As parents struggled to work with their children at home due to school closures, public recognition of what it takes to mold young minds has skyrocketed. Our collective gratitude for teachers, their training, and their invaluable role in student well-being, has risen. While we’ve been coping, schools have been busy, too – most schools not even getting the summer off.
We sat down with Palmetto Elementary School Principal, Eric Torres, to learn how his school has gone above and beyond during this period.
What have you seen change the most during this period?
The teachers. The level to which our teachers have adapted and gone above and beyond – way outside the box – is amazing and deserves recognition. They offer their assistance in any instance, volunteering their time to ensure students stay in cohorts, or volunteering to help with the arrival and dismissal process. Teachers understand the safety that a classroom cohort can offer and willingly create a secure and safe environment for their students. Attendance of faculty has also been astounding, everyone keeps showing up no matter the circumstance.
What safety changes has Palmetto made to go above and beyond what is required?
For starters, our dismissal app has been a game changer. I received the tip from a fellow principal, then shared it around so now all the surrounding elementary schools are using it. Essentially, it allows the students to remain safely in their cohorts until it’s their turn for pickup in carpool. It was economical, and bottom line, it keeps everyone distanced.
Another huge accomplishment achieved by our PTA and fellow parents has been the installation of air purifiers in the entire school. We had many parents who felt strongly, got organized and managed to raise over $10,000 in 24 hours. This supplied proficient air purifiers to every classroom, the cafeteria and media center, plus replacement filters. I’m extremely thankful that our community cares not just about their own child, but the safety and health of the entire school, staff included.
How did Palmetto make the most of the downtime when your schoolhouse building was, for the most part, empty?
First and foremost, we cleaned like never before. We had an abundance of time to really deep clean rooms which we may not have always had.
Next, we accomplished not one, but two, major improvement projects. Together with the PTA and our district safety department, we installed the first ever cement-bordered walking track, something no other elementary school in our area can say. This has been especially wonderful to have during COVID times. Coach Tanner is able to have children doing distanced, no-touch obstacle courses and drills, and the teachers can use it with classes for distanced walking and recess.
Finally, our PTA initiated a complete overhaul of our award-winning Media Center, including new shelving, checkout desk, learning pod furniture, plus paint and electrical. Stay tuned for the big reveal, I’m sure you’ll see something on our social media.
None of us ever imagined this hybrid of dual modality, with partial school online and in-house. Have there been any silver linings, or positives that have come from this time?
By far, the most important thing I’ve witnessed is how the teachers have adapted and shared information. They’ve always worked collaboratively by grade-level, exchanging lesson plans, talking at grade meetings. But starting back in March, I’ve seen a real shift to vertical planning. Teachers across grade-levels were stepping up to help the entire staff shift to online learning. Our tech-savvy teachers shared expertise with veteran teachers. As a principal, it’s a proud moment when you have the entire school working to support each area.