Governor Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Education recently issued their guidelines for schools to Recover, Redesign, Restart for the 2020-21 school year. I, along with the rest of the Seven Hills team, reviewed these guidelines and gave careful consideration to a wide variety of potential back-to-school scenarios. We are excited to announce that we have developed a plan that will allow all of our students to return to campus in September for full-time, in-person instruction, provided that there are no new directives that prevent a return to school.
Our top priority as we developed a plan for next year was to prioritize the health and safety of our community, while continuing to provide our students with an excellent, developmentally-appropriate education. We are confident in our ability to accomplish just that, but that does mean that school will have to look a little bit different than it has in the past.
Introducing… Phoenix RISE
What is Phoenix RISE?
The PhoenixRISE: Redesigning for Innovation, Safety, and Excellence program is a new way of teaching at Seven Hills designed to minimize health risks and maximize the classroom experience. Instead of a typical school day where the boys move between classrooms and instructors, students and teachers will be grouped together in grade-level cohorts. Those cohorts will stay together throughout the day for all subject matter. The designated cohort teachers will lead instruction for all curricula, though some specific content instruction will be led virtually by a teacher outside of the cohort. Akin to our Team Teaching model, this set-up will give teachers greater flexibility to integrate interdisciplinary, project-based lessons into the curriculum. Our teachers are excited about this opportunity to collaborate and innovate as they continue to provide the best educational experience for middle school boys.
Will my son still receive the same amount of instructional time in each academic area?
Yes, and then some! Students will still receive the same amount of instructional time per subject area every week, if not more. Every six weeks each teaching team will rotate to another grade-level cohort, with the exception of Mr. Parker, who will remain with Bridge throughout the year. As such, students will not be taught by the same two teachers for the entire year; instead, they’ll receive interdisciplinary instruction from four different teams of two or three teachers over the course of the year.
How will classrooms be set up?
We are in the process of modifying larger campus spaces to become social distancing-friendly classrooms. Each cohort will exclusively meet in one of these classrooms, which will most likely be the Great Hall, library, woodshop (or Bridge room), and science lab. These spaces were chosen based on their size, flexibility, individual entry and exit points, and designated bathroom access. Every room will be set up to allow for six feet of distance between student work stations.
What other precautions will Seven Hills take to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure?
We are actively consulting state and federal guidelines to develop a detailed “health check” plan that will ensure the safety of our community. We plan to conduct temperature checks on all students, faculty, and staff every morning at drop-off. If a student has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is feeling ill, we will ask that they stay home and participate in classes virtually (see next question). All students and school employees will be required to wear masks indoors.
What if we are not comfortable with our son being on campus?
We will continue to provide the opportunity for any student to participate in classes through distance learning for as long or short a period of time as needed. Students will be able to virtually participate in classes in real time using a school-provided Chromebook.
Will students still have breaks? What about Exploratories? River Days?
Absolutely! We are preserving as much of our school life as we can. Middle school boys need time to get outside and move around, so cohorts will take staggered morning and afternoon breaks on campus. As for our signature Experiential Fridays, we will continue to have Exploratories and River Days, they just might look a little bit different.
I still have some questions.
There are many details that have yet to be worked out, including decisions regarding athletics and other after-school activities. Even if adjustments are needed, it is our intention to at least offer some after-school options in cohort-specific groupings. The Seven Hills team will be at work this summer to iron out all of the details. We will continue to keep you informed of our plans and welcome your feedback.
Over the past week, like many Americans, I found myself wrestling with shame, anger, and sadness over the senseless killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer.
In my time as an English teacher, I was sure to include Langston Hughes’s poem, “Harlem ”, in my classes every year. You might know this poem by the mistaken title, “A Dream Deferred”. Those who choose to discuss the poem with the alternate title are either missing, or intentionally obscuring, the point.
In the poem, Hughes indirectly refers to a very specific dream of the people of Harlem in the early 1950s. He considers a range of possibilities in reply to the question of what happens to such a dream deferred, put off or on hold, again and again until some unknown future time. At the time of his writing, 88 years had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation, but the nation with liberty and justice for all described in our Pledge (adopted in 1942) was yet to be found. He considers whether the dream dries up like a raisin in the sun, festers like a sore, stinks like rotten meat, or just crusts over. His closing lines of questioning take on a more concerning tone, “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load? / Or does it explode?”
Here we are, nearly 70 years later, responding to the continued deferral of the same dream. “Harlem ” could have been titled and retitled again and again to mark the latest American site of catastrophic racial injustice being brought to light for the wider world to see – Birmingham (1963), Memphis (1968), Miami (1980), Los Angeles (1992), Ferguson (2014), and Minneapolis (2020).
These circumstances bring us to uncomfortable truths, but it is only in watching closely, listening to the voices of those directly affected, and acknowledging and addressing these historic, present, and systemic injustices, that we can all move forward together.
I want to be clear about where Seven Hills School stands.
We stand with those who identify as Black, African American, or of the diaspora. We stand with those who are observing their First Amendment right to peaceful assembly. We stand with those who are lifting up the voices of the oppressed and calling for justice. We stand with those who are unlearning hate and learning how to actively be anti-racist. We stand with the community of Seven Hills and our fellow Richmonders.
When our school virtually visited Washington, DC just a few weeks ago, we studied the inscriptions on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Doctor King’s words ring just as true now as they ever have before. He understood that the long, difficult road to peace would be fraught with challenges in confronting unpleasant realities and overcoming injustice: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Further, he spoke to how we are all bound together in facing this societal ill:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Many of those who are currently protesting are doing so with these thoughts in mind. They are speaking out to protect future generations from the fate that has met countless Black Americans like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. They are organizing to prevent their children or our children from becoming the next headline. In this great struggle all of our fates are inexorably linked together.
I urge you to start a conversation in your own household about these current events. Your son is likely seeing countless headlines, photos, and videos on the internet and is trying to make sense of it all and form his own opinions. He may even be trying to find his own way to engage civically. I, along with the rest of the Seven Hills faculty and staff, have compiled several resources below to help you start and continue these conversations in your home. Please reach out if you have additional resources to share.
It is our priority to educate our boys to be knowledgeable citizens of the world and to use that knowledge to stand up to injustice and inspire change. It is also our priority to teach our students to understand the struggles of all people of color and other marginalized groups who have fought and are fighting for equal protection under the law. We will continue to instill these values in our students through conversations in our classrooms and beyond. I hope that I and the Seven Hills community can be of support to your family during this difficult time. We are all in this together; may we pursue justice in order to find true peace.
As per Governor Northam’s orders, unless we are given different instructions, campus will remain closed to students for the remainder of this school year.
We are utilizing a distance learning program that allows us to continue to engage and educate of our students and to protect the health and well-being of the Seven Hills and greater Richmond communities.
Remember to contact us with any questions you may have. This is new territory for all of us, so your feedback is crucial to continuing the success of this program. We will continue to communicate with you as the COVID-19 situation evolves. Below are links to our previous messages:
During sixth grade, students begin to push boundaries more readily. They demonstrate a lack of impulse control, often fidgeting, talking out of turn, or play with anything at hand. Their divided attention often leads to forgetfulness and disorganization.
The approval of their peers gains new importance at this time, and students will begin making behavioral decisions with their place in the social hierarchy in mind. The resulting groupings or cliques are very fluid at this point, with students often testing out new identities and making new friends.
Students in the sixth grade are often very competitive, and will weave competition into academics and typically non-competitive activities. They also value goofy, silly humor and will infuse activities with silliness whenever possible. Academically, sixth graders begin to develop more keen, personal interest in content, and will start to do work that goes above and beyond expectations.
Seven Hills School invites you to join parents and teachers for an evening with New York Times bestselling author and renowned child psychologist Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D. for a discussion on the emotional lives of adolescent boys.
In early adolescence boys are subjected to a powerful “culture of cruelty” which may require boys to adhere to a narrow ideology of masculinity, avoidance of feeling, avoidance of anything feminine, fear of personal weakness. The result may be a boy who is or appears closed and often angry. In this talk, Dr. Thompson will give suggestions to teachers and parents about how to support a boy in the early years of school and how to help a boy remain emotionally open in adolescence.
On Friday, February 7, parents will be able to witness the cornerstone to our experiential learning curriculum. Each Friday we are on campus, the boys have Team Teaching in the morning and Exploratories in the afternoon. The APP@7HS program on Friday, February 7 will begin at 8:45 am with a welcome from the Director of Admissions and the Head of School and conclude around 10:45 am.
On Friday, November 1, parents will be able to witness the cornerstone to our experiential learning curriculum. Each Friday we are on campus, the boys have Team Teaching in the morning and Exploratories in the afternoon. The APP@7HS program on Friday, November 1 will begin at 8:45 am with a welcome from the Director of Admissions and the Head of School and conclude around 10:45 am.
On Sunday, November 10, parents and students will be able to visit Seven Hills to meet some current parents, students, and faculty, to learn more about our program for middle school boys, and to tour the campus. It is a great introduction for the families to what makes Seven Hills the middle school for boys. Our Open House on Sunday, November 10 will begin at 2:00 pm and end around 4:00 pm.
Often when the school year begins, the objectives of students and teachers are in direct, and perhaps irreconcilable or even catastrophic, conflict.
In a typical classroom on the first week of school, the teacher has one main objective, establish classroom rules and procedures, while making sure that students understand what they need to do to be successful in the course. On the surface, that sounds perfectly reasonable. However, the problem is that many students do not share that singular focus during the opening days of school.
Boys of middle school age are much more focused on building friendships than on listening to grown ups talk. When they return to school, most of their thoughts and questions are social, especially when starting out at a new school. Will I have a friend? Will the other kids be nice to me? Will they think I’m cool…or funny…or at least not a complete loser? Will my teachers like me and… will I like them?
Of course we’d like to make the boys more mature, responsible, and better able to prioritize through our sheer force of adult will, but the development of their brains is in the way. With lower levels of impulse control and often weaker executive functioning skills than what is normal for same-age female peers, boys often struggle with middle school, especially in the transition from summer-to-school.
At Seven Hills, we start off with Camp Week, so the boys can answer those burning social questions first. No classroom learning was going to happen before they did anyway. In fact, it’s much more likely that boys in classes the opening week would act-out to score “cool points” with peers or try being the “class clown” as a way to make friends.
During Camp the boys get to know everyone in their grade groups and houses, lots of other boys from shared time outside, as well as all of the teachers in the school through a variety of team building and communication-centered activities. In addition to those activities, they help write the honor code, learn the rules, take a tour, walk through their schedule, and make friends along the way. By the end of Camp Week, the boys have learned that this IS their school and that they have friends here; they know the kids are nice and the teachers are, too. With that established and those social needs met, then, and only then, are boys ready to learn.
Interested in having your son excited about school? How about having classes at the James River each month? Interested in a school that understands, appreciates, and empowers middle school boys? Check out Seven Hills School!! Seven Hills School is still taking applications for the 2018-19 school year. To find out more, please contact the Director of Admissions, Drew Lineberger, at 804-329-6300 x224 or at email@example.com.