nothing and don’t require big spaces (and pass along any pictures of your personalized work):

    • Green – plants indoors and/or being able to look out on greenery outdoors, even green paint, all contribute to creativity, optimism and calm in many people.
    • Declutter – There are many reasons that clutter causes stress for a lot of people. It can have a pretty profound impact just to clear out the junk from your spaces.
    • Encourage Movement – Being in a space where you have room to dance around, where a yoga mat can live on the floor or where you can do some pushups encourages you to do those things. Maybe that doesn’t fit in the same space as where you do school work, but even nearby encourages movement.
    • Art – Looking at the artwork at the end of our Earth Day celebration was inspiring and impressive. If you are an artist, find a place to hang your work so you are reminded of your creativity and the joy that comes from creating. Think about the art, including writing/poetry of others that inspires you and find a way to see those reminders regularly.

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we all have a bunch more time coming up that will be spent in our current spaces, so it might be worth a little time and effort to make it a space that brings out your best.

    I realize that I have used up more time and space than I deserve, so we will hold off on the afternoons until next week, with evenings to follow after that. If you got this far, thanks for reading. I’m always happy to hear ideas or stories.

    Be well,

    Joe

  • April 24 - Letter to Upper School Families

    Dear Upper School Families,

    This week we had an amazing celebration of Earth Day. It was an inspiring pivot to an online platform, finding a way to still “come together” to learn and aspire, and to honor and envision a healthier planet for all. Upper School Dean of Students Kevin Alexander remarked this week that we are teaching for a different future, which has been made profoundly clear these last several weeks. It was beautiful and heartbreaking to scroll through the 500 Zoom images of students and faculty watching the MILCK/Connie Lim concert from their “home classrooms” on Wednesday. We are continuing to evolve and improve the ways we are doing school in this pandemic paradigm, and it is still not the same.

    I have noticed over this past week, both within our school community and more broadly, that many of us are “hitting a wall” with our screens. The adrenaline we had and the can-do attitude is running low and the reality that we are going to have to sustain this for the remaining weeks of school, and perhaps into a future that may never look like what we were accustomed to, is sinking in. The Washington Department of Health published a blog on the stages of grief this week: Click here.

    Hearing these ideas about grief articulated was both affirming and alarming. It validated a reality I wish was not our shared experience. I do think it is important we acknowledge the feelings that students and adults are having. While some students continue to thrive on routine and are fully engaging in their classes, some are not. For many of us, this can manifest in these ways that Northwest School parent Sarina Natkin LICSW has noticed:

    • Some students are experiencing greater difficultly sustaining attention to online classes or schoolwork (and parents are reporting this in their own work as well). The amount of time between the start of the online school day and when students are able to disconnect has shortened quite a bit in the last week. 
    • Some students are experiencing greater sleep disturbances. Younger students having more frequent wake ups, older students are not able to fall asleep until even later than usual. There has also been an increase noted in the intensity of dreams and an increase in nightmares.
    • Some students are experiencing a sense of apathy in the social world -- particularly high schoolers. The deepening sense that this is not just disrupting our current lives but is going to have a longer-term impact. Also, some students are not finding as much relief in connecting with peers online. There is a sense they have nothing to talk about because they are not having the experiences to share that usually dominate their conversations. 
    • Some students are experiencing an increased sense of discouragement with schoolwork for online learning. Some of the usual strategies and motivations are not working – feelings of “I can’t keep up”, and “What’s the point because I am not understanding things or not connecting to them” are emerging.
    • Some students are experiencing a void of fun and relaxation. This was true for parents and guardians reporting about their own experiences and those of their students. It seems that brain resources are going to the “have to do’s” and then there’s not much left to motivate them for the needed time to get outdoors, to socialize, to get exercise and to have some fun.

    I am sharing these ideas to try to help normalize a situation that is challenging us all. We do not need to struggle through this alone. We have a variety of resources that may be helpful. Joe Bisignano is publishing a weekly Health and Wellness newsletter. The counselors have published resources for help, including providers offering video services. Click here to see communications from both Departments.

    If you find your child is struggling, and want some help navigating what to do, please email me and I can help troubleshoot. In addition to the scheduled morning counselor coffees we are also offering a bi/weekly evening parent/guardian Zoom call to talk about parenting in these challenging times. We will be joined by Sarina Natkin, parent educator and, Peter Berner-Hays, former Northwest School Counselor and Little School Head of School. You can send in questions or thoughts ahead of time (email JoAnna.Hanks@northwestschool.org) to help frame the conversation, or just sign on and listen. The intention is to provide the space to share with each other the challenges we are experiencing and find strength in our community. Click hereto join this biweekly Zoom meeting at 7:00 p.m. every other Wednesday: April 29th, May 13th, and May 27th.

    Thinking back to an event last spring when the rising 9th grade parents and guardians shared their hopes and dreams for their child’s high school years ahead, they included things like:

    “I want my child to have experiences to build his belief in himself.”

    “I want my child to learn, grow, and be prepared to take the next steps to independence and building a fulfilling life.”

    “I want my child to graduate as a confident human who values integrity.”

    As we move through these unprecedented days of the Covid-19 pandemic, what is it we want our kids to remember? What will be the enduring truths that will shape our future? What do we need to do now, together, to ensure we come out the other side of this a healthy, resilient, intact community? I look forward to working with you as we move through this together.

    Be well,

    Amy
    Amy Berner-Hays| Upper School Associate Director | pronouns: she, hers, her |

    The Northwest School | p: 206-816-6106 | f: 206-467-7353 |1415 Summit Ave| Seattle, WA 98122 |www.northwestschool.org

  • April 24 - Letter to Middle School Families

    Dear Middle School Students and Families,

    Here is my weekly letter to share what we are learning about online learning in the Middle School, specific Middle School updates to the calendar and the program, and some of my personal reflections. It is a shorter letter this week!

    Here is a specific question I’ve received this week:

    • What are the options for students who are struggling with online learning? First and foremost, students, please be in touch with your advisor if you are struggling with online learning. Some students have already utilized their advisor as a resource and lots of good problem solving and advocating has been happening. If after this step, students are still struggling in ways that are causing more stress than is healthy, parents and guardians, please reach out to me.

    In my walks in the morning I have appreciated and been inspired by my neighbors who have put bears in the window and signage to go with them. I have seen a variety of expressions of thanks to front line workers as well as small gestures to comfort and/or inspire neighbors. I have also noticed how the numbers of these types of efforts have diminished and/or have not lasted. I am noticing in myself, and others, the effect perpetual crisis response has on energy and well-being. At Northwest, we keep reminding ourselves that we are running a marathon, not a sprint, and a marathon is long and hard.

    If you are struggling right now, perhaps even more than you were a week ago, you are not alone. Sixth-grade parent and parent educator Sarina Natkin, LICSW, shared with us that, in her work across various networks, she is hearing the following from families:

    • Some students are experiencing greater difficultly sustaining attention to online classes or schoolwork (and parents are reporting this in their own work as well). The amount of time between the start of the online school day and when students are able to disconnect has shortened quite a bit in the last week.

    • Some students are experiencing greater sleep disturbances. Younger students having more frequent wake ups, older students are not able to fall asleep until even later than usual. There has also been an increase noted in the intensity of dreams and an increase in nightmares.

    • Some students are experiencing a sense of apathy in the social world – particularly high schoolers. The deepening sense that this is not just disrupting our current lives but is going to have a longer-term impact. Also, some students are not finding as much relief in connecting with peers online. There is a sense they have nothing to talk about because they are not having the experiences to share that usually dominate their conversations.

    • Some students are experiencing an increased sense of discouragement with schoolwork for online learning. Some of the usual strategies and motivations are not working – feelings of “I can’t keep up”, and “What’s the point because I am not understanding things or not connecting to them” are emerging.

    • Some students are experiencing a void of fun and relaxation. This was true for parents and guardians reporting about their own experiences and those of their students. It seems that brain resources are going to the “have to do’s” and then there’s not much left to motivate them for the needed time to get outdoors, to socialize, to get exercise, and to have some fun.

    If this describes you, please utilize the resources that the school is offering. Joe Bisignano is publishing a weekly Health and Wellness newsletter. The counselors have published resources for help, including providers offering video services. Click here to see communications from both Departments. Also, parents and guardians, please take me up on what I wrote above: reach out to me if online learning is causing more stress than is healthy so we can talk about further accommodations needed.

    For those of you who really are doing okay, I say, “Good news!” I encourage you to keep at those small gestures within your families and in your neighborhood that are both comforting and supporting to others.

    Wishing you the best,

    Sue

  • April 19 - Health and Wellness Newsletter #2

    Dear Northwest School Families,

    For this edition and the next few editions, I want to focus on the notion of routines. First, why routines?

    1. Routines give us a sense of safety, comfort and/or purpose.
    2. Routines take very little brain energy, leaving that energy for other important things.
    3. Routines can set your mood and your mood is the lens through which you look at the world.
    4. When it comes to sleep, eating and exercise, routines help our body self-regulate and keep us feeling good.
    5. Last, routines have gotten a bad rap but they certainly don’t have to be boring – you could make a routine of all kinds of fun things like dancing every night before bed or making cookies every Friday for the weekend.

    So, as school moves into a predictable schedule it is a great time to look at and maybe tweak or enhance your routines:

    Morning Routines

    • With school starting at 9:00 am and with no commute, your mornings are all of a sudden more open and expansive.
    • Sleep - Just about every health or medical person would say sleep is top priority, so certainly a sleep routine that allows for 9+ hours of sleep is job #1. (We will deal with nighttime in a future edition, but work backwards and make sure that your evening routine, including when you go to bed, helps make your morning routine work.)
    • Morning routines are the stickiest – and sticky (meaning you stick with them) is good. If something really matters to you (exercise, meditation, etc.), making it part of your morning routine helps to make sure you fit it in before you get too busy or too tired. Also, the day won’t get away from you without you having done the things you really care about. That can set you up for having a feeling of accomplishment that carries you through the day.

    Morning Routine suggestions:

    • Moving – Rolling over in bed and firing up your laptop just in time for 9:00am class might seem ideal but the reality is that your brain needs a little movement in the body to get ready for actually thinking, remembering, and being creative.
      • Walking/running – With social distancing challenges, the earlier you get out, the fewer people you will encounter. This might not be the best time of day for an interval workout, but for a nice easy run, it just might be the best time. For some people, a brisk walk or run is a better morning stimulant than coffee.
      • Yoga – I’ve already voiced my fandom for Yoga with Adrienne, and one reason is her 6-minute morning wake-up.
      • Dancing – Any time of day is a good time for dancing but we sometimes don’t think about it as a morning thing. Maybe it is time to rethink that. You can make your own playlist, but my new routine includes John in the Morning, a longtime DJ on KEXP. Each morning at 8:30 (though he sometimes gets excited and starts early) he plays a 3- or 4-song dance party. Great mix, perfect timing for getting brain ready for first period. I’ll be dancing along. https://www.kexp.org/listen/.
      • Whatever you love to do, need to do, want to do, think about doing it early.
    • Meditation – Again, for those wanting a consistent practice or wanting to start their day a bit more centered and focused, morning meditation can be a great tool.
      • It can be as short as one minute – Headspace morning meditation
      • For those of you who fall in the “Fidgety Skeptics” category of meditators, I suggest the author of the book with that title, Jeff Warren. His 5-minute “Most Basic Mediation” might be just your cup of tea.
      • I also just was given a link for 3 months of free access to the app 10% Happier. It is one of the more robust programs out there and has a little something for all kinds of folks. Access that here.
    • Breakfast – So we now have to admit that the whole “most important meal of the day” might have been oversold. That being said, you wouldn’t leave for a morning drive without gas in the tank and, for human beings, food is fuel.
      • You might choose Fruit loops for the fun colors and sweet taste but the energy level they provide might be gone halfway through Period 1, so maybe get a little more focused on some complex carbs, fat, and protein to carry you through.
      • I do my best to stay away from internet lists and apologize that these, like most, are ad -sponsored, but sometimes a good list of quick, healthy options (many that can be made ahead of time) can be helpful, so here are two. One Two
    • Setting Goals/Intentions/To-do Lists – This one is really personal. Some thrive with a list of things to check off during the day, and to others, that whole idea just sounds awful. The most important thing is to know yourself and what works. Things that some people suggest (and that you can take or leave):
      • Write out the list of things you know you need to get done today and check them off as you go.
      • Write down the list of things you are committing to not doing today and look at it often to remind yourself not to do those things – because not doing stuff can be a key to doing the stuff we want to do.
      • Set an intention for the day. This is that couple-of-words big idea, like “look for beauty” or “be creative” or “relax and breathe,” that you use to guide all of your actions for the day.

    I hope you are interested in joining me on this multi-week journey toward making your day exactly what you want and need it to be. Start with the morning and get a routine that works and that sticks. I will add a greeting card type quote from author Karen Lamb that does fit the theme here, “A year from now, you may wish you had started today.”

    Send me your own ideas, pictures of your breakfasts, questions or concerns.

    Next edition – The school day – routines around class time, break times, and the open afternoon.

    Thanks and be well,

    Joe

    Joe Bisignano
    Pronouns: He/Him/His Director of PE, Health and Wellness The Northwest School
    “There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.”
    ― Tara Brach

  • April 18 - Letter to Upper School Families

    Dear Upper School Students and Families,

    I hope this weekly email finds you well. I am writing to respond to some questions we have received, give some updates to the calendar and program, and share some personal reflections with the hope to continue to build our connection and relationship as I transition into leadership of the Upper School.

    At the counselor coffee with parents and guardians this week (more details of the meeting linked in Enews), they grounded their conversation in words my husband and I have been collecting at our house about the pandemic. These words include: Fear, Flexibility, Grace, Gratitude, Grief, Loss, Opportunity, Resilience, Stress, Uncertainty, and Unprecedented. I am excited having observed some of the ways the more positive words in this list have been lived out this week. It is my intention in these weekly letters to share some of these observations with you, so that over time you get a fuller picture of the Northwest School experience.

    We had Zoom calls with 40 of our current international families and a separate call with 10 of our newly admitted international families to check in and see how they are all doing. It was an amazing use of technology that we haven’t utilized in the past, and most certainly will in the future. It was fun to talk “live” with families in China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Yemen, Ethiopia, Russia, India, and Korea and to allow families to connect faces with our teachers including Priscilla Lindberg, Mercy Hume, Ellen Graham, and Justin Peters who work so closely with their students in the US. Our students and faculty are working hard to maintain connection and continuity both academically and socially. Our dorm faculty continue to offer “Film Fridays” and other opportunities for meet ups and connection. Some faculty are offering alternate hour office hours to accommodate dramatic time differences.

    Math teacher Maddy Huggins has invited visiting professionals working in Engineering, Data Science, and other STEAM-related fields as guest speakers in her classes. Our new familiarity with Teams and Zoom gatherings will open collaboration possibilities in the future.

    Here are some specific questions we have received this week:

    When does the school year end? Students may have heard that classes are only happening through May. For seniors, the last day of academic classes will be Tuesday, June 2nd, as was originally scheduled. We are in the process of designing our culminating activities for seniors, including the Senior Retreat and Graduation. For students in grades 6 – 11, the school year will officially end on Friday, June 12th, with academic classes following the schedule in the remote learning plan running through June 5th. We are in the process of designing school programming through June 12th. If we were in the building, the last week of school would involve culminating activities in the classrooms, both as grade levels and as a division. Currently, we are working on re-envisioning what this last week will be for students. We do know at this time that we will be holding a virtual 8th Grade Graduation on Friday, June 12th which will also be the official last day of school for all students grades 6 – 11.

    Senior Spring: A committee is currently working to plan ways to celebrate our seniors, including alternative plans for prom and graduation. Seniors will receive a survey from Cecilia Tung on Monday and parents, guardians, and students with ideas to share can reach out to Cecilia to help us plan. Classes for seniors will end June 2nd, as was originally scheduled, with a version of the Senior Retreat and graduation celebrations to follow.

    Credit/No Credit: While most families were happy with our decision to shift to Credit/No Credit, others questioned why it was necessary. The structure of classes has shifted significantly from one heavily controlled and supported by teachers and the school to one reliant on the independence of the student and the support of the family. Credit/No Credit, coupled with narrative feedback, allows teachers and students the necessary reflection and evaluation. A secondary, though perhaps even more important reason for Credit/No Credit is the reduction in stress inherent in a letter-grade structure. While stress in normal circumstances can be motivational and when needed mitigated, in a time of crisis can be debilitating. Lastly, we are committed to advancing equity with structures that promote access to our program, including assessments that are reasonable and balanced for all. When faced with the option of allowing students to choose whether they would like to receive grades or Credit/No Credit, we realize that all three of the challenges described above limit this as an equitable possibility: the structural challenges, the questions of accuracy, consistency, and continuity, and the issues of fairness and access to being in a position to make the choice to receive grades. Linked below is a statement urging all schools to adopt a Credit/No Credit policy from the Master Transcript Consortium, a national organization of which Northwest School is a member.Click here!

    What will colleges think? Director of College Counselling Erin Miller has shared that every college that has reached out about this pandemic has assured us that students will not be penalized by the absence of graded coursework this trimester. We have trusted relationships with college admissions representatives that have served our seniors and alumni for many years, and we expect those relationships to continue to strengthen in these complex times. A sample communication from Swarthmore, a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania states:

    We also understand that, as a result of school disruptions, students’ high school years may look a bit different, and that’s okay. If you students are no longer able to participate in traditional extra-curricular activities, part-time jobs, internships or similar activities, we understand. If your school transitions to pass/fail or credit/no credit grading, that’s fine. If you students don’t think they’re ready to take the newly designed AP exam or are concerned that IB tests have been cancelled, no worries. Simply put, we want students to take care of themselves first.

    How can students get technology support? Email the Helpdesk for all technology questions and/or issues. If there is any sort of technology barrier to students participating fully in class, they can utilize the link or type in “Helpdesk” when using their school email.

    Have opt-in choices for Tuesday and Thursday afternoons begun? Yes! Here is a link to the offerings.

    Registration for next year: Students and families will be receiving information about registration for next year over the next few weeks. The Performing Arts department has put together an amazing plan for auditions using Flipgrid. Students will also receive a survey asking about Advisor placement for next year.

    How can students stay organized? Keeping organized in this remote teaching and learning environment can be challenging. Advisors have been, and are available to, support organizational plans, and problem solve with, or advocate for, their advisees. If advisors haven’t reached out to students who need this support, advisees can reach out to advisors by sending a calendar invite through Teams or writing them an email.

    In closing, yesterday as we began our workday, Choir Teacher Christian Stallworth shared the following email with all faculty. It was a lovely reminder of the hope and care we extend to each other in this remarkable community, as we move through these challenging times together. He gave me permission to share it with all of you.

    Today, when I woke up the sun was shining bright and the birds were singing. Not a single cloud was dotted across the landscape, casting shadows on me. It brought me a feeling of peace and hope. Then suddenly, a song that I had planned on teaching this year popped in my head called “Inscription of Hope.”

    The lyrics to this song were actually taken from a poem carved into a wall at a concentration camp during WW2. The composer set these words to such a beautiful piece of choral music, and I felt that I wanted to share this work with you all, because there is hope for us during this time.

    I am going to post the lyrics here for you to read, and also a link to the song to listen to as well. I decided to share this with my students during my first class. I told them to go to a window or outside, feel the warmth of the sun, and just take in the song. I invite you to do the same! Hoping you all have a good weekend.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xS-Rj_M7O4

    I believe in the sun Even when it is not shining And I believe in love Even when there's no one there And I believe in God Even when he is silent I believe through any trial There is always a way

    But sometimes in this suffering And hopeless despair My heart cries for shelter to know someone’s there But a voice rises within me saying hold on my child I'll give you strength I'll give you hope just stay a little while

    I believe in the sun Even when it is not shining And I believe in love Even when there's no one there

    But I believe in God Even when he is silent I believe through any trial there is always a way

    May there someday be sunshine May there someday be happiness May there someday be love May there someday be peace

    I hope you can find moments of peace and joy in this time of intense togetherness. For families of seniors, a more typical spring would find your seniors busy with extracurricular commitments or out with their friends most of the time. Perhaps there is a hidden gift of connection for you before they head off to their next adventures toward adulthood? I hope you are all able to get away from your computers and disconnect from the outside world and sink into the beauty that surrounds us.

    And here is a picture of the latest member our community, Kedryk Sky Moses Strong, born last weekend to Maria Moses our Middle School Dean of Students:

    baby%20moses%20strong.jpg

    Finally, I would love to hear from you. It is my intention to get back to you within 48 hours, but due to the volume of email I am receiving, sometimes things get buried. If you do not hear from me, please reach out again.

    Wishing you the best,

    Amy

  • April 17 - Letter to Middle School Families

    Dear Middle School Students and Families,

    Here is my weekly email to share what we are learning about remote learning in the Middle School, specific Middle School updates to the calendar and the program, and some of my personal reflections.

    For some of you, the most important update is that Maria Moses, Middle School Dean of Students, delivered her baby on Saturday, April 11th. Baby boy (name still to be determined) and mother are healthy, and the baby is pictured below. It was such a gift to hear from Maria a typical and smooth delivery story, full of appreciation for the calm and competent medical support she received, and how she was both exhausted and excited. It sounded so normal and life-affirming. As I said above, what a gift!

    Here are some specific questions I’ve received this week:

    • When does the school year end? Students heard that classes are only happening through May. The school year will officially end on Friday, June 12, with classes, following the schedule in the remote learning plan, running through June 5. If we were in the building, the last week of school would involve culminating activities in the classrooms, both as grade levels and as a middle school (we won’t get to go roller skating this year!) Currently, we are working on re-envisioning what this last week should be for students. We do know at this time that we will be holding a virtual 8th Grade Graduation on Friday, June 12th. Speaking of 8th graders, returning 8th graders soon to be 9th graders will be receiving registration information next week.
    • Why Credit/No Credit? While most families were happy to receive the news that we were shifting to Credit/No Credit, others questioned why it was necessary. The structure of classes has shifted significantly from one heavily controlled and supported by teachers and the school to one dependent on the independence of the student and the support of the family. The variability present in this remote-learning structure makes it difficult to assess performance using a letter-grade structure, thus jeopardizing the integrity of a letter-grade structure. Credit/No Credit, coupled with narrative feedback, allows teachers and students the necessary reflection and evaluation of how it’s going. A secondary, though perhaps even more important, reason for Credit/No Credit is the reduction in stress that is inherent in a letter-grade structure. While stress in normal circumstances can be motivational and mitigated, in a time of crisis it can be debilitating. Lastly, we are committed to advancing equity and having structures that promote access to our program, including assessment, that are reasonable and balanced for all.
    • Have opt-in classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays begun? Yes! Here is a link to the offerings.
    • How can students get technology support? Some students know, but all should know that they can email Helpdesk for all technology questions and/or issues. If there is any sort of technology barrier to students participating fully in class, they should utilize the link or type in “Helpdesk” when using their school email.
    • How can students stay organized? If it isn’t already in use, students should dust off the school-issued planner and put it to work. Advisors have been, and are available to, support organizational plans, and problem solve with, or advocate for, their advisees. If advisors haven’t reached out to students who need this support, advisees can reach out to advisors by sending a calendar invite through Teams or writing them an email.

    I continue to look for and name the gifts I’m seeing and hearing about in remote learning. There may be some gifts we aren’t yet seeing. In some ways, this time now reminds me of my summers with my kids when they were younger. Before becoming Middle School Director, I was a teacher over the span of 20 years. Since teachers have 10-month contracts, I used my two months in the summer of non-teaching time to provide childcare to my own children. I named that time (and my children still refer to extended time that we get to be together) as Camp Mommy. It always took us time to transition to a new rhythm. Part of my own transition was viewing the two months of Camp Mommy as the time that I had to provide extended direct instruction to my children to the time that I got to provide instruction. In addition to pre-emptive or responsive lectures from me on how to speak and act in ways that represented what I wanted to instill as our values, we baked, gardened, cleaned, argued, constructed, walked, took time-outs from each other, read, played games, watched movies, argued, repaired and philosophized. It was in the doing that some worthwhile, not necessarily academic, lessons were delivered. It wasn’t all fun, but it was valuable. I am hoping that there are kernels of time and experiences during this stay-at-home imposition that feel worthwhile – not necessarily academic, but valuable to you.

    My parting wish is that you continue to take time to get off the computer, leave the cell phone behind, and get outside. With my children being older, I have the privilege of being able to take a walk with only my husband in the morning before I sit down at the computer for the day. With these longer days, we are walking when the sun is rising and often, we walk to the top of the hill in our neighborhood so we can see the sunrise in its full glory. When I end the day, sometimes exhausted, worried, and/or disheartened, I am grateful that I can stop and remember how my day began, and I can see the sunrise in my mind’s eye. I hope you having your own touchstone moments that are equipping you to continue doing your best to meet this challenge.

    Here’s that picture of Baby Moses Strong:

    babymosesstrong.jpg

    Wishing you the best,

    Sue

  • April 10 - Letter to Upper School Families

    Dear Northwest Upper School Students, Families, and Faculty,

    I hope you are well. I am writing with an update to answer a few questions that have arisen (found at the bottom of this email), introduce a few new faculty members filling in as sabbatical replacements, and welcome you all back to this next stretch of remote learning together. It is my intention to write a weekly email on Fridays, with updates and answers to questions that have arisen in the Upper School. Additionally, now that Governor Inslee has declared schools closed for the year, I want to take a moment to acknowledge our collective loss. While we all try to find our way forward as best we can, I think it also important to make room to grieve what we have lost.

    I am sorry we will not have the spring at school, learning and playing together, Artsfest, the Summits you were excited about, the rehearsals, practices, performances, games, meets, and trips together. Remote computer connection is no substitute for the face-to-face relationships that bond our community together. I am particularly sad for our seniors and their families who are missing out on the rites of passage of senior spring. Our lives have been disrupted, and we only have the blunt tool of social distancing to safeguard the lives of our loved ones. We are all being challenged in unique ways. It doesn't seem fair.

    The best thing we can do is muster our resiliency...all of us. As we move through this historical time together, and you come up with ideas to connect in different ways, please reach out and let us know. I am excited, for example, that the Sunrise Northwest group is organizing ways to keep us focused on sustainability. BSU has its first scheduled meeting. The cross-country team continues with yoga and core together. Morris continues to send his riddle. Instagram and Padlet offer moments of connection. I look forward to learning more of your ideas and ways to build and maintain our community while apart.

    So, give yourselves permission to grieve what is lost. Know that this sacrifice you are making is helping to save lives, and yet these are sacrifices that bring sadness that is also real. Know also that our caring community is still here. Reach out to each other, including the faculty at school to connect. If you find yourself up late at night, reach out to one of your classmates abroad who is in the middle of their school day across the planet. Look out for each other.

    I look forward to the time we can all be together again.

    Now, on to some business.

    As we have shared a few times now, parents and guardians are partnering with us to support students in new ways. Students are practicing more than ever at being independent learners. Please let your student’s advisor know if you have concerns about them.

    One of the many challenges of remote learning is staying focused during class times. Shie Benaderet, Educational Technology Coordinator (and our hero), created the infographic attached for students and families, offering guidance. He also provided this overview of how to stop notifications in Teams and notifications more generally in Windows 10 or macOS.

    Additionally, students must do their part and rise to the challenge of doing what’s expected without teachers being there in person to hold them accountable. Do not use outside chat features during class, including texting on your phone. Do not have non-class tabs open or play video games during class. If you need help in meeting the expectations, please reach out to your advisor, Shie, or any other adult at Northwest. We all want to support your success.

    Q&A about the new schedule:

    • Are classes 30 or 45 minutes? Teachers will decide if their classes are 30 or 45 minutes and students should plan on being available for the full 45 minutes.
    • Is advisory required? Yes! If students have to be absent for advisory, they should email their advisors with parents and guardians cc’d so that we are all in the know.
    • Are interest groups required? No. Interest groups, affinity groups, afternoon programming on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Wellness time on Fridays are all opt-in. For those that have the time and capacity, new interest groups can be started, and student-driven programming can be offered. Be in touch with Kevin Alexander, US Dean of Students, if you have ideas!
    • Are office hours required? Yes and no. If a teacher invites a student to a Teams meeting during office hours, that meeting is required. Any teacher-stated expectations about office hours are required. Students may also reach out to teachers during office hours to request a meeting or to reply to questions through email.

    Sabbatical Coverage:

    Welcome to Robin Nider, who is joining our community to cover Harumi’s senior classes and advisory. Bradley Horst and Maiensy Sanchez are expanding their work in the school to cover Harumi’s 9th grade Humanities and Ellie’s PDE. Families with students in those sections will get more information about these teachers.

    I know we are all being challenged in new ways as we navigate these unprecedented times. I am so appreciative of the beautiful spring.

    Be well,

    Amy

  • April 10 - Letter to Middle School Families

    Dear Middle School Students and Families,

    In addition to you receiving E-news weekly on Friday, I will be writing a weekly email to share what we are learning about remote learning in the Middle School and specific Middle School updates to the calendar and the program. As I have written several times now, parents and guardians are partnering with us to support students in new ways. Students are practicing being independent learners more than ever. All work is homework. We are still on the adventure together, so I hope the following is helpful to the journey.

    One of the many challenges of remote learning for middle school students, especially, is staying focused during class times. Shie Benaderet, Educational Technology Coordinator (and our hero), created the infographic attached for students and families offering guidance. He also provided this overview of how to stop notifications in Teams and notifications more generally in Windows 10 or macOS.

    Let me add to what Shie has offered, and this note is specifically to students: Students, you must do your part and rise to the challenge of doing what’s expected without teachers being there in person to hold you accountable. Do not use outside chat features during class, do not use the in-class chats for anything other than what your teacher asks you to do, and do not text on your phone during class. Do not have non-class tabs open or play video games during class. I can keep coming up with a list of “do nots”, but I believe you know what you should do to focus and to allow others to focus, and I believe that you are capable of meeting this challenge. We know it’s hard! If you need help in meeting the expectations I and your teachers are giving you, please reach out to your advisor, Shie, or any other adult at Northwest. We all want to support your success. One last recommendation based on my observations of classes: sit in a chair during class time. It’s easier to focus while sitting in a chair than when lying on your bed.

    I have heard some specific questions about the new schedule, so let me answer them here:

    • Are classes 30 or 45 minutes? Teachers will decide if their classes are 30 or 45 minutes and students should plan on being available for the full 45 minutes.
    • Is advisory required? Yes! If students cannot attend advisory, they should email their advisors with parents and guardians cc’d so that we are all in the know.
    • Are interest groups required? No. Interest groups, affinity groups, afternoon programming on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Wellness time on Fridays are all opt-in. For those that have the time and capacity, new interest groups can be started, and student-driven programming can be offered. Be in touch with Kevin Alexander, US Dean of Students, if you have ideas!
    • Are office hours required? Yes and no. If a teacher invites a student to a Teams meeting during office hours, that meeting is required. Any teacher-stated expectations about office hours are required. Students may also reach out to teachers during office hours to request a meeting or to reply to questions through email.

    Last, but not least, Maria Moses, Middle School Dean of Students, is going to have her baby any minute now. I’m hoping today! All reports are that baby and mother are doing well. The timing of her birth worked well for Northwest as Tamara Bunnell, 7th grade Humanities teacher and 7th Grade Level Coordinator, began officially as the Acting Middle School Dean of Students this week. Welcome, Tamara! And welcome Giselle Castano who is now teaching 7th grade Humanities. Parents and Guardians of students in Giselle’s sections of Humanities received an email introducing Giselle today.

    I know that many of us are feeling the impact of COVID-19 more and more as we deal with impacts ranging from daily inconvenience to deep personal losses. My heart is full of empathy and warmth for everyone in this community. In my household, we say, “I’m holding you in the light”. I’m so grateful for all you are doing to support each other and us during this time, and for doing the best you can.

    Best wishes,

    Sue

    P.S. There’s so much to read these days, but David Brook’s column in the New York Times moved me deeply this morning. Just sharing.

  • March 31 - Remote Learning Survey Results

    Dear Northwest School Community,

    I hope this email finds you well. I know we are all managing a lot alongside school. I am sending you my best wishes for good health in these challenging and perplexing times.

    First, I want to thank the 446 of you who responded to our remote learning survey. We garnered so much useful information from you all and have utilized what we learned in revising our approach for trimester three moving forward. We wanted to share with all of you what we heard from each group.

    • From students, we heard resoundingly that they like the 9:00am start (we heard this from parents and guardians as well!), they like the opportunity to meet with their teachers outside of class, and they miss connecting with their peers.
    • From teachers, we heard that they would like more flexibility on the length of classes, they would like to have the default setting be for student cameras to be on and all faces visible in class discussions (possibly using Zoom), and their concern for how international students are connecting with peers and engaged in classes while living in different time zones. Teachers also expressed their understanding that the state of the world is impacting everyone differently, so flexibility and understanding of a range of unexpected life circumstances is needed.
    • From parents and guardians, we heard a range of responses to the independent workload, with the majority saying “just right,” and then two varying minority groups of opinions – one saying their student needs more to do in the afternoon and the other group saying their student is overwhelmed and having a hard time managing all the work. On the whole, parents and guardians were appreciative for how agile and responsive all the teachers have been and they are grateful their student is still in school.

    After working closely with Sue Maul, Middle School Director, Maria Moses, Middle School Dean of Students, Amy Berner-Hays, Associate Upper School Director, Kevin Alexander, Upper School Dean of Students, and Shie Benaderet, our Director of Educational Technology, we thought it would be best to communicate to everyone our thinking and planning for as much of third trimester as we need to be online. We want everyone to hear the same thing, even though we know that students, faculty, and families are each approaching these materials from different perspectives.

    Attached you will find three important documents for your immediate consideration. The first is our seven “Goals for Online Learning” which include: to educate, inspire, offer structure and grounding, encourage balance, bring awareness to equity considerations, provide continuity, and foster community and engagement. You can read the thinking that guides each of these principles in the attachment or on page 2 of our Remote Schooling Guidelines. Here is the link to the Remote Schooling Guidelines.

    The second attachment (found on page 3 of our Remote Schooling Guidelines) is our amended “Norms for Student Behavior.” With two weeks of remote learning behind us, and with the results from surveys from students, faculty, and families, we have revised and expanded our expectations for student engagement in their classes. We have focused on eight areas that we think are most critical to successful online learning, including setting and maintaining high expectations for classroom behavior, the appropriate usage of technology, and encouragement to ask for help if needed. Parents and guardians, please review this with your students.

    The third attachment…drum roll please…is the revised schedule (found on pages 6 and 7 of our Remote Schooling Guidelines), also known as the rotating block schedule, for Week 1 and Week 2. A few important observations about this:

    1. We will continue to start classes at 9:00am. Surveys indicated this was a popular decision!
    2. Classes will all begin on the hour and will run for 30 – 45 minutes, with a hard stop at the 45-minute mark to allow a break. This will give teachers some discretion for class length (which was requested in the surveys).
    3. We are adding a weekly Advisory for all middle and upper school students; this is a continuation for middle school students.
    4. We are adding Interest groups and Affinity group time, with more details to follow.
    5. We are continuing to provide students with Independent Work Time and access to their teachers during Office Hours.
    6. We will be offering Optional Drop-in Programming for students on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons while we allow our teachers time to prepare classes, grade student work, respond to email, and any other professional responsibilities. We will also be providing Optional Drop-in Wellness Programming on Friday afternoons. More details to follow.
    7. We deliberated over whether to move to a four-day schedule as many of our peers have but ultimately decided that maintaining the routine of our five-day rotating block schedule, while still providing planning time for our teachers on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 12:40pm onward, would align with our goals of providing continuity and offering structure and grounding.

    As has been true since this gigantic shift in our learning has occurred, we welcome advice, input, questions, challenges, and of course encouragement.

    All the best,

    Meg

  • March 30 - Letter to Upper School Families

    Dear Northwest School Families,

    The last several weeks have been extraordinary. Although there have been some bumps in the road, and we apologize for those, overall, it has been an inspiring demonstration of agile thinking and responsiveness by all constituents. The intent of this email is to give greater context for our recent curricular decisions, give you a timeline for upcoming information about the schedule moving forward, and answer some of the questions that have arisen.

    In a March 23, 2020 Inside Higher Ed piece called “In a Pandemic, Everyone Gets an Asterisk,” Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis wrote: “We are all being tested in the most profound way by this disease. Rethinking how we assess, test and grade our students not only gives them flexibility at an impossible time. It also gives instructors an opportunity to be flexible. It allows us all -- faculty, students and staff -- to give ourselves an asterisk that says, simply and profoundly, we are human.”

    Why Credit/No Credit?

    The decision to go to Credit/No Credit is an acknowledgement that this trimester is, in terms of both content and approach, unlike any other trimester. It would be inaccurate to represent it as if it were. There is great uncertainty for all of us as we move through the next several weeks. Students and Faculty are mastering new learning platforms, working from different home circumstances, navigating illness, and managing anxiety. Almost 20% of our students are studying in time zones between 9 and 15 hours away from Pacific time. With one of our primary goals of advancing equity, we want to ensure that all of our students have access to as much of our program as is realistically possible. Our hope is without the added pressure of grading, students and faculty can engage meaningfully with the course content, with the flexibility to adapt to circumstances as they arise.

    The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, Claudine Gay, wrote about their move to Credit/No Credit:“We of course remain committed to academic continuity, but we cannot proceed as if nothing has changed. Everything has changed. This new terminology {in our case Credit/No Credit}is purposefully chosen to indicate the unique nature of this semester.” For us at The Northwest School, this applies to our third trimester as well. Our seven primary goals for online learning for the spring are: educate, inspire, offer structure and grounding, encourage balance, provide continuity, bring awareness to equity considerations, and foster community and engagement.

    How will students be held accountable?

    Faculty will still maintain high expectations for student learning and will monitor and communicate with students and families about their progress. There is time in the schedule for students and faculty to meet one on one or in small groups to check in with their teachers.

    Will there be mid-trimester feedback?

    We will still have the same system of mid-trimester feedback for students with LSPs or if there is a specific concern raised that needs to be communicated. We are anticipating that this will happen on or before the week of May 4th.

    Will there still be narrative evaluations?

    We know that narrative evaluations are more important than ever in this new circumstance. Teachers will be asked to provide robust commentary for third trimester that will reflect student engagement and student progress on specific projects and assessments throughout the term.

    How will this impact college admissions?

    Our Director of College Counseling and members of senior administration conducted thorough research before making the decision to move to credit/no credit grading for trimester.

    Representatives from many highly selective colleges have confirmed that a move to credit/no credit grading will not impact students’ college applications.  In fact, many colleges and universities themselves are shifting to this grading practice as they move to remote learning.

    Our decision to move to credit/no credit grading for trimester 3 is consistent with decisions made by other selective boarding schools with national and international populations.

    Faculty will still be writing substantive narrative evaluations which will be reviewed and quoted from in college letters of recommendation.

    When will we know more about the remote learning schedule for the rest of Trimester 3?

    In response to the surveys we shared, we hope to send the new schedule to all students, families and faculty by the end of this week. In addition, we will be sharing a revised “Goals for Online Learning” and “Norms for Student Behavior.”

    Who are the deciders?

    As is our customary practice, decisions about the academic schedule and grading are the purview of the Academic Coordinating Team (Mike McGill, Meg Goldner Rabinowitz, Chance Sims, Sue Maul, Amy Berner-Hays). Decisions are based on input from the College Counselors, the School Counselors, the Department Chairs, and the Curriculum Committee.

    I hope this clarifies our thinking. As always, we want to remain in conversation with you as we make our way through this challenging time.

    Amy

  • March 30 - Health and Wellness Newsletter

    Dear Northwest School Families,

    In my role as PE, Health and Wellness Director, I sent an email to Middle School families last week about the importance of staying active during Spring Break. I am now providing a newsletter to the entire community, offering all kinds of wellness nudges and opportunities for both students and parents. I plan to continue sending these to help with this important work, so if you have any great ideas or resources for future editions, feel free to pass them along.

    While technically this week is Spring Break and students will no longer be asked to show up for class, turn in assignments, etc., the work of staying healthy does not change one bit while we are on vacation. While the options for what one can do and the motivation to do it may be especially challenging, the need for movement (and nutrition, sleep, stress reduction, etc.) has never been greater. I could flood you with information about your immune system, your mental health, or a myriad of other parts of your very existence that depend on healthy practices, but instead, I will just ask you to pay attention to yourself. Notice how you feel when you get outside and walk, run or bike; notice how you feel when romping around with your dog; smell all the flowers of spring; cook up a nice meal; or even sit for a few moments and just calmly breathe. Notice how you feel when you work up a good sweat. My guess is that all those things feel good, and there is no reason not to treat yourself to those good feelings over and over.

    And now a few resources you may find helpful along the way:

    Movement and Exercise

    Is it OK to take a walk? Yes, the experts say (read the whole article here). The cherry blossoms and so many other flowers are out. Birds are abundant. Those with dogs have a great excuse to extend those dog walks. There are few better ways to move the body while clearing the head than going for a walk.

    Running is one of the activities deemed essential enough to be allowed during our current lockdown conditions.

    • If new to you, you might want to think about a Couch to 5k plan – Read the plan here or download an app here.
    • Not sure if this is too close to reality but, since running in groups is not so good, why not run from Zombies? Might not relieve stress but might make run more fun and interesting. Zombies, Run!
    • And if you want to be able to share your runs with others, get some friends to join Strava and follow each other. Free app and a smart phone and you are good to go.

    Yoga – Maybe a 30-day Yoga Program (or even a single yoga class) sounds good.

    • My favorite online classes come from Yoga with Adrienne (and her 6 million plus subscribers probably agree).
    • Most local yoga studios are offering online classes and are really hoping to have folks sign up so they can continue to employ their teachers. Check out your local studio website.

    Dance – Local Dance Church is doing some online events, including on Sunday.

    • Other dance classes can be found here.

    Other Workouts – YouTube is filled with workout videos, and Netflix and Amazon Prime have quite a few as well. I am always a bit wary of dominant messages out there about weight loss and body image, so if you go wandering, have an eye for what messages you are finding.

    • I have been quite entertained by PE with Joe as he takes on offering a new PE class workout each day.
    • Many gyms have started doing online classes – many for free.
    • Local gym Community Fitness is offering a regular schedule of classes on a donation basis. I assume others are doing the same.
    • Here is a national list of other online options, and The Wirecutter has list going as well.

    Meditation/Mindfulness – I can’t count the times that a student has reported to me that they feel better when they meditate but they just can’t seem to find the time to do it or make a habit of it. Maybe now is the time. If you feel like you have the tools, creating a nice space and setting aside a specific time might be all you need to make it a practice. This timer app can be helpful (and it has some free meditations as well). And, many of us use guided meditations to help as well. These are the three apps I have the most experience with. They all have excellent teachers and courses as well as helpful nudges and tracking to help keep that habit.

    Other Helpful Resources

    Other Random Stuff

    And finally, in the stolen words department (shared with me by Rachel Berner-Hays, Northwest School alumnae, faculty daughter, and current middle school teacher):

    And the People Stayed Home

    And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

    And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

    And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

    Published by Kitty O’Meara but perhaps originally composed in Italian by Irene Vella.

    Take care all,

    Joe Bisignano

  • March 27 - Letter to Families from School Counselors

    Dear Northwest Families and Friends,

    We, the Northwest School Counselors, hope this message finds you safe, healthy, and cared for wherever you may be in the world right now. This is, above all else, a letter of our caring and support for your family and our community through these unprecedented times.

    We understand how hard physical and social distancing has been on students, families, and our community. We understand the fear and anxiety that arises from uncertainty and how challenging it can be to transition from one way of being to a totally new approach to one’s day. We also know how resilient and driven children, youth, and families can be. We have seen students step into virtual classrooms with commitment and readiness for whatever is being taught. We see students reach out to each other in new and interesting ways because they crave that connection. We see families reach out and offer help and/or ask for resources in a new and inspiring way. We have school counseling colleagues and therapy professionals saying they are ready to work together to support the health and wellness of our students and families through this unique and scary time. We are simultaneously horrified by and grateful for this moment in time.

    We are holding gratitude for a moment in time that is allowing us to think creatively about how we do our work with students and families, for the outpouring of support we have gotten from local mental health practices who have moved to telehealth, and for the resources the world is sharing with each other about how to practice self-care, learn digitally, parent, and work from our kitchen tables (all at the same time!), etc.

    What is helping in our own personal and professional lives (and may also help in your balance of home/parenting/working):

    • Take stock of the personalities that are in your environment – everyone is going to need different amounts of structure and care. Have a family meeting to talk about what the days will look like, set routines that match your values, talk about what’s working and what’s not. When there are times where schedules overlap, plan ahead for moments where availability is stretched. Be kind to each other.
    • Validate, Validate, Validate. During this time of high emotion and need, our students (and all of our relationships) need extra care. Validation lets others know that you understand and accept their thoughts and feelings. Validation leads to understanding each other more clearly, and allowing for all to feel heard:
      • Communicate what you understand about the situation.
      • Legitimize the “facts” (of the thoughts, wants, etc.).
      • Explain your own feelings after expressing understanding.
      • Acknowledge the situation, the other’s opinions, feelings, etc.
      • Respect emotions, desires, reactions and goals.
    • Normalize the wide range of feelings present in our current reality. If you are feeling scared, sad, stressed, disappointed, angry, etc., it is okay to share these experiences with your student in developmentally appropriate ways. Be thoughtful about how you are modeling healthy coping strategies.
    • Focus on what you can control; it’s okay to give things up. Let your values help guide what you can and can’t do.
    • Practice self-care. Do this as a family and also individually; create habits and routines that allow you to care for yourself (and others) in sustainable ways. This could include practicing gratitude, small acts of kindness, opportunities for regular movement, mindfulness/meditation. Two of our current favorite resources include the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley and 10% Happier’s Coronavirus Sanity Guide.

    As we move into the next phase of online learning, our office will be available to students and families for solution-focused, and strengths-based support to problem solve, and provide resources and referral resources. These include brief 20-minute sessions for students and families during our online “school day” and “off-hours” support for our international students and families spread out across time zones. Zoom appointments can be scheduled, starting after spring break, by using our counselor specific Calendly links: Megan Reibel -- https://calendly.com/nws_megan_reibel and Erin North - https://calendly.com/erin-north.

    We have been actively reaching out to area mental health practitioners that are ready and able to provide telehealth services for our students and families. The outpouring of support and the availability of these professionals has been astonishing. We are happy to provide this resource to families directly when asked.

    We are also exploring the continuation and expansion of our DBT Steps-A program that started this fall in the Dorm. Sydney Eckert, a Ph.D. student in the department of psychology at Seattle Pacific University has agreed to partner with us to provide our Upper School students, both locally and abroad, with the chance to participate in a “skills for resiliency” group that focuses on learning skills around emotional regulation (and some distress tolerance). As these groups come together, we will communicate with students about the opportunity to join into this work when we return from break.

    The media, internet, and our technology-connected world provide us with so many inputs that it can be overwhelming to cull through articles, practices, and other resources as the world changes around us. Megan has been collecting resources and trying to organize them in this padlet; it is a living resource that grows daily (and it’s already getting a bit cumbersome in its own right). For us, resources from people and organizations that we know and trust seem invaluable during this time. It is with that in mind that we provide a few COVID 19 Parenting Survival Tips from Sarina Behar Natkin. Sarina is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, Certified Parent Coach, Speaker, Author, and parent of two Northwest School students. Sarina has graciously offered the following guidance to us, in the form of an audio-only podcast. The presentation runs a bit more than 45 minutes and touches on the following topics (it would be a great listen while cooking dinner, walking the dog, or getting a moment outside):

    • How to talk about the Coronavirus with kids over time
    • What our kids need from us
    • What we need as parents
    • What we can let go of
    • Sibling conflict
    • The opportunities hidden in this challenging time

    Parenting Coffees with the School Counselors will continue virtually, as we all work to make sense of the how's and what's of our parenting roles in the time of Covid-19. These events are intended to offer a space to connect with other parents, build community, and have a safe and open forum to discuss the challenges and joys that come with parenting tweens and teens. Resources are shared, parent-to-parent advice is given/received, and we celebrate the successes (and challenges) that transform our homes. Coffees will be held on Zoom. Parenting Coffees will be held on the following dates:

    • Tuesday, April 14 from 9:15-10:15am – All School Parenting coffee with Megan, Erin, and Sarina Behar Natkin
    • Tuesday, April 28, from 9:15-10am – Middle School Parenting Coffee with Megan and Erin
    • Tuesday, May 12, from 9:15-10am – Upper School Parenting Coffee with Megan and Erin
    • Tuesday, May 26, from 9:15-10:15am – All School Parenting Coffee with Megan, Erin, and Sarina Behar Natkin

    We hope you find this helpful and that your families can take the time to cultivate care and wellness with and for each other.

    Warmly,

    Erin North & Megan Reibel School Counselors

  • March 26 - Credit/No Credit Announcement

    Dear Northwest School Families:

    I hope this note finds you healthy and adjusting to our strange new reality. As I wrote to Northwest’s faculty last night, having been grazed by the virus myself (our middle child is quarantined in our basement as I type), I’m appreciative of the disruptive impact a sick family member can have on a household. I’m also newly (and acutely) aware of the toll that a day’s worth of Zoom can take on one’s psyche. I know each of you is confronting your own personal pandemic-related challenges, including balancing work and parenting in ways you never contemplated before.

    Here at school, we approached this initial two-week remote learning period as precisely that—a discrete ten-day unit for our faculty to test-drive what was, for many of them, lots of new skills and a fundamentally new way of approaching teaching. We know now, though, that our hopes of returning to The House right after Spring Break were overly optimistic. In light of the plan for online learning to extend through April (and potentially through third trimester), I’m writing with a request and a couple of important updates to our program and calendar:

    Along with faculty and students, you should have received a survey this afternoon from Meg Goldner Rabinowitz asking for feedback on how the remote learning is going. We’ve set a Monday morning deadline for these to be returned in order to be able to use the input as we consider how to adapt the online schedule we’ve used these first two weeks. We hope to be able to publish that schedule by the end of next week. Please feel free to answer the survey for each one of your students.

    We are going to append three professional development days to the end of Spring Break to give faculty the time they need to prepare their next several units and, most importantly, to ensure that their vacation week is truly time off. Therefore, there will be no online classes from Monday, March 30th, through Wednesday, April 8th; classes will resume Thursday, April 9th. Our teachers are making tremendous efforts to deliver a meaningful online experience to our students—even as they grapple with all of the personal challenges (young children, elderly parents, illness, etc.) everyone else is facing. They are exhausted, physically and emotionally, and absolutely need this break and prep time. We know that Northwest’s online experience is an important source of structure for our students, so we don’t take this step lightly and are hopeful that they will maintain some of their online social connections with peers even in their teachers’ absence. (And to complement kids’ other activities over the break, our librarians have compiled a resource, “Digital Journeys,” that may help on rainy days.)

    Given the disruption to teaching and learning that’s occurred, we have made the decision to move to a Credit/No Credit grading system for Trimester 3. This in no way reflects a diminishment in our dedication to academic excellence and high expectations. On the contrary, teachers are working extraordinarily hard to approximate their classroom experiences online and students are participating as fully and earnestly as they can under the circumstances. But any grade (e.g., A, B, or C) in Trimester 3 couldn’t possibly convey the same meaning as its equivalent over the first couple of terms. Further, assessment in an online environment is fundamentally different than in a traditional classroom. Removing the weighty obligation of final grades will further our desire to center student and faculty balance, engagement, and wellness. (NB: Erin Miller, Northwest’s Director of College Counseling, has carefully researched this decision and has no concerns about its impact on future college planning; in fact, some of the country’s most elite boarding schools were the first to move in this direction.)

    Thanks for your continued engagement with us as we negotiate the new world order together. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Sue Maul (Middle School) or Amy Berner-Hays (Upper School) with any questions or concerns.

    Best wishes for finding some restorative space and time over the break.

    Be well,

    Mike McGill Head of School

  • March 25 - Health and Wellness Update for Middle School Families

    Hi all Middle School parents and students,

    Thanks to so many of you parents who are helping and supporting the work we are doing in the PE, Health and Wellness department. We have heard funny tales of parents trying to join in Sworkit workouts and lots of stories of hikes and bike rides. It sounds like a number of students have a running partner in a parent and/or sibling and I am certain that the dogs out there have never had it better.

    As we reassess our program for the period after spring break we are going to be surveying students (7/8 grade during class tomorrow and 6th during class on Friday) and asking them to consider from a number of different possible tracks for their work when we return. Many of those tracks will involve parents, either in granting permission or in joining in so we want to bring you into the loop so conversations can happen before students complete their input.

    In some cases offering a student their top choice may mean shifting to working with a different teacher as we try to create student support cohorts for the work they are doing (for example, having at least a cluster of Urban hikers together to share stories of their hikes). There is also one choice on the list that we are not certain we can support both technically and equitably – Step Challenge – but we want to measure student interest and if there is a lot see what we can do to pull it off. It is also important to remember that the choice a student makes is really about the part of their physical activity that they choose to be held accountable for and to be engaged in with other students and their teacher, in other words, the thing they do regularly. It does not preclude or discourage other activity as we hope even those doing something like Tech Based Fitness are getting outside to play and walk each day. Also, none of these options will always exclude other elements – for example Running track folks may be doing a Sworkit workout or two each week to supplement that work. For students trying to navigate other workout programs set up by a sports team or dance group – see if one of the tracks fits well with that program or is a good compliment. If not, choose the Mix it Up and those workouts can be part of your Mix.

    Here are the choices students will see:

    Running – Running is one of the activities deemed essential enough to be allowed during our current lockdown conditions. For many it is a way to gain both physical and mental health. While it can be done randomly as an occasional activity, there are huge benefits to a sustained and well planned progressive program that helps the runner be able to go further and faster over time. Choosing this track is committing to running to every other day and working to build up both distance and speed. Parent permission should be checked to make sure you have permission and/or a partner to be out running with.

    Urban Hiking – One of the most popular classes this winter is also one of the few allowed outdoor activities. The benefits, both mentally and physically to walking are indisputable. Choosing this track is committing to medium length walks (30 minutes) every day or long walks (1+ hours) every other day. This is a great option for folks with a dog. Parent permission should be checked to make sure you have permission and/or a partner to be out walking with.

    Tech Based Fitness and Strength– For those who are working well with the structure of Sworkit and/or video-based instruction this is a great option to get 30 to 60 minutes of activity in each day.

    Yoga (and other breath-based movement and exercise) – Yoga, like running is another activity that can be done as a one off now and again but has more benefits when done as a consistent practice. Students in this track would be doing a combination of app based, online video and online teacher led classes. Expectations will be for a medium length practice (30 minutes) daily.

    Family Fitness – Research is clear that most folks stick with an exercise plan better if there is some social component to it. We encourage each other and hold each other accountable. That is why athletes on a cross country team will run miles together or why an ultimate team will gladly run wind sprints together. Right now, all of us have very shrunken social worlds, mostly just our family. If you are part of a family that is planning daily fitness activities, we are ready to make that the core of your PE, Health and Wellness program. Obviously, students should check in with families before signing up for this option.

    Fitness, Health and Wellness Exploration – Exercise is just one component of a healthy life. Perhaps this is a time to also be working on understanding nutrition and learning to be a better cook or looking at mental health and exploring things like meditation practices. Students in this track would be learning about health stuff, practicing what they learn and sharing it with the rest of the group. Daily activities required along with presenting and sharing with the class.

    Step Challenge Fitness – One way people track all of their movement is with a step tracker. Students in this track would use a device (phone or tracker) to count steps (walking, dancing, running, stairs, etc. all count) and that count would be posted to a team competition on a daily and weekly basis. Students in this track would be expected to go 10,000 + steps a day. (Please check with parents about your current technology options as you will be asked about smartphone access or access to a step tracking device – a parent may have a no longer in use fitbit floating around somewhere for you to borrow. Checking this box will lead to another set of questions about device availability. We may be able to purchase and distribute devices to those who really want this track but do not have a device.)

    Mix it Up – While there are many benefits to having a focused and specific program, for some of you a combination of a few options above may seem like a fun and motivating way to go. Students in this track will need to commit to at least 30 minutes daily and will likely have a bit more reporting expectations as they track multiple activities.

    Finally, while technically next week is spring break and students will no longer be asked to show up for class, turn in assignments or reflect on our prompts, the work of staying healthy does not change one bit while we are on vacation. While the options for what one can do and the motivation to do it may be especially challenging, the need for movement (and nutrition, sleep, stress reduction, etc.) has never been greater. I could flood you with information about your immune system, your mental health or a myriad of other parts of your very existence that depend on healthy practices but instead I will just ask you to pay attention to yourself. Notice how you feel when you get outside and walk, run or bike. Notice how you feel when romp around with your dog, smell all the flowers of spring, cook up a nice meal or even sit for a few moments and just calmly breathe. Notice how you feel when you work up a good sweat. My guess is that all those things feel good and no reason not to treat yourself to those good feelings over and over.

    As always, feel free to reach out. Be well.

    Joe

  • March 21 - Letter to Upper School Parents and Guardians

    Hello Upper School Parents and Guardians,

    I hope this email finds you well. I am struck by the quiet in my neighborhood, even for a Saturday morning. This is the first day in many I have had a moment to just sit. My 84-year-old mother, who has moved in with us is back in bed, after a thorough review of what is happening and why she is here and whether we know when it will be over. I don’t have a single computer meeting scheduled for the day.

    I want to acknowledge we are all living in a new reality we could not have imagined two weeks ago. I hope you and your student are finding a new rhythm and realize that is likely an optimistic wish. I have been so impressed by how quickly our teachers have pivoted to online learning, while navigating their own realities of children home from school, elderly parents, and illness. There will be a learning curve for all of us as we navigate this new learning paradigm.

    Next week, we will collect feedback from students and families about how remote learning is going. Already we know that there is no one uniform experience. Some students are receiving too much homework, some feel like they don’t have enough to do. Students generally like starting at 9:00 instead of 8:00. Some international students are experiencing slow or blocked internet connections. Feedback is and will be important to our work of updating the remote learning plan since it will be utilized through April 24th and likely longer. We also acknowledge remote learning can’t replicate the power of community that is built when we’re all together. We are considering ways to add in opportunities to engage in advisory and interest groups over the coming weeks.

    This weekend, please encourage your student to take a break from technology, both computers and cell phones. I know that technology is a powerful venue for social interaction right now, and that they’ve got some homework, but after this week of learning and working on-line, it’s important to stop and step away. It is an interesting opportunity to settle into a new/old way of being. I encourage the same for the teachers!

    We are partnering in new ways as we respond to this pandemic. Let’s continue to be gracious and kind with each other. Let’s acknowledge that learning online is a major shift, full of glitches and experimentation. Let’s stay in communication so that we can continue to meet the challenge in front of us.

    Best wishes,

    Amy

  • March 20 - Letter to Middle School Parents and Guardians

    Hello Middle School Parents and Guardians,

    I hope this email finds you well. Ten days ago, I reached out with some middle school specifics prior to beginning remote learning. During those ten days my daughter’s spring break from college got extended into her finishing her sophomore year at the dining room table. My son will remain in California to finish his senior year but won’t be participating in any culminating activities like graduation. And my family is healthy, we are able to work remotely, and we still have capacity for good cheer and creativity. I am imagining that you have your own stories that represent a similar mix of awful and okay. I’m writing to remind you that we are in this together. I also want to look ahead to next week and offer a suggestion for the weekend.

    Next week, we will collect feedback from students and families about how remote learning is going. Already we know that there is no one uniform experience. Some students are receiving too much homework, some feel like they don’t have enough to do. Students generally like starting at 9:00 instead of 8:00. Feedback is and will be important to our work of updating the remote learning plan since it will be utilized through April 24th and perhaps longer.

    For now, this weekend, please insist that your middle schooler take a break from technology, both computers and cell phones. I recommend 24 hours. I know that technology is perhaps the only venue for social interaction right now, and that they’ve got homework, but after this week of learning and working online, it’s important to stop and step away. I am insisting the same of our middle school teachers!

    We are partnering in new ways as we respond to this pandemic. Let’s continue to be gracious and kind with each other. Let’s acknowledge that learning online is a major shift, full of glitches and experimentation. Let’s stay in communication so that we can continue to meet the challenge in front of us.

    Best wishes,

    Sue

  • March 20 - Health and Wellness Letter to Middle School Parents and Guardians

    Hi all Middle School Parents and Guardians,

    The entire PE, Health and Wellness department wants to extend a thank you for your help in getting our program rolling this week as we enter this new reality. We have always talked about our education being a partnership between school and home but that partnership has reached a deeply different level as the students are at home and with you and not at school and with us.

    In normal times it may appear that our purpose is simply about getting ready for a competitive match or learning a new game. That may be what our time in class looks like but deep down, we are always focused on using whatever activity is in front of us as a path to being fitter and healthier, both mentally and physically. That bigger picture has come sharply into focus as we attempt to do our work remotely at a time when health and well-being is especially challenged.

    As partners, we want to spell out our goals and possible paths to get there and then invite your input and help to make this all work.

    Goal #1 – Movement and Physical Activity

    Just about every youth health organization recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day for youth. (CDC Guidelines) This is something that most of our students get at school simply through lunch time, dance, PE class and sports teams and many were doing outside activities as well. We guess that you are as concerned as we are about those activities going away and what the impact might be. Our goal is to use our relationships, influence and tools to help get students moving. We deeply thank those of you who have able to bring your own influence to this by getting out there and being active as a family. We have students learning to use an app, Sworkit, in part for its simplicity and accountability. For some students it will be a great tool and they are already developing a good habit. For others, it will simply be a way to be held accountable for getting some purposeful exercise each day. And for some, it may end up getting in the way of some better forms of movement and exercise. We want to encourage minimal Sworkit expectations for a few more lessons so we are having students assess its merits based on some sustained experience but are open to hearing other thoughts and you can expect more options to come as we go along. We are aware of the need to address both body image issues and the focus on weight loss that can be found throughout the fitness world, including this app and we will address that issue moving forward. Right now we are asking students to investigate their own sources and needs for motivation and will try to build on that importance self knowledge as we move forward.

    As partners with you we certainly want to encourage any family activity. Ideally the Sworkit assignments (which are relatively short each day) can be incorporated into that, for example doing the Sworkit dynamic warmup before a family run. If a longer family hike or bike ride takes precedent over an assigned workout simply email that to a teacher or have your student include that in the assignment write up. Details and accountability always help when we are making those alternate arrangements. The same goes for a long-term daily plan that might be part of how your family is dealing with this time at home. Just communicate with the teacher so we can best document that work.

    Goal #2 – Develop Skills and Routines for Building and Maintaining other Aspects of Health and Well Being

    I have begun to imagine a time when we emerge from this and every teen is not only fit but also has developed great sleep habits, a regular breathing/meditation practice, understands and actively works on their mental health needs and is able to cook a variety of nutritious meals. I would guess that might be something close to a wish you have as well. With that in mind, you can look for a variety of both assigned and drop in/optional activities aimed at these aspects of health. (Some 7/8 students will be out on Nature/Gratitude walks this weekend with more assignments like that to come.)

    We will also share tools with you that you may want to use as a family and incorporate in to your life at home. Here are a few for today:

    • 10% Happier is an app we use for some of our guided meditation practice and learning and they are offering some parts of the app for free right now as way to address coronavirus anxiety and fear. You can check that out here.
    • Cooking – The internet is filled with recipe sights and YouTube is a great resource for cooking demos. Two sites that might appeal to students and steer them towards simple and healthy food are Cook with Amber and Everyday Food
    • One of our go to sites for mental well being is the Greater Good Science Center from UC Berkeley. Their Covid 19 Resource page is a treasure trove of good stuff.
    • And they have a great article on how to help teens understand why these restrictions are being placed on them.

    Feel free to reply with any input or questions. Thanks all and wishing you well,

    Joe and the entire PE, Health and Wellness Department

  • March 17 - Campus Closure Announcement

    Hello from what feels like an increasingly strange reality. There are just three updates we would like to let you know at this point in the week:

    1. As we mentioned in yesterday’s bulletin, we have been in conversations about whether and when to close campus; now that our international students have all found safe places to land, and we no longer need either the dormitory or dining hall, we have committed to closing all campus buildings through April 24. Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 18, will be the last day students can retrieve books and materials from the main building. Please email the Incident Response Team to arrange a time to enter through the front door of the main school building.
    2. Another beloved part of our campus, the Farm and Garden, is also officially closed (though the plants and chickens are not going anywhere). We are in the process of working out how to maintain the necessary daily care. As much as we would like to involve families in this endeavor, we feel it is important to be consistent with our social distancing practices. So, until further notice, our campus Farm and Garden is off limits to students, parents, and faculty.
    3. If you would like to share photos with the community of what you are eating for lunch or cooking at home, please send photos to or tag @nws.kitchen. Use hashtags #notnorthwestschoollunch and #whatieatwhennotatschool.

    We are eager to hear ideas about how to continue to be in community and in close communication, so if you have thoughts, please share them with the Incident Response Team.

    As a possible resource to you, one of Meg’s former colleagues from Germantown Friends School wrote the following “Tips for Teens: Taking Care of Yourself During A School Shutdown” that has been widely distributed on social media. We thought to share it with you today in hopes that it might be useful.

    Our next anticipated update will come with E-News at the end of the week. Until then, be well.

  • March 16 - Letter to Families and Faculty

    As the subject line of an email Meg Goldner Rabinowitz wrote to faculty last week read, “Ready. Set. Go Online.” And today, we did; we began our third trimester utilizing the “Remote Learning Plan” and implementing the “Norms for Student Behavior” we have developed as a school. And, so far, so good. No major glitches. And hopefully the beautiful weather today encouraged students to step outside during the scheduled breaks throughout the day. Beginning at 9:00am this morning, students across all grades logged online and engaged in class lessons until 12:30pm. Our Middle School students had advisory period. All students had access to their teachers until 3:00pm. Today felt like our first full school day in the new world of online learning, in a schedule that will guide us until Spring Break.

    Given that we will be navigating several weeks of remote learning, we have created a web page where you can find all of the information and links provided thus far in our Remote Learning Program updates. In addition, to make sure that you are able to get answers to your questions quickly and succinctly, please review this list of who to contact for what.

    • Logistical or content questions about specific classes, please email the teacher.
    • Technology questions, needs, or problems to be solved, please email Helpdesk@northwestschool.org.
    • General questions about remote learning, please email the advisor.
    • All other concerns, please email Division Directors, Chance Sims, Amy Berner-Hays, and Sue Maul.

    Among the momentous decisions we have had to make in the last few weeks, perhaps the most difficult and heartbreaking has been to close the dormitory. With the tireless help of Justin, Amy, Dmitry, and Jack, we have been able to secure flight arrangements to our students’ home countries and most students are now on their way home. We’re hopeful that connecting with families and friends back home will be a relief for them at this unprecedented and ever-changing time. Please watch for a separate letter that will give more details about this decision.

    We have also had to make the difficult determination that there will be no Summits this spring. With so much uncertainty, and with our teachers focusing on this new way of delivering content and engaging students, it seemed wisest to clear the calendar of this huge undertaking.

    We are in the process of determining whether other buildings on our campus will close in the coming days. That said, we would like to urge all students who need to retrieve any books or materials from the school building to do so by end-of-day this Wednesday, March 18. Please email the Incident Response Team to arrange a time to enter through the front door of the main school building.

    Rest assured that faculty and program administrators are in close conversations about extending the Remote Learning Program beyond Spring Break. We want to take this week to live into the remote learning plan and assess what is running smoothly and what challenges need to be addressed. As soon as we have an extended learning proposal in place, we will let you know immediately.

    We hope, as always, that this bulletin finds you and your family well. We are working hard to keep you updated with our plans and our thinking. We will move to sending you bulletins as needed as opposed to each day. We wish you the very best in these unusual and deeply unsettling times.

  • March 12 - Remote Learning Extension

    Dear Northwest School Families

    Our unpredictable, fast-evolving world is once again demanding that we flex. As you may have already seen or heard in the news, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced today the mandatory closing of all public and private schools in King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties, starting Monday, March 16 and lasting (at least) through Friday, April 24.

    What this means for our Northwest School community is that teachers will be gearing up to extend online learning until April 27, and longer if needed. Given this new development, we will begin Monday to consider how third trimester ought to look once we return from Spring break, knowing that we have a Remote Learning Plan in place through March 27. We’ll be sending more detailed information over the coming days.

    The heartening news is that we are already prepared to begin remote learning this Monday, March 16. On that note, I am very grateful to our thoughtful, dedicated administrative faculty (including Hillary, Rae, Megan, Erin N., Erin M., Maria, Kevin, Amy, Charlotte, Britt, Meg, and Joe) for having developed the following programmatic information to share with you. Please take a moment to click on the links below to see the useful materials to support students in our new learning environment:

    For Student Support Resources During Remote Learning, please click here. For Student Checklist for Remote Learning Success, please click here. For Parent Tips for Supporting an Online Learner, please click here.

    As challenging as all of this is, we are grateful for the opportunity to continue teaching, learning, and engaging together. Thank you for your comments and feedback as we navigate this new territory as a community.

    Sincerely,

    Mike McGill Head of School

  • March 12 - Letter to Dormitory and International Families

    Dear Dormitory and International Families,

    We write again with the latest COVID-19 update. The Governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, just declared all schools must close until at least April 24th. It is quite possible this will be extended through the end of the school year. It is with heavy hearts that we realize we must close the dorm as soon as possible. We are concerned the window of opportunity to have kids fly home may close as things progress.

    We ask you to book tickets home as soon as possible. If you have family or friends in the United States that can host your child, we support this option as a temporary measure, but we are being warned that things here will get worse before they get better. We ask that you communicate with us as soon as possible with your plans, and we will assist you in any way we can. It is Friday morning where you are, and I’d like to hear back from you by 5 pm Saturday. Our goal is to close the dorm by Wednesday, March 18th.

    Please know that we care deeply for your children. We remain committed to their health, safety, and education. We will support their learning remotely for as long as we need to. Jack Lloyd will work to help navigate the visa situation as it becomes clearer. Colleges and Universities are being asked to recognize this extraordinary circumstance and provided that students complete our online program, their academic progress will continue. We will work to maintain our connections and relationships from afar. In the circumstance that we cannot all be together to mark the graduation of our seniors, we will work for a creative way to recognize and honor their amazing accomplishments.

    We are so sorry for this challenging disruption. We love working with your children here in Seattle. We look forward to when we can all be back together as a community on campus.

    Amy

  • March 11 - Letter from Assistant Head of School Meg Goldner Rabinowitz

    Dear Northwest School Families,

    What a spectacular day! If ever there were a moment when our institution took a giant step forward, even knowing its imperfections and growing edges, today was the day. We had a full day of excited and engaged students and faculty as everyone jumped into the Remote Learning test day. Here are just a few impressions:

    Director of Learning Services Hillary French said she is truly “blown away” after day one of the trial and working with faculty this week as they prepare to move to this new teaching style. “I’m proud of our teachers for the willingness, agile mindset, and enthusiasm with which they have embraced this challenge. Our students are beyond lucky to be entering into this new (temporary) way of learning with this faculty leading the charge!”

    Modern Languages Department Chair Annette Galindo shared: “These kids got this! First class, 100% attendance and lots of great questions!”

    Art teacher Lyn McCracken revealed: “Just finished with first class. All is well. Every student attended.”

    Math Department Chair Chris Talone expressed: “Day went well. All students present except one who told me in advance. No tech issues.”

    ELL Instructor Mercy Hume exclaimed: “We had students online in classes from Japan and Taiwan today. Wow!! A really international class.”

    Seventh grade Humanities teacher Tamara Bunnell said her students “Enjoyed several guest pet appearances, including dogs, cats, and a lizard.”

    Physics Teacher and Science Department Chair Cecilia Tung says the science teachers are collaborating to bring consistency to each video meeting and ensure the lessons are engaging and relevant. She commended her students, “They were attentive, focused, and brought a learning mindset to the new format.”

    Director of PE, Health, and Wellness Joe Bisignano was pleased with his sixth-grade class. Says Joe: “Sixth graders were excited to see and hear each other, show off their pets, and just connect in a new way. We planned out four tasks that we knew would lay the groundwork for getting down to real business next week, and 29:30 minutes later, all four seemed well in hand. So far, so good!”

    A great start! As we gear up for Monday, March 16, here are a few refinements and helpful hints:

    Respecting Privacy in the Remote Classroom

    The video recordings of classes in Teams are only to be seen and shared with students in that class, to support student learning. Students should not share video recordings and chat messages during class to maintain the privacy of class participants. This allows students to learn and teachers to teach without the worry of people they do not know watching them in class and upholds our value of consent when people are being recorded.

    To that end, we also ask that parents and guardians respect the privacy of classrooms by not watching the recordings of classes and instead engage in conversations with their students about what is happening in class. If you have specific questions about a class, please reach out to the teacher of that course. If you have specific questions about remote learning in general, please reach out to your child's advisor.

    Division directors will be continuing to observe classes and supervise teachers’ work.

    Who to contact with questions and problems:

    • Logistical or content questions about specific classes, please email the teacher.
    • Technology questions, needs, or problems to be solved, please email Helpdesk@northwestschool.org.
    • General questions about remote learning, please email the advisor.
    • All other concerns, please email Division Directors, Chance Sims, Amy Berner-Hays, and Sue Maul.

    We encourage you to review the class schedule and Remote Learning Guidelines in preparation for Monday, March 16:

    Remote Learning Class Schedule, please click here.

    Remote Learning Guidelines for Students and Families, please click here.

    COVID-19 and Remote Learning Web Page, please click here.

    Stay tuned for additional information on Co-Curricular and Student Support programs. We will be sending you an addendum to the Remote Learning Guide for Students and Families tomorrow, March 12.

    As we all work together to make our Remote Learning Program a success, we also are remaining vigilant and aware of the concern students and families are experiencing around the COVID-19 virus. We are continuing to monitor public health resources and reach out to health experts and we will keep you updated as new developments and information become available. In addition to resources, we have sent out in previous bulletins, we found this article particularly helpful:

    From the New York Times:

    5 Ways to Help Teens Manage Anxiety About the Coronavirus

    Adults can help by making sure adolescents don’t overestimate the dangers or underestimate their ability to protect themselves.

    Sincerely,

    Meg Goldner Rabinowitz Assistant Head of School

  • March 11 - Letter to Dormitory Families

    Dear Dormitory Families, 

    We continue to follow closely the developments in Seattle and around the world related to the COVID-19 illness.  It is our responsibility and commitment at The Northwest School to always hold your children’s health and safety as a priority in all our decision making.  Colleges and Universities throughout the United States are cancelling classes and working to “de-densify” their dormitories. People with COVID-19 infection or exposure are being asked to “self-quarantine” or be treated in isolation.

    We are working hard to imagine how to best support our dormitory students. At this point, twenty students have moved to local family or guardian homestay situations or gone home to their family in their home country. We are working to limit possible exposure for the students who remain on campus at this point and have increased the cleaning of the dorm. With the increased spread throughout the community we are still concerned this is not enough. We are now moving to confining students to campus, limiting deliveries, and not allowing visitors.

      Our considerations include such possible events as COVID-19 transmission in the dormitory and a potential government-imposed quarantine of all dormitory residents including students and faculty on-site.  In following the logic of such potential developments, we have determined that it is in the best interests of our students that we move them out of the dormitory and move them in with any family contact you may have, a temporary local residence with Northwest School families or, ideally send your children home to you.  To be clear, everyone is healthy and safe in our dormitory now.  However, should a COVID-19 transmission occur in our dormitory population we have determined that our current faculty and facilities could not meet the demands for a sustainable and healthy delivery of services for a high-density quarantined population.  We are now asking for your help in facilitating our students return to home. We are working to find local homestay options for families who cannot get their students home at this time. We are committed to supporting all students who travel home with on-line distance learning. We will work to support students return to Seattle with visa issues once the illness situation subsides.

    We want to be as transparent as possible with you all regarding our decisions and know that we do not make these decisions lightly.  The recent actions by local public health authorities indicates to us that our dormitory students would have to be cared for on-site in the dormitory in the event of a quarantine.  Our residential advisors, whose service to our dormitory students has been so thoughtful and caring, are nevertheless not trained medical professionals.  Yesterday, the announcements by Amherst College and Harvard University, followed by more colleges and universities today, to encourage students to leave their dorm facilities and return home have signaled to us that the recommendations of our own dedicated faculty are consistent with the recommendations of well-respected institutions across the country.  We also recognize the need to act proactively now and not wait for the situation to get worse.

    We are investigating whether local Northwest School families are able to temporarily host our dormitory students as the situation continues to intensify.  We will have more complete information on the response from Seattle-area families in the coming days. We are looking into contracting a medical provider to work in the dorm. However, our best recommendation for you currently is to bring your student home.

    Please know, we care deeply for your children. We remain committed to their health, safety and education. We ask for your patience as we seek to improve the delivery of our remote learning program.  Enormous work has been done on this in a very short amount of time so, improvements are expected as we move forward.  Your feedback on this will be much appreciated. 

    We are so sorry for this challenging disruption. We love working with your children here in Seattle. We look forward to when we can all be back together as a community on campus. Please let me know if you have any questions or updates.

    Amy

  • March 10 - Letter to Middle School Families / Add/Drop Clarification

    Hello Middle School Parents and Guardians,

    I’m writing to add some middle school specifics to the information emailed to families from our faithful Incident Response Team.

    Students will be starting trimester 3 in their same trimester 2 sections. Making section switches on top of transitioning into a new way of conducting class felt like too much for both teachers and students. We may make section switches when we return to campus but won’t finalize that decision until closer to the date. Middle school students will start new arts classes tomorrow, and Maria Moses sent an email today with essential information about that.

    To facilitate the use of Microsoft Teams as a means of conducting class, the chat feature has been re-enabled, and teachers will be reviewing with students the norms around using this feature appropriately.

    Our goal during this time is to create experiences that provide our students with essential continued learning. Also, routine and accountability help create a sense of safety during turbulent times. This time will also be an adventure, more so if we view it as an adventure and not a catastrophe. The more we can help middle schoolers imagine different more positive interpretations of circumstances, negotiate with their emotions, and reflect about past successes in facing challenge, the more we support their success. I have been learning a lot about Microsoft Teams this past week. Let’s be gracious and kind with each other as we learn together and make the best we can of this challenging situation. I’m viewing this as an opportunity!

    I will be available, remotely, if you have questions for me or would like to talk further about how things are going in your home.

    Best wishes,

    Sue

    Dear Middle School Students & Families,

    I wanted to clarify expectations regarding Trimester 3 Middle School Arts courses for online learning.

    1. Students are enrolled in their Trimester 3 Art classes and will begin these classes on Wednesday.
    2. We would normally offer a week-long add/drop period for middle school students, but given the complexity of teaching a course online, we are currently not allowing students to request to add/drop their Art class during the remote learning period.
    3. Given that students will have been in their Art classes for two weeks, followed by spring break, we will be reluctant to offer students the ability to add/drop an Art class when we return to campus and will want to minimize disruptions to a student's learning and a teacher's teaching.

    If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out.

    Thank you,

    Maria, Middle School Dean of Students

  • March 10 - Letter to Families and Faculty

    Today we moved one step closer to going live with our online classes. Teachers were on campus or working remotely, developing their lesson plans. Teachers are sharing expertise, asking questions, and designing exciting, productive exercises for students. We are grateful for our teachers’ agility, creativity, and resilience and are eager to provide them with whatever they need to flourish in this new setting. We are incredibly fortunate to be supported in this work by a fantastic Ed Tech and IT team, including Shie Benaderet, Greg Hampton, Danny Warner, Perry Thiesen, and Rick Sidhu.

    From an administrative perspective, today was spent completing the Remote Schooling Guidelines for Students and Families and Remote School Guidelines for Faculty, including Norms for Student Behavior which will be reviewed with students tomorrow. This will be a living document that we revise as needed.

    In the Remote Learning Guide, you will find the schedule for tomorrow on Page 3. You will find the schedule for March 16 – 27 on Page 4.

    Wednesday, March 11: Test Day

    Students received an email from Meg Goldner Rabinowitz earlier today detailing how the test day will start and run tomorrow from 9:00am – 3:10pm. This information accompanies the 8-period full-day schedule sent out yesterday.

    Monday, March 16 – Friday, March 27: Full Remote Learning Program

    Also today, students received the School Schedule for Remote Learning, which maps out how classes will run for the two weeks from March 16 - March 27. Classes beginning March 16 will follow a modified version of the 10-day rotating block periods, meaning only four classes will meet each day. The school day will run from 9:00am – 3:00pm beginning Monday.

    Coronavirus Update:

    As of this writing, Northwest School is fortunate to have no reported or confirmed coronavirus cases among students, faculty, or administration, or direct exposure to someone who has been diagnosed with the virus. We appreciate your vigilance and effort to keep us informed of your student’s health and well-being as we navigate this public health issue.

    To help us effectively stay ahead of the coronavirus issue, please notify us if you or anyone in your family has symptoms of COVID-19 (sneezing, runny nose, fever, dry cough). Please let Meg Goldner Rabinowitz, Assistant Head of School, know immediately at meg.goldner.rabinowitz@northwestschool.org.

    The King County Public Health Department recommends these pro-active steps:

    • Monitor your symptoms and call before visiting your doctor. If you have an appointment, be sure you tell them you have or may have COVID-19.
    • Restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care.
    • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.
    • Do not go to work, school, or public areas.
    • Avoid using public transportation, taxis, or ride-share.
    • For the safety of others, people who have been in close contact with a person exhibiting symptoms should self-quarantine for 14 days.

    If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact the Incident Response Team. We will direct you to the person who can best answer your question.

  • March 9 - Remote Learning Program Schedule

    Dear Northwest School Families,

    In preparation for The Northwest School Remote Learning Program, teachers were on campus today putting in a full day of training. Shie Benaderet, Hillary French, and Meg Goldner Rabinowitz led sessions on topics including Microsoft Teams (for synchronous class meetings and discussions), Oba (for posting class announcements and materials), and Panopto (for video capturing software) Tomorrow, teachers will have a second day of training and then Wednesday, March 11, will be a test run for students and teachers to familiarize themselves with the online learning process and make sure all systems are in place.

    For Wednesday, March 11, here is what you and your student need to know:

    For this first day, we want to give each class a chance to test the systems and processes. With this in mind, we will use an 8-period, full-day schedule for this day only. This test day is designed to be deliberately different than the Full Remote Learning Program schedule that will begin March 16; classes beginning March 16 will follow a modified version of the 10-day rotating block periods, meaning only four classes will meet each day. We will be sharing this schedule tomorrow. The school day will run from 9:00am – 3:00pm beginning Monday.

    For Monday, March 16 - Friday, March 27:

    We are in the process of developing norms for remote learning as well as Remote Learning Plans for both students and faculty. In the meantime, here are some initial details about what you and your student might anticipate for the full-day Remote Learning Program: Attendance is mandatory starting March 11, and continuing March 16 through March 27. If your student is going to be absent, please email attendance@northwestschool.org. It is important that you and your student know that we are counting each of these remote learning days as instructional hours in an effort not to extend the school year.

    All classes will be recorded, and every student will have access to those recordings.

    Students are welcome to come to campus to get materials. However, they must come through the front door of the main school building.

    We are relieved to report that, as of this writing, Northwest School is fortunate to have no reported or confirmed coronavirus cases among students, faculty, or administration, or direct exposure to someone who has been diagnosed with the virus. That said, we want to stay vigilant and informed, so please let us know if your student has coronavirus symptoms by emailing incidentresponseteam@northwestschool.org.

    We will be sharing more complete information with you in tomorrow’s bulletin. Please stay tuned. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact one of us. We will direct you to the person who can best answer your question.

  • March 6 - Remote Learning Announcement

    Dear Northwest School Families:

    “We evolve to meet the demands of a complex world.” When we published our Strategic Framework a year ago, I’m pretty sure none of us thought it might apply to a viral outbreak that would disrupt—and threaten—life all over the planet. I’m grateful to you all for your patience, support, and partnership as we’ve navigated the complexities of the coronavirus thus far.

    As I’ve shared in earlier messages, Northwest’s Incident Response Team has been meeting daily in response to the ever-evolving challenges posed by COVID-19. Informed by advice from experts in medicine and public health, our ongoing task has been to determine the best course of action for us as a school—one that prioritizes health and safety while continuing to deliver a great education to our kids. This morning, we concluded that the most effective way to do that now is to shift (temporarily, we hope) to a remote teaching and learning model.

    We are relieved to report that our decision was not compelled by a case in our community: as of this writing, Northwest is fortunate to have no reported or confirmed coronavirus cases among students, faculty, or administration, or direct exposure to someone who has been diagnosed with the virus. However, our strong sense, echoed in today’s New York Times article, “Coronavirus School Closings: Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late,” is that this step will contribute to preserving our own community’s health while also helping to slow the virus’s spread in Seattle.

    We are now projecting a month of genuine “social distancing,” during which we can remain healthy while continuing to teach and learn. Specifically:

    This coming Monday, March 9 and Tuesday, March 10, school will be closed for faculty professional development; teachers will continue to build their capacity to deliver high-quality online learning. (Student-athletes: we are deferring a decision about practices until we can consult with both medical experts and our peer schools. We hope to be able to determine this early Monday; coaches will be in touch with their teams shortly thereafter.)

    Wednesday, March 10, from 9:00am - 3:00pm, will be an opportunity for faculty to test with students some of what they learned over the prior two days, conducting a dry run of sorts with them. Students should treat this as a required, albeit remote, school day. Stay tuned for details.

    As projected on the annual calendar, school will be closed next Thursday and Friday, March 12 and 13, to allow faculty time for Trimester Two grading and evaluation writing. On Monday, March 16, we will begin Trimester Three, fully online, and complete a two-week unit that will take us to Spring Break, which will run from Sunday, March 28 through Sunday, April 5. We will continue to monitor this fluid situation daily and will keep you apprised of our thinking regarding a return to regular classes, which could happen as early as Monday, April 6, upon our return from Spring Break.

    We know that many students are feeling anxious about this health crisis and hope the next few days will provide ample time for rest. As they open up to conversation about what’s happening, we encourage you to take advantage of some of the resources on our web page, including “Helping Children and Teens Cope with Anxiety About COVID-19” from Seattle Children's Hospital.

    Finally, I want to acknowledge that our decision may create inconveniences for many of you, that the next few weeks will be very challenging. We want to continue partnering with you on behalf of your children, so please let us know how we can help (IncidentResponseTeam@northwestschool.org).

    Before signing off, I want to thank the Incident Response Team (whose members are too numerous to name here) for their wise and caring counsel as we continue to negotiate this challenging situation. At the beginning of today’s session, Joe Bisignano shared with us a speech by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organization, who exhorted his audience, “This is not a drill. This is not the time to give up. This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops.” Words to live by!

    Sincerely,

    Mike McGill

  • March 6 - Letter to Families

    Dear Northwest School Families,

    We are committed to providing you with the best and most up to date information we have regarding how we are managing the intricacies of COVID-19 and its impact on our community.

    With that in mind, we are closely following the COVID-19 recommendations as they continue to emerge in Seattle. We are fortunate to have parents and guardians in our community who are helping to lead the local response, and who have been sharing their recommendations with us.

    The current recommendations are for “social distancing” which we are grappling with as a school, including building a social distancing plan for while school remains open. The idea is to limit the amount of time spent in large public gatherings and to slow the spread of illness so as not to overwhelm the health care system’s ability to respond. To that end, we are working hard on a plan for our dorm students. Our students do not have any exposure from travel internationally but are experiencing the same Seattle-based risk we are all experiencing. As is the usual practice, our dorm students live two to a room and share bathrooms, showers and common space, with a total of 55 students and faculty.

    We would like to create some space in the dorm by offering “homestays” with families in our community. If you would consider hosting a dorm student or two for the near future, please contact Amy Berner-Hays.

    I am happy to try to answer any questions you may have.

    Sincerely,

    Amy

  • March 5 - Summits Postponed

    Dear Northwest School Families:

    As we continue to navigate the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the greater Seattle area, we are committed to keeping our community informed with daily communications. At this moment, there are currently no cases of COVID-19 in The Northwest School.

    Here is the important information for you to know as of today:

    • Ski Bus tomorrow (Friday 3/6) is cancelled.
    • Upper School Dance is postponed until Tri 3.
    • Monday (3/9) classes are cancelled for students to allow faculty a professional development day.
    • Monday (3/9) athletic practices will be held in the afternoon.
    • Summits will be postponed until a later date; therefore, Tri 3 will begin on March 16.

    We are postponing Summits until Trimester 3, the date truly to be determined at a time when we are in a better position to ascertain their viability. Our reason for this is threefold: Summits were designed to be experiential learning and to encourage students and faculty to get off campus and into the community, which we are challenging to do in the current circumstances; second, we are already hearing about cancellations for visiting speakers and field trip locations; third, those leading outdoor-oriented Summits raised concerns about the increased risk of trying to manage illness in remote locations. For these reasons, and knowing all of the incredible hard work that goes into this planning, we are going to delay them at this time.

    Additionally, in our efforts to keep the school as safe as possible, here are some of the ways we are increasing our attention to sanitation and cleaning.

    Dining Hall: Our dining hall faculty has been in touch with King County Public Health and public health inspectors to stay up to date on the most current reports and recommendations with regards to the coronavirus. Food safety and the safety of all students and faculty who dine at Northwest continues to be a top priority. The dining hall faculty is taking extra precautions and care to sanitize the dining hall before and after lunch. They also ask that diners recognize their part in keeping themselves and others healthy in the dining room with the following advice:

    1. Wash hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before lunch, after lunch, and if you touch your face/nose/mouth or cell phone during lunch.
    2. Always use the serving utensils provided.
    3. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue. Throw away the tissue and wash your hands before resuming eating.
    4. If you accidentally sneeze or cough directly on anything in the dining hall, let a faculty member know. If it is a food item, it will be disposed of.
    5. Do not share food with others.
    6. Clear all dirty dishes before leaving the dining room. Do not leave dirty dishes around the school.

    The School: Our facilities and transportation department has implemented a health hazard preparedness plan in accordance with the Center for Disease Control guidelines. These include increased sanitizing and disinfecting practices in high-traffic areas, such as restrooms, the dining hall, high-touch surfaces (handrails, tables in the Learning Commons, etc.), and the entire fleet of school buses.

    Arrangements have been made to expand sanitizing and disinfecting practices throughout the campus. A professional cleaning contractor has been scheduled to assist our in-house facilities team’s efforts. This work will be completed throughout the day on Saturday, March 7.

    Our facilities team has taken an inventory of essential consumables and will carefully monitor them to ensure long-term availability. These include:

    • Paper product: Paper towels and toilet paper are fully stocked in the main supply room, plus an additional pallet of each product is on site.
    • Hand sanitizer: Additional hand sanitizer dispensers have been added to high-traffic areas with an appropriate quantity of refill products on hand.
    • Disinfectant: An initial quantity of disinfectant products have arrived, with more scheduled to arrive in the immediate future, including bleach, germicidal disposable wipes, and hydrogen peroxide.
    • Personal protective equipment: Fifty safety goggles are in stock with more on the way.

    We are working to assemble disinfecting kits for faculty to support self-administered cleaning measures in the classroom and offices. We are also preparing additional training for students and faculty on best practices for surface disinfecting.

    King County Public Health Announcement: On March 4, local health officials announced new guidance to King Country residents aimed at reducing their risk of exposure to COVID-19. Click here to read their recommendations.

    If you have any questions or concerns related to COVID-19, please email: IncidentResponseTeam@northwestschool.org.

    We have also collected all of our previous communications regarding COVID-19 and a list of resources, which you can access by clicking here.

  • March 5 - Letter to Dormitory Parents and Guardian

    Dear Dorm Parents and Guardians,

    Knowing the particular impacts the coronavirus outbreak is having on international students and families, we are committed to providing you with the best and most up-to-date information we have regarding how we are managing the intricacies of COVID-19 and its impact on our community. With that in mind, we are closely following the COVID-19 recommendations as they continue to emerge in Seattle. We are fortunate to have parents and guardians in our community who are helping to lead the local response, including Dr. John Lynch, a physician at Harborview and a professor at the University of Washington. One of his areas of expertise is pandemics/pandemic preparedness. He leads UW Medicine’s coronavirus system-wide response, partnering with Public Health Seattle & King County and the WA State Department of Health.

    The current recommendations are for “social distancing.” The idea is to limit the amount of time spent in large public gatherings and to slow the spread of illness so as not to overwhelm the health care system’s ability to respond. To that end, we are working on a plan for our dorm students. Our students do not have any exposure from travel internationally but are experiencing the same Seattle-based risk.

    Given the public health recommendations, and the many unknowns, including the complexity of managing the dorm in the event of an outbreak, we are encouraging our international parents and guardians to consider 1) moving your dorm student to a local host (friend, relative, classmate’s family, etc.), or 2) having your student return home. To be clear, we currently do not have plans to close school and the dorm will remain open. However, in our efforts to anticipate the worst outcomes, advising dorm students to consider other accommodations seems the best course of action at this time. As long as the school remains open, students who relocate locally will still be able to attend classes on campus. For any students who return home, we will implement remote learning plans until students are able to safely return to school (details forthcoming).

    Please contact Justin and Amy if you choose to move your student out of the dorm. For relocations back to the country of origin, a location within the United States, or other, please notify Amy and Justin of your plans. As there are many unknowns involved with students going home at this time, please know that we want to be in conversation with you about this decision.

    In the event that your student cannot return to Seattle for Trimester 3: Jack will work with your student to make sure your I-20 student status will support an active F-1 visa for your student’s US re-entry for full time attendance at The Northwest School.

    If your family chooses to have your student return home, please know that your student may be required to enter self-quarantine or institutional quarantine upon return.

    Please don’t hesitate to contact any of us with questions or concerns.

    Amy Berner-Hays
    Amy.Berner-Hays@northwestschool.org

    Justin Peters
    Justin.Peters@northwestschool.org

    Jack Lloyd
    John.Lloyd@northwestschool.org

    Chance Sims
    Chance.Sims@northwestschool.org

  • March 4 - Letter to Families and Faculty

    Dear Northwest School Families:

    The health and safety of our students, faculty, and families is the top priority at The Northwest School. While there are currently no cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in The Northwest School community, we recognize that some people may be feeling overwhelmed and nervous right now. We are committed to supporting all of our students with care and compassion and will be providing the community (students, faculty, and families) with daily communication.

    Performance/ArtsFest Cancellations: As announced last night, we have cancelled all of our upcoming off-campus events in facilities over which we exert minimal control around cleaning. These cancellations include the Middle School Winter Concert on March 4th, the Upper School Winter Concert on March 5th, and the ArtsFest Gala on March 10th. The supporting rehearsal planned for March 8th and our in-school Showcase and Visual Arts Experience on March 9th are also cancelled. As a result of these cancellations, March 9th, 10th, and 11th will be regular academic school days.

    Attendance: We all need to work together to ensure that our community is kept as safe as possible. This means it is absolutely critical that anyone in the community with any viral symptoms showing (a fever of 100 degrees, cough, and/or difficulty breathing) should stay at home and not come to school until the symptoms clear. These absences will not adversely impact students’ grades at this point in the trimester.

    Laptops: We have been preparing faculty to teach remotely in the event the school must be closed for an extended period of time. We ask that students bring their laptops home each night to help for such an event. If your place of residence does not have reliable access to the internet, please let us know so we can work out a solution in the case of school closure.

    International Trips: After careful review of the current developments with the COVID-19 virus globally and locally, as well as yesterday’s CDC recommendations concerning post-secondary study abroad programs (see here), we have decided to cancel all three international Summits trips. Spain is seeing an increase in coronavirus cases, including in Seville, where our partner school is located. Although Ethiopia and El Salvador have not had any confirmed COVID-19 cases, we do not want to increase potential risks to the communities hosting us in these countries (given the latest developments here locally) by traveling to these countries and bringing an increased risk of exposure to vulnerable populations there. We are working with our students to either place them in existing Summits or an immersive Summit designed by the faculty chaperones from their designated trip.

    Study Abroad: As of now, we are proceeding with our plans for our study abroad students in Trimester 3, in Spain, France, and Taiwan, who are scheduled to leave at the end of March/beginning of April. We are monitoring the situation and will continue to communicate our decisions.

    If you have any questions or concerns related to COVID-19, please email: IncidentResponseTeam@northwestschool.org.

  • March 3 - ArtsFest and Other Concert Cancellations

    Dear NWS students and families,

    After careful review of current developments with the COVID-19 virus, in consultation with knowledgeable professionals, and in close conversation with faculty, students, and families, we have decided to cancel our upcoming concerts/performances. We are informed by the fact that larger, off-campus events in facilities over which we exert minimal control (e.g., around cleaning) may increase the risk of exposure. As always, our decisions are guided by concern for the health and safety of our students, as well as that of our audience members.

    The cancellations include the Middle School Winter Concert on March 4th, the Upper School Winter Concert on March 5th, and the ArtsFest Gala on March 10th. The supporting rehearsal planned for March 8th and our in-school Showcase and Visual Arts Experience on March 9th are also cancelled.

    These performances represent tremendous hard work on the part of our students and faculty, and the Gala in particular is a highlight of the year for many. While we are deeply disappointed not to have the opportunity to share our creations in these events, the well-being of our community is our highest priority.

    As a result of these cancellations, March 9th, 10th, and 11th will be regular academic school days.

    Please direct any questions to our Performing Arts Chair at Jo.Nardolillo@northwestschool.org or to our Assistant Head of School at Meg.Goldner.Rabinowitz@northwestschool.org.

  • March 1 - Letter to Families and Faculty

    Dear Northwest School Community:

    Good afternoon. I’m taking the unusual step of writing to you on a Sunday both to acknowledge how rapidly the news of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is evolving, and to connect prior to the start of another school week regarding precautions we can take at home and here at school. As always, we are guided foremost by our concern for our community’s health and well-being.

    Given our international student population and global partners, we have been monitoring the outbreak for several weeks now, always relying on scientific and public health expertise (e.g., from the Center for Disease Control, Public Health Seattle – King County, the World Health Organization, etc.). As the events of the past 48 hours have unfolded in the Seattle area, including the first death in the United States, it is clear that COVID-19 has now established itself locally.

    In the spirit of prevention, we want to partner with you to ensure we keep our community as safe as possible. The following are as simple as they are important:

    • First, it is absolutely CRITICAL that anyone in the community (teachers, students, parents, visitors) with any viral symptoms (sneezing, cough, sore throat, fever, body aches, malaise, shortness of breath, headache, ill-feeling) should stay home and NOT come to school until symptoms clear.

    • Second, we hope you will join us in serving up daily education/reminders to kids about the importance of hand-washing, including proper technique, and avoidance of face-touching (eyes, nose, mouth). Continual education of kids about hand-washing technique is important: soaping for 15-20 seconds (count slowly to 20), top and palm of hand, between fingers, up to wrists and rinsing with warm water. Rings, watches, and bracelets are known to harbor germs.

    • Third, regarding respiratory hygiene: remind students to cover their nose and mouth with an elbow or tissue, dispose of the tissue immediately after use, and then wash their hands.

    For our part, here at school:

    • The custodial faculty have, for the past several weeks, been using stepped up cleaning protocols, disinfecting bathroom door-handles, light switches, and commonly-touched bathroom door panels, as well as all the tables in the Commons, using a mix of very hot water, hydrogen-peroxide, and bleach, with a new, clean rag per surface.

    • We have increased the availability of hand-gel disinfectant throughout the school; it’s important to underscore, however that this is second-best to hand-washing.

    • We are closely monitoring the situations in the three countries (El Salvador, Ethiopia, and El Salvador) to which 40+ students and faculty are projected to travel during Summits. Dmitry Sherbakov, our Director of Global Programs, has been communicating regularly with parents and guardians of those students.

    • We’re also analyzing local Summits offerings, especially those featuring field trips, to see if any pose heightened risk.

    • We are preparing faculty to teach remotely in the event school must be closed for an extended period. Fortunately, our adoption of a 1:1 laptop program will make this much less complicated than it would have been even a year ago.

    Finally, given the presence of a substantial number of international students at Northwest, we want to reassure you of the following:

    • We have not had any students travel to or from China since the December break.

    • We have not had parents or guardians visit since the travel advisories began.

    • We have not had any students travel to any countries with travel advisories.

    • We are following all State Department advisories in terms of spring break travel; the dormitory will stay open, however, so our boarders all have the option of remaining in Seattle during the vacation.

    • No one in the dorm or among our Homestay students is experiencing respiratory symptoms.

    Our Incident Response Team is meeting regularly to monitor and react to what is a very fast-evolving situation. We will continue to provide updates as we have them, especially if we feel compelled to cancel events.

    I am grateful to belong to a community that I know will come together to support one another as we confront this challenge.

    Sincerely,

    Mike McGill

  • February 20 - Letter to Families and Faculty

    Dear Northwest School Families,

    I hope this email finds you well. I am writing with an update about the coronavirus and our community. The learning at The Northwest School around the coronavirus has been an incredible example of our school mission in action. Our mission reads:

    The Northwest School offers a faculty who engage each student in sequential, cross-disciplinary study in the Humanities, Sciences, and the Arts. We are a diverse community of people who challenge each other to learn in a healthy, creative and collaborative atmosphere of respect for ourselves, others and the environment. We graduate students with historical, scientific, artistic, and global perspective, enabling them to think and act with integrity, believing they have a positive impact on the world.

    Following the community updates shared over the course of the last few weeks about the coronavirus, the most recent travel ban, and the tremendous volume of misinformation available on social media, the International Student Union, in collaboration with the Asian/Pacific Islander Affinity Group, wanted to share more information about their experiences with the school community. With the support of faculty, they presented a PowerPoint in Community Meeting sharing facts about the virus and its spread, and a moving video addressing the personal impact of the fear surrounding the virus.

    This presentation was discussed in Middle School Study Hall and Upper School Advisory the following day. Additionally, all Advisors shared a student-made video that contained testimonials from three anonymous Northwest School students about the impact the virus has had on them and their families. Students were then asked, as they were on MLK Day, to make a personal commitment to making our school a better place for all. Thinking about what they learned at Community Meeting and from the videos, what are they each going to do to make The Northwest School a more welcoming place for our Chinese students and to demonstrate love and solidarity. They were also asked to reflect upon how they have responded to people joking about coronavirus and how they will interrupt this behavior. Some student comments are shared here:

    “Something that really stood out to me is how pop culture memes or jokes actually affect people and become serious. Though they are jokes, the sentiments behind them are not.”

    “I think that today we learned how important it is to stand together as a human species, especially against common issues like the virus. I think we also learned to THINK before we speak.”

    “I am going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. The coronavirus has not changed the way I interact with international students. I will continue to interact with them as friends.”

    “If I hear people making jokes about certain people or the coronavirus in general, I can commit to interrupting those comments and address the seriousness of the situation. I can also commit to educating myself about the virus to avoid false information.”

    “I can be sure not to be rude or give unwelcoming looks to students who choose to wear face masks.”

    “We should all help to normalize wearing face masks.”

    Some students made Valentines that were sent to the dorm to be shared. Faculty, domestic students, and families are making plans to spend time with our dorm students over the February Break.

    At the same time, there were a few reports of insensitive and hurtful behaviors. Faculty have followed up and will continue to work with students to help them understand the impact of their comments and to repair the damage.

    All of this was happening while students continued to engage deeply in their classes, perform in The Crucible, and Charlotte’s Web, celebrate Valentine’s Day, and play in post-season basketball games.

    Efforts at Northwest over the last month around the coronavirus outbreak have been focused on caring for our Chinese students and families who are most directly affected, keeping facts and science ahead of fear and anxiety. We have been working to keep people informed, cared for, and supported as they move through this challenging time. The students’ work to share their experiences -- including using art, science and their own vulnerability to bring this community closer together -- is inspiring! Their efforts to turn up the volume on the positive, powerful things that unite us, and to help us navigate the scary, hurtful things that divide us, offers me hope for our future.

    Respectfully,

    Amy Berner-Hays

  • February 1 - Dorm Update

    Dear Northwest School Families,

    We are writing with our latest update about the coronavirus. Amy Berner-Hays, US Associate Director; Dmitry Sherbakov, Director of Global Programs and Outreach; Jack Lloyd, Assistant Director of Admission-International; and Justin Peters, Dean of Residential Life, are monitoring the situation closely. One clear indicator of just how quickly it is changing: as we were finishing this letter, we received news of President Trump’s new policy, about which you, too, may have learned.

    Specifically, beginning tomorrow, Sunday, February 2nd, the President has declared that foreign nationals who have recently been in China will not be allowed into the US. This means that any plans you may have had to visit the United States soon should be reconsidered [canceled?]. More importantly, because this policy would effectively prevent your child from reentering the U.S. were they to travel to China during February’s Mid-Winter Break, we are strongly discouraging any students from returning home at this time. Given the volatility of the situation, we will reassess this travel ban well ahead of our spring break (March 28 – April 5). Fortunately, the dorm will remain open during both the February and Spring Breaks. The Residential Life faculty will be providing activities and supervision. It is a great time to rest and explore the Seattle area.

    Though we are obviously unable to affect federal policies, our own approach to this crisis has been, and will continue to be, to balance caution with actual science, and resist the impulse to act out of fear. To that end we want to share with you the following current information:

    First, the New York Times has translated into Mandarin their most recent updates about the virus. You can find the articles here. Other resources may be found at the end of this letter.

    Second, the Washington Department of Public Health still considers Seattle to be very low risk for coronavirus. There are no new cases of coronavirus in Washington State, and the one infected person is recovering. Yesterday, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency. In making the announcement, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China but because of what is happening in other countries. Our greatest concern is the potential for this virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it.”

    A declaration of global emergency allows for more money and resources to be dedicated to fighting the outbreak, and increases disease reporting requirements. The recommendations for limiting the spread of the virus remain the same, however: wash hands with soap, avoid touching the nose and mouth, sneeze into your arm.

    Third, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China. Consistent with this recommendation, the CDC and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are implementing enhanced health screenings to detect travelers with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing when entering the United States.

    The screening procedures include the following:

    Travelers fill out a short questionnaire about their travel, any symptoms, and contact information. CDC staff take the temperature of each traveler with a hand-held non-contact thermometer (thermometers that do not touch the skin) and observe the traveler for cough or difficulty breathing. If sick travelers are identified, CDC evaluates them further to determine whether they should be taken to a hospital for medical evaluation and to get care as needed. If the traveler does not have symptoms, CDC staff will provide them health information cards, which tell them what symptoms to look out for, and what to do if they develop symptoms within 14 days.

    We will write again in a few days as information changes. Please reach out to any of us if you have questions or concerns.

    Sincerely,

    Mike McGill

  • January 30 - Monitoring COVID-19

    Dear Northwest School Families,

    I hope this email finds you well. I am writing to give you the latest update on your children and the health of the Northwest School Community. Everyone in Seattle continues to be healthy. There are no new cases of coronavirus in Washington State. There is still just the one, and there are none in Seattle. The Public Health Department still says the risk of infection in Seattle remains low. They are increasing the screening at the airport for all flights from China just to be cautious.

    Because of all the news coverage, I shared the following announcement at Community Meeting today, to make sure all the students have the most up to date information.

    I am sure most have you have heard about the corona virus outbreak in China. This is a new virus that is being closely monitored by health professionals throughout the world. The outbreak began in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province. There have been a small number of cases outside of China, including one confirmed case in Everett. There were 3 students quarantined at UW, so far 2 of them have tested negative, and the third test will be back soon. They were quarantined because they were exhibiting flu like symptoms and had been in Wuhan recently.

    Since this is a new virus, experts are guessing at how long this will last. Some scientists are predicting a peak of infection in early February, some are predicting a slowdown of the virus as late as May. We are still learning about it. It will be important that everyone take the same precautions of regularly washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough etc, the same precaution you would normally take in flu season which usually peaks in February anyway.

    There are no cases of coronavirus at NWS, or even in Seattle. You may notice some of your classmates wearing masks. This is a common practice in many parts of Asia, as a courtesy to the community. It is to both protect against germs and to keep from spreading germs. It may seem unusual to see masks here, but in many parts of the world it is super common, and masks are even sold in stylish colors and patterns.

    We are continuing to monitor the coronavirus situation and communicate with our families in China. As you can imagine, it is a stressful time to be away from home for many of our international students. Give them a little extra love and care.

    Jack, Dmitry and I were on a conference call with schools from across the United States to learn about how others are managing this situation. We continue to consult with the professionals. We will write again tomorrow if we have anything new to share.

    Best Wishes,

    Amy

  • January 24 - Monitoring COVID-19

    Dear Northwest School Families,

    We are writing with an update on the coronavirus outbreak. At this time, all students, faculty, and families of our Chinese students are healthy and virus-free. All students and families who have recently travelled to Seattle from infected areas have been screened by medical professionals and have been declared virus-free. All students have been made aware of the precautions recommended by professionals, specifically, that they wash their hands thoroughly, avoid touching their mouths, sneeze into their sleeves, and notify an adult immediately if they are experiencing any respiratory symptoms or fever so that we can have them evaluated by a medical professional. Respiratory masks are available for any student who wants one, but they are not on the recommended advisory list currently.

    We are following this out break closely and are:

    • monitoring the information provided by the World Health Organization;
    • monitoring the information shared by the Centers for Disease Control and State Department; and
    • sharing information and resources with our peer schools across the country who also have students from China.

    At this time, students at The Northwest School continue to be considered at very low risk of infection. As the situation evolves, we will continue to track developments closely and communicate with you about any that affect life here on campus. In the meantime, though, please feel free to contact me with any additional questions or concerns.

    Wishing you a very happy New Year and a quick end to this outbreak,

    Amy

  • January 22 - Monitoring COVID-19

    Dear NWS Families,

    As you no doubt know from recent news reports, there has been an outbreak of coronavirus in China. While the details of the situation are still coming into focus, we want you to know that the safety of your children will always be our first concern. We would like to communicate what we know at this stage as well as the initial steps we are taking to monitor and assess the situation

    We know that the virus outbreak originated in the city of Wuhan, and has been confirmed in other Chinese cities as well as other nations. There is currently one reported case in the Greater Seattle Area. Since the news reports have emerged, we have been:

    • monitoring the information provided by the World Health Organization;
    • monitoring the information shared by the Centers for Disease Control and State Department; and
    • sharing information and resources with our peer schools across the country who also have students from China.

    At this time, students at The Northwest School are considered at very low risk of infection. Students have been encouraged to wash their hands thoroughly, avoid touching their mouths, sneeze into their sleeves, and notify an adult immediately if they are experiencing any respiratory symptoms or fever so that we can have them evaluated by a medical professional. Respiratory masks are available for students who want them, but they are not on the recommended advisory list currently. The situation will likely continue to change and we will be watching closely. Given the strong communication with expert input of the partner institutions above, we are confident that The Northwest School will have the most accurate information possible in the shortest timeframe possible. Please rest assured that once we know more we will communicate with you as expeditiously as possible. We will always act out of an abundance of caution, as student safety remains our absolute highest priority. We will be in touch when we have more information. We wish you the happiest new year and look forward to celebrating the spring festival here with your children tomorrow after school. Mike McGill, Head of School

    Amy Berner-Hays, Upper School Associate Director

    Justin Peters, Dean of Residential Life