When the Sisters of the Order of St. Anne came to Denver over 90 years ago, their focus was children. They came to Denver with the intention of helping young patients who were suffering from a crippling disease. When that work was no longer needed, they turned to educating children who were not being served by the public schools. At the center of their work ALWAYS were the children.
For over 70 years now, we’ve kept children at the center of St. Anne’s Episcopal School. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we found ways to do what was best for the students. When we had to close the campus, we moved to remote learning. When we were able to return in August of 2020, we set up cohorts, masked up, and found new ways to help students learn and grow.
When we planned for this school year, we looked carefully at what we learned during COVID restrictions last year. We found that some of the ways in which technology enabled differentiated instruction in the lower school were worth keeping, and we decided to outfit our K-5 classrooms with sets of electronic devices. We also made sure that students in Grades 4-8 would continue to have access to Google Classroom via our 1:1 Chromebook program.
Over the summer, Jennifer Worthing and Margaret Mitchell redesigned our academic schedules to better meet the needs of students. In lower school, more attention was paid to ensuring that classroom teachers have additional time for reading, writing, and math instruction. We also added a math specialist position to our team of learning specialists in the lower school, giving more students access to needed support. In the middle school, we increased time spent on science and created smaller classes for science and social studies. We split English from social studies so that each of those academic areas would get sufficient time and attention.
All that work and planning is paying off. Analyzing the data from MAP (Grades 1-8) and DIBELS (Grades K-5) assessments given last fall and this fall, we can proudly say that all of our first- through eighth-grade classes showed progress in both reading and math over the last year. They exceeded national norms in all areas, and they demonstrated growth. While many school districts are reporting learning loss over the last eighteen months, we can proudly say that overall our students made gains.
While it’s comforting to know that our students have made substantial academic progress despite the pandemic, we also know that all children have suffered other types of loss. It may be the loss of a family member or friend to Covid-19. It may be a loss of confidence in social settings. It may be the feeling that the world is a little scarier than it was before. The truth of the matter is that we are just beginning to understand the social-emotional impact of this pandemic on children and adults.
Realizing that we may need to think again about what is best for our students, we increased the hours of our mental health team, Craig Knippenberg, Sarah Vigesaa, and Alex Valencia this year. Recently, Craig launched a project that celebrates our students’ resilience and accomplishments during the pandemic. Classes are discussing the challenges they faced, how they thrived, and what they can take away from the last eighteen months. Their reflections are both touching and inspiring. Evidently, children are capable of seeing a silver lining even within the cloud of a pandemic.
While we know that the pandemic is not over yet and that the world is not quite “back to normal,” we also know that keeping children at the center of our work will keep them learning, growing, and moving forward. Clearly, the legacy of the Founding Sisters lives on in the faculty and staff of St. Anne’s Episcopal School and our commitment to doing what is best for children.