Voices from our Community

What is The Spring Hill School Community Voice Project?

Spring of 2020 has been an unprecedented time in our lives and has changed the way we experience school, work, and community. In recognition of this unique time, The Spring Hill School leadership chose to partner with Ashlan Falletta-Cowden, an audience researcher, to understand how this moment in time has been experienced by The Spring Hill School community.

Our goal with The Spring Hill School Community Voices Project is to reflect and ask ourselves what this spring semester at home has meant for our learning, our community, and our future. Speaking with Spring Hill School teachers, students, and families during phone and Zoom interviews we are working to understand the unique perspectives of community members across our school. Through this project we are working to understand the challenges distance learning presented as well as the opportunities it afforded for victories that may not have otherwise been achieved. Our questions center on the topics of distance learning, community, support, and growth. In essence, this project is a way for our community to process this time, listen to one another’s perspectives, and step back from the day-to-day intensity of shelter-in-place to examine the larger patterns of our school culture that have been illuminated by the pandemic. This project will be shared with The Spring Hill School and broader community through a series of blog and social media posts. If you would like to participate and share your perspective please contact Ashlan Falletta-Cowden at a.falletta.cowden@gmail.com or 707-486-3513.

.

When I drop him off at school, as a parent I feel so relaxed, because I know he’s going to have a fun, meaningful day with people that care about him. For me, it’s like having him with family. The trust that’s built with that community is just amazing.

When you speak with Spring Hill students, parents, and teachers about why their school is unique, the word “community” emerges as a constant heartbeat. At every level of the school, teachers, students, and parents consciously foster a culture grounded in respect for others, recognition and appreciation of difference, collaboration, and kindness. These values create a community where students from different cultures and walks of life can make meaningful connections with one another.

While individualized learning is at the heart of a Spring Hill education, students are encouraged to share their efforts with their community, contextualizing individual students’ work within the fabric of the larger classroom (or Zoomroom).

A Spring Hill teacher reflecting on this shared:

I think that it’s pretty amazing that we’ve…nurtured these kids to be proud of their work and to be kind to each other when they share it, that community piece of it. 

The multi-age classroom structure that Spring Hill embraces is key to the overarching sense of community that transcends individual grade levels, classrooms, and campuses.

In the words of a Spring Hill middle school teacher:

We’re literally all getting along and we’re literally all helping each other, and it’s not just when the teacher is watching… the overall tone [of this school] is the eighth grade girl letting the fifth grade boy play basketball with them because he walked up and was lingering around the edges, and they say, ‘Hey… do you want to play with us?

Spring Hill is about more than a well-rounded, excellent academic education, though parents, students, and teachers alike share pride in the rigorous academic lives’ students experience. This school is about nurturing life-long learners who are conscientious and empowered community members.

Community is Our Heartbeat

I know the families [at Spring Hill] and… being able to call a parent and honestly tell them that I love their child and that we’re going to make this work [and] be a team. That is the amazing part. I didn’t have that in my former school, just kind of partnership.

In this time of uncertainty and change Spring Hill school and the community this school has fostered created a social safety net for students, families, teachers, and staff. When several students were experiencing major life transitions or were struggling with the shift to virtual learning, their classmates stepped up with Facetime calls, driveway social distance lunch dates, and Zoom movie nights. Teachers and parents observed that the students who took action to acknowledge and address one another’s social and emotional needs during this time were often self-directed, empathizing with their classmates and acting on that awareness.

Spring Hill parents embrace the centrality of community to the lives of their children. Parents were particularly struck by how teachers have embraced their children as individuals during this time and supported their children as a community of coordinated educators. They discussed how they feel the love and dedication these educators have for their children. One parent of an elementary child shared that she feels:

Everyone from Shaharazad to the teachers, you know that they love your child. So, that’s everything.

Parents highlighted their appreciation for the culture of Spring Hill teachers going beyond what would be expected of a teacher to support their child’s in academic, social, and emotional lives. They educate and care about “the whole child” as one parent noted. A beautiful example of this was one teacher checking in with a student who was struggling to connect with her classmates in a virtual way. A Spring Hill middle school teacher shared this experience:

At the beginning [of shelter in place] I was her friend, like we would text message each other and I would check in with her every day… [see] how she’s doing, and we would send jokes to each other because I knew she was lonely and I knew she needed someone to chat with.

This teacher supported this student until she found her feet in this new virtual, environment. Parents and students feel the very real love and kindness Spring Hill teachers have for students and families and it is a foundational pillar of the school culture.

Supporting Each Other, Supporting Ourselves

I love my team… The teachers that I work with are so amazing. Even just the positive text messages, and funny things we send to each other… [When] I made a student who never wants to laugh or participate laugh in a class and I can send [that success] to everyone and everyone’s so excited for me. That makes me so happy to be part of this community

While the community amongst Spring Hill students and families is incredible, it is matched by the vibrant community amongst Spring Hill teachers. When teachers are asked to speak about what community at Spring Hill means to them, the most striking and recurrent theme is the supportive and tight-knit teacher community at every level of this school. Teachers share their genuine appreciation, love, and respect for their colleagues and their collaborative work, especially during our current time of disruption. Teachers across grades spent their entire spring break working to create a virtual curriculum and then met nearly every day throughout the semester to share insights, lessons, and to support each others’ efforts. Teachers discussed how each student was doing, what they needed, and how they could best support them. In addition to student support, teacher supported one another. One teacher loves how her fellow teachers genuinely celebrate even small victories with her, like getting a student who has been sad to crack up or join in a group discussion. Teachers at Spring Hill feel lucky to be part of such a skilled and supportive team. A middle school teacher who is about to welcome her first child highlighted that feels loved by her teaching community in this unique time in her life. Her colleagues brought her food and shared baby goods with her allowing her family to stay safe and isolated.

It was really, really hard for me in the beginning just because it was all so disconnected. It was a time that I wanted to be more around the strong women that I work with…. I think what I learned from the students’ families and my coworkers is…that simple little acts help things make sense…I had no baby things when I got back because all of the baby showers were canceled and the PE teacher brought me his wife’s rocking chair, so I have a rocking chair, and they brought the crib over.

The vibrant, kind community of Spring Hill is one of the things that makes this school so unique. It gives the school a soul that students, parents, teachers, and staff rely on and trust, reinforcing a culture of empathy and respect that follows students, families, and faculty beyond the beautiful campuses and into the larger world.

A Community of Educators