Our New Normal

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By Rachel Breitweser ’03 and Diane Seo ’85

Upon returning to campus last October, students and faculty had to adapt to a “new normal.” While the School went to great lengths to keep the curriculum intact, everything students and teachers do in the classroom and beyond had to be closely examined and adjusted to adhere to safety protocols. Along with mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing and other measures, administrators have altered Academy schedules, and adopted new ways to teach students music, art, outdoor education and more.

The mission is clear – to continue the school year as fluidly as possible, while keeping everyone safe.
Punahou’s Pandemic Response Team has led the way, devising a four-tier alert system. Classroom and school practices change in the different tiers. The first semester started in the red tier with everyone in distance learning, and ended in mid-December, in orange, with most students back on campus, but still a good number learning virtually from home.

Overall, administrators say the first half of the school year was relatively smooth. While it’s certainly been an adjustment, faculty members have come up with creative ways to keep students engaged. “It’s just been a really Herculean effort on their part to do this amazing lift of running a school in a way we’ve never before, without strong models to follow,” said Chase Mitsuda ’98, Junior School assistant principal and dean of faculty and curriculum for grades 6 – 8. “You put a highly qualified, caring, loving teacher into a classroom, it doesn’t matter if it’s virtual, if it’s in person or if it’s hybrid. They make the difference. They make the magic happen.”

The middle school has been on a hybrid model with half of students on campus and the other half learning virtually at home. As a result, teachers are still relying on digital tools, which has actually increased class participation among more introverted students and allowed everyone to become more adept at such programs as Flipgrid, Seesaw and Canvas. “They all are tools to help us accomplish learning and give us the feedback that we need to help learners grow,” Mitsuda said.

He says the effort to bring students back to the classroom has been well worth it. “Every single day that we have our beautiful children on this campus, it’s a triumph that makes me smile. It keeps all of us going, because that’s the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing – so that they can have the best possible educational experience in a time of uncertainty and unprecedented challenges.”
Similarly, having the youngest students back on campus has “brought life back to Omidyar and Kosasa,” said Todd Chow-Hoy, assistant principal, kindergarten – grade 5.

He too credits teachers for the successful return, and also believes the pandemic forced everyone to reevaluate classroom practices and make shifts that will enhance future learning. “Moving forward, our school will look different,” he said. “Everybody started with Seesaw, Google Classroom and Canvas, and with everybody on these platforms now, we can think about how to leverage them in meaningful ways. Prior to (the pandemic), it would have been very challenging to get everybody on that same page.”

At the Academy, an entirely new schedule was devised with intensive “block” classes and semester-long courses, which allowed the School to create cohorts of students that remain together throughout the day. To keep the system intact, students are prevented from mingling with others outside of their cohorts. Still, classroom instruction is similar to past years, with the exception of required

PPE and safety practices, said Sally Mingarelli, Academy assistant principal for curriculum and faculty.
One of the biggest challenges at the high school level has been simultaneously educating both distance learners and those who have returned to campus – and facilitating collaboration between the two groups Mingarelli said. “You have to work very hard online to cultivate moments that try to replicate that feeling (of organic interaction).”

For students who are back in the classroom, teachers have had to think of ways to “capture as much of that rhythm of normalcy,” while adhering to the safety protocols, she added. “We all have masks on, and we sometimes have shields on and we’re sitting further apart. But a lot of your go-to, in-person teaching techniques still work despite some of those physical barriers.”

She’s heartened seeing kids in the hands-on spaces like the glassblowing studio, ceramics studio or the D. Kenneth Richardson ’48 Learning Lab. “It still looks and feels as awesome as it did without masks and face shields,” she said. “It’s just kind of nice to see how normal some things are, despite how crazy the times are.”

Snapshots of learning:

Art Meets Science
Fourth graders took part in various art projects in tandem with classroom lessons to learn about water. They conducted hands-on experiments on surface tension photography, shaving cream prints, floating chalk prints and Suminagashi (Japanese marbling). The printing techniques taught them about surface tension, which allows bugs to stride on water. This also allows ink and chalk to stay on top of water and be printed on paper. Students also learned about surfactants, like soap in shaving cream, which lower surface tension. “Students turned their beautiful printed papers into cards, bookmarks and boxes,” said art teacher Katie Snyder, who coordinated the project.

Let’s Go!
Working in teams of two, children assembled push go-karts using design thinking and fabrication skills. They then navigated them through a route created at the Omidyar K – 1 Neighborhood. The project has been an annual highlight for students, and this year, faculty members Mike Trusso and Ade Ogunniyi adapted the project to adhere to safety protocols. “We made them smaller, with more parts to assemble, so that we could have just two kids working on each kart with their own tool set, which was disinfected between use,” said Taryn Loveman, director of design technology and engineering. “We also improved the steering radius for tighter indoor courses, added customizable seat positions and a buildable steering linkage. Compared to last year, these karts can be completely disassembled using only ratchets and sockets.”

Hopping into Action
Rebecca Wagner’s fifth grade students have been learning to care for their class bunnies, Mochi
and Koa, who are loving the hutch built over the summer by the Outdoor Education department. Children groom the rabbits and keep their habitats clean. They also read books outside near the
bunnies and take turns holding them. “Over the years, I’ve had many students who have learned pet care in the classroom write persuasive essays to their parents about why they should have pets
at home,” Wagner said.

Academy Cadets Make Connections
Inspired by this year’s school theme of kuana‘ike (perspective), the JROTC Webex virtual guest speaker program helped student cadets reflect on their own aspirations and choices while living through the pandemic. “These brief talk story sessions relate to personal life journeys and life lessons learned,” said Punahou JROTC Director LTC Ret. Robert Takao. Speakers have included nearly 30 different Punahou school leaders, alumni and others, including Jaclyn Woo ’01, who works in marketing and sales at Google; U.S. Air Force pilot Tommy Takao ’12; and Josephine van der Voort, from the FBI.

Serving the Community
As part of a Senior Capstone course, a group of seniors delved into themes of social responsibility, the environment and community service. “I was struck by the ingenuity and creativity of the students’ individual projects, in which they succeeded in conducting meaningful service ‘from their bedrooms,’ as one senior put it,” said Capstone faculty member Pam Sakamoto, who also serves as Academy Social Studies department head. “I had been anxious about how Capstone – an inherently outward-oriented program – would be successful. The students made it work.” The projects included Ella Fontenot ’21 creating coding lessons for students to access online; Kemi Chung ’21 partnering with the Red Cross to identity communities missing from maps that responders use to deliver aid; and Grace Matsumoto ’21 launching a Korean language website listing COVID-19 resources, after overhearing her mother talking about Korean-speaking friends who couldn’t get accurate information.

Let the Music Play
Despite safety protocols, music instruction has carried on. Kindergartners and first graders have been groovin’ to the beat in Amanda Lippert’s music classes. Instead of singing, students have been dancing, ringing bells and tapping out rhythms to recorded songs, such as “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” At Case Middle School, students have been taking general music and are participating in virtual Ensemble Project Time with their cohorts in orchestra, band and choir. Troy Sarsuelo ’25 said he’s been happy to meet virtually with his choir ensemble cohort, especially with sports on pause. “To have a way to connect and ‘see’ my choir friends once a week has been a bright spot,” he said.

Getting Outside
Students in grades 4 and 5 enjoyed time with nature, while helping populate the Kosasa Community with indigenous plants. As part of Outdoor Education, students repotted ‘a‘ali‘i seedlings on Pu‘uomanoa (Rocky Hill), and were inspired by the Hawaiian ‘Olelo No‘eau, which includes the line, “He ‘a‘ali‘i ku makani mai au; ‘a‘ohe makani nana e kula‘i” or “I am a wind-resting ‘a‘ali‘i; no gale can push me over.” “We talk to the kids about how the ‘a‘ali‘i plant reminds us to be strong, resilient, flexible, and that any challenges that come their way, or our way, we can meet,” said Outdoor Education faculty member Shelby Ho ’01. “This lesson is really pertinent in life, but also right now.”

Kupuna Outreach
As part of Yunus Peer’s Senior Capstone class, students led kupuna at Kaiser Permanente in chair yoga, bingo, hula and Jeopardy through regular virtual sessions.“I thought I wouldn’t have the chance to get much or even any valuable community service because of COVID-19, but I’m glad that I was able to,” one student said. “I think we did something good.”

Fun with Coding
Third graders created simple video games using small magnetic electronic kits during a design technology and engineering lesson. They rigged up circuit boards and used coding to create interactive games. One student created a shooting game, which kept score as a target was hit with a paper ball. Another student made a two-player digital tug-of-war game. “Students created their own game character images and controllers,” said Liz Castillo, design technology and engineering faculty member.

Scientific Explorations
In faculty member Erin Flynn’s science class, eighth grade students learned how the different phases of matter respond to temperature changes. For the experiment, students heated and cooled water, then observed how heat caused the liquid to expand, while cooling led to contraction. This was in conjunction with another lesson where students used pressure to expand and contract a gas.

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