I have many friends who are struggling right now to make a choice for students regarding school in the fall. Will they go remote? Will they do a hybrid? Do they even want to send their kids back to their public school? Many have come to me asking for advice, and asking what CHCA is doing for the next year. I’ve felt blessed to share with them that not only do I feel confident about our plans for the upcoming year, but that I’m genuinely excited for some of the changes that have occurred in our school because of the pandemic.
As we all know, school will look different - from classroom sizes and environments to daily schedules to the areas where students hang out. I can also say that I think (and hope) it will feel different. It is with great intentionality that we have built into each day at the Upper School the opportunity for students to engage for 40 minutes with a small group of students and a teacher. This new “Connection Bell” is designed to be a time to talk through the day, process the good and the bad, and do life together. Teens might roll their eyes at this notion because they think they always do life together, but the reality is that when you repeatedly share an unhurried meal with the same group of people, conversations and rhythms naturally develop. These people become more than just peers roaming the halls. They become family.
As we thought about the struggles students might face during this uncertain time, making sure they could still engage socially and as an active member of the school community was at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Of course, we want students to be physically safe and healthy, but we know that peer interaction is necessary for their emotional well-being. The Student Activity Time bell will allow even those students who might ride a bus or need to leave right after school the opportunity to be part of clubs and activities at the school while connecting with those who are interested in the same things. We know that engaged students do better academically and emotionally, and to this end, we are creating spaces for students to safely engage in our collaboration center as well as within the gym and other larger spaces.
The school’s Counseling Office found there were actually things that worked quite well when we were remote, and we will continue to engage with families both face-to-face and virtually. Large group meetings will provide options to be attended in either format, and when parents can’t attend student meetings in person, we will continue to zoom them in.
Personally, I love that we have been able to reimagine school. We often get too comfortable in our surroundings, dismissing change because what we are doing works. As the school year continues, I know our office will adapt as we the needs of the students continue to shift. We are also excited to welcome a new counselor for Grades 4-8, who will bring new energy and eyes to help us see new areas of opportunity!
As my friends and colleagues throughout the country stress and wrestle with this very real conundrum of what to do with their students in the fall, I’ve been able to rest easy in the knowledge that my boys (who attend Lower School at EBL) will benefit from the thoughtful planning and diligence that has taken place among our administration and faculty over the summer. We all have each student’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being at the forefront of our minds. Strong academics paired with spiritual growth is the calling card of CHCA. Many people look to us for this reason; but it’s the relational aspect of our school that truly sets us apart. I know I’m excited to see all of my “kids” (as I call them), even if our first greeting won’t be filled with its usual hugs. I’m excited to hear from families about their time during quarantine and how their lives have changed.
Yes, this year will be different. And I, for one, can’t wait!
About the Author
Kara Ussery is a licensed school counselor and her role as an admission representative at the University of Missouri led her to this field. Serving as a school and college counselor since 2002, she worked at Indian Hill and Wyoming High Schools prior to joining CHCA in 2015. Kara takes an active role in college admission trends to keep CHCA connected and students ready for all that the college search and application process entails. Kara serves CHCA sophomores through seniors in all aspects of the college process as well as academic counseling. She is also the counselor who works with all of CHCA’s international students.