Running in the sprinkler. Ice cream trucks. Slower morning starts. Late night fun. Bug spray, sunscreen, and entire days at the pool. Beach reads. Taking a breath and re-setting for the upcoming year. When you say the word “summer” to most faculty members at St. Andrew’s, many many things come to mind. But for our Foundations faculty, the bulk of summer months have more in common with the rest of the school year. I sat down with (pictured from left to right) Ashley Singleton (PK1 teacher), Abby Cockerill (Infants teacher), Idelia Walker (Infants teacher) , Catoria Mozee (PK2 teacher), Tabitha Gibson (Assistant Director of Foundations; PK1 teacher), and Sheena White (Head of Foundations) to get a better understanding of the distinct rhythm that makes up a school year in Foundations.
Okay, let’s start with Sheena. Give us a brief overview of the schedule throughout the year for faculty and our youngest saints at Foundations. What’s so different?
Sheena: I’ll say the biggest difference between Foundations and other divisions is the summer breaks. As a teacher when you get to May, you’re thinking about the summer like: “Ok we are at the finish line!” So, the biggest differentiator is that we are 12 months, year round.
Ouch- that definitely sounds tough to see everyone starting to slow down for the summer and pushing full steam ahead!
Sheena: Though it sounds like it’s a bit more stressful, honestly when the other 4 divisions are out, it’s pretty laid back. Our summers are chill: from carpool (assistants not as stressed during carpool) and there aren’t as many students present, because some of our kiddos take a break, especially if they have older siblings. I mean they’re here, but it’s a lot more laid back.
Well that’s good to hear. Okay so if you don’t have summer break to mark promotion to a new grade level, when does that happen?
Sheena: The last day for the children is June 30th, which is a Friday. That Monday, July 3, is Professional Development Day, and our faculty’s first day [of the new school year]. Tuesday 7/4 is a holiday and we come back on 7/5 for “Meet the Teacher” and children start on 7/6. As a classroom teacher, August was always the most hectic month of the whole school year. You’re getting ready for meet the teacher, labeling all the things, getting your class list together. But for us that happens in July. It’s super busy. On the flip side of that, in August, we see faculty in other divisions running rampant and going bonkers and I’m like “oh we did that a month ago!” Our crazy town month is July.
What a different rhythm! So the first day of school falls on what is traditionally a holiday week. Do most children make it that first day? What is it like in early July as infants/babies are transitioning?
Sheena: Parents do come to meet the teacher. We typically have 100% participation, but then the day after that is not as busy.
Abby: There is more of an ease. [Foundations is in] a quaint smaller space. All the [new] kids I get, I already see that every day. It’s less pressure than new starts, new grades, and less of a big deal about a new start.
Sheena: It’s easier for [the children] too; there are not as many tears.
Catoria: The transition is much better than in other places I’ve worked. They are only out for a week, so it’s easier for the kids to say, “okay-it’s another school day.” It’s the same friends and they’re used to seeing the teacher passing, so it’s not like that big of a shock in terms of, “wait- I don’t get to have ALL of my friends; I have to take a different way to class!”
Sheena: Even the transition [to PK3] is smoother. Their familiarity with the school environment makes a huge difference! In the past there were a lot of tears for PK3 students: parents struggling and children were struggling with the transition.
Idelia: I think it’s a little different for me, because I’m the teacher that gets all the new students. Every year it’s a change. I start everything over: new babies, new schedules, new everything for me. But my hectic times, are kind of staggered. They come in at different times. When I start, I may not have ten. I may start with six or four.
Sheena: Yes! There’s a lot of differentiation in your space. I noticed that this year!
Idelia: Of course by the time we get everybody on the same page, it’s time to move!
Sheena: And you get all the parents that are nervous and new to the community.
So is there even a time of year that is more stressful than the rest in Foundations?
Idelia: I wouldn’t say it’s hard a certain time of year, but July for me is that month: you have to revamp the room, make sure everything is labeled, talk to the parents. They’re going call me and say “we don’t know what we’re doing”, so you have to try to ease their minds because they’re leaving their baby with someone they don’t even know. “I just met you at ‘meet the teacher’” and now they’re going to drop them off with me in two days! You’ve got some that stick around and don’t want to let go. You’ve got to try to fit all of these characteristics of different people into one classroom.
Catoria: I would say there are two hectic periods in PK2. July can be tough getting them fully adjusted; they are used to routines but they have to switch up their routines. We are adding in co-curriculars, practice walking in a line, things like that. And also the end of August/September when the other kids come back is when we start the curriculum, our themes. In the summer we can do it light, we learn the routines and have fun, [have them] get used to us. And then we get to the point of “ok we’re gonna start learning letters and numbers,” starting the curriculum in August and September.
That’s a good point! So to help those of us not familiar with Foundations understand, can you give us some concrete examples of what you all are up to in May-June-July?
Catoria: In May-June we are winding down, and getting ready to have them transition over, making sure everybody’s potty trained. Some [parents] start the beginning of the year like “ok we’re going to do it,” and some it’s the beginning of March and they are trying to force you “okay here you go- he needs to be potty trained.”
Tabitha: I would say July is a little hectic in PK1 because they are going from cribs to cots and sitting at the tables and chairs since it’s more structured. [So the] month of July is getting them to sit down in a circle, getting the routine down, like they all sleep at the same time from 12-2 and so trying to get that all down pat in the month of July. They are getting up from the table, “oh I can run around.” Just the structure, like we sit down for story time, getting into a routine. Like in the infant side they aren’t used to getting the bin out and cleaning up. In August-September we are bringing in thematic units, but we still have group time during the other months: singing songs, getting into the rhythm.
It’s so interesting, because if you walk into Foundations classrooms this time of year, the kids have GOT the routine down! It’s crazy to imagine all of that starting again.
Tabitha: I can tell you about this year, when I got Ms. Walker’s kids, ten of them, the transition was much better because they knew the environment. It was just a new space they were coming to so the transition was much better, and they helped the four new ones that I had to transition do better because they came in and were like “hey we’re doing this? I’ll do it too!”
You’ve got to love that positive peer pressure! For those of us that work with older youth, sometimes we take for granted they know it’s weird to get up in the middle of class and run in circles. Although sometimes in middle school . . . hahaha.
So now real talk. This is tough work. How do you find creative ways to get restored and refreshed without the traditional summer break?
Tabitha: I could say from my perspective in the PK1 era, Ashley and I share some of the roles. She’s not the only one doing newsletters; we rotate the newsletters and different responsibilities for the grade level. If I need something as far as resources I can go to her and vice versa. So I think the teamwork of the grade level makes it work better.
Idelia: I was going to pretty much say the same thing. You work with your other teacher in your grade level, and it kind of helps you; this week is your down week. The newsletter or lesson plan, another person is worrying about it; it’s not your time to worry about it. I guess personally, my restoration would be to take advantage of the days you have off. Take your vacation! We’re offered a vacation, so take it! Use your days.
SO much wisdom there! But do you all struggle like me with actually turning it off on the days you are off?
Idelia: That was was my biggest thing even when I was out of school on Thursday, I’m in the corner and I text like “Can you put _____ in Seesaw.” I’m thinking about them even when I’m not there physically, but still there mentally. Like “can you put in Seesaw they need diapers?”
Catoria: It can be hard too, not just the teacher letting go, but the parents letting go! You can put out “hey, I’m gonna be out this day and that day” and I’ll still get the message: “Hey have you seen this person’s cup?” and “Hey- can you give them this snack?”
Idelia: I’m not there, but I’ll just relay the message and answer back like I’m still here. They tend to forget [that I’m out.]
Got it! Anything else throughout the year feel different schedule-wise from the rest of the school?
Sheena: We’ve got holidays throughout the year that are different. For Thanksgiving, we get 3 days instead of 5. For Christmas instead of a two week break, we get six consecutive days. We have the same flow for Easter and Spring Break as the other divisions, except we are out of school for two days during Spring Break instead of the whole week. The school year is not as lengthy as it seems when you consider the number of breaks we get. I will say the first year- I struggled quite a bit; because I was accustomed to the PK-12 experience. I was like “ohmygosh, year round” but when you live into it, it’s not really that bad.
So we’ve talked so much about what it’s like being year round, but we haven’t stated what is perhaps the obvious: WHY? Why is Foundations open so many more days than its divisional counter-parts?
Tabitha: It’s the challenging world we live in! Families need the care year-round, so what the demand is, we have to fill!
Are there any schedule ideas you’d like to suggest while we are all together?
Tabitha: Even though we are year round, it would be so helpful to close as a collective for that first week in July. . . like a reset week.
Sheena: Even if we had four days off and a day for PD! That would be great! (Ha) I will say we worked hard to align the Foundations calendar with the other three divisions… and I took a lot of heat from parents for that. They were like, “I’ve never seen a school out these many days!”
Tabitha: It may be worth getting some more data from parents. [In a past survey there was resistance to closing any additional days.] Our audience may be a little different now. This year by 4:30pm the majority of my class is already gone. Maybe we need a more updated survey. Another place it would make a difference is closing for the full spring break week.
It is interesting that as a society we have expectations for childcare for younger children to be available much more often than in K-12. (Of course, the year round approach is coming to Clinton schools next year, and we hear Madison is also considering the move.)
Catoria: It is the trippiest thing! You’ll have kids in our building, but they have older siblings and the older siblings are at home and the younger kids are here. Well if you’re taking care of 1 or 2 or 3, [what’s the difference]?
Of course practically as a parent I can tell you I can get a lot of work done with my nine year old at home, but when my kids were one and two years old, it was a very different story!
Sheena: But they ARE the sweetest children!
Tabitha: Every child is unique . .. in their own way!