Never has the addition of a new grade to an elementary school been more convenient that the new sixth grade that was added to the Harvard Kent School this year – a new grade-level that allowed 59 students to continue their education remotely at the H-K.
All across the district, students and teachers and staff returned to school online at home or teaching in empty classrooms, but in Charlestown at the Harvard-Kent, the school community was able to celebrate the fruits of a long fight. That fight was to extend the K-5 school to add a sixth grade so students weren’t left in the lurch for a year before choosing a middle school or 7-12 school. With the COVID-19 era upon families, Prinicpal Jason Gallagher said it was incredibly important to have that extra grade this year.
“Everyone was excited even though we had to go remote for COVID-19,” he said. “Everyone was particularly excited for another year at the Harvard Kent and having a better pathway for 7-12 opportunities next year. COVID-19 dictates so much of what we do so it was a great relief to parents and students not to have to go to a new school this year for sixth grade – being the new students at a school they’ve never been to and with kids they likely have never gotten to meet. That would have been very tough. The timing on this was right and couldn’t have been better. We’re excited we could get off the ground this year for our families we’ve been serving.”
Additionally, the new sixth grade helped to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on departing students last year, as there were none. With the new sixth grade planned already, all the fifth graders could relax in knowing they would be coming back to the school this year. There were no painful online good-byes, or graduations that were never able to happen.
“Because we added the sixth grade, we were able to welcome all of our student from last year back this year on Monday,” said Gallagher. “There was no class that graduated or moved on. That worked in our favor because there was no situation where we didn’t get to say farewell to students. It made the transition this year much easier.”
The new sixth grade class is made up in what would be three classrooms – two larger groups and one small group. They include an inclusion classroom, a general education classroom and a smaller special education classroom. That formation will kick in when the hybrid, in-person model plays out likely in November.
There were new staff hired to fill the teaching positions, but Gallagher said they had two fifth grade teachers from last year who stepped up to teach the new Grade 6. Teachers Heidi Achour and Angela Tse have moved up and are teaching the new sixth grade, he said.
Overall, at all grades, Gallagher said it was an interesting day going remote – a day where teaching and learning was happening, but not necessarily all inside the school building. It was a different way of thinking about things, he said.
That said, the Harvard-Kent community is looking forward to the day when they can welcome back students in person.
“It was a good first day and good to have the students back,” he said. “It made all of the planning we did for so long feel worthwhile. The majority of the day was spent figuring out a few technical issues, but things were pretty smooth and we worked hard to make sure every student could get online…What we need to do is teach and do that day by day. We shift if we need to shift and pivot if we need to pivot. We are looking forward to bringing the kids back in person very soon.”