Sunday, November 22, 2020

Nov. 22 Update

Dear Parents and Guardians,


I hope you are well.  It seems a little odd to think about giving thanks during a year that is filled with so many challenges.  However, Thanksgiving is ultimately about expressing gratitude, so I feel compelled to reflect on what I am grateful for these past few months.


I am thankful that every day I can see students in the building even though it takes me a moment to figure out who said hi to me because they are all wearing masks.


I am thankful that I am able to be with students and hear the “middle school things” they have to say to me.  For example, there is an 8th grader who enjoys the school lunches so much that he feels compelled to give me in depth descriptions of each meal he has eaten.  There is a sixth grader who somehow always finds me during the day so he can share a fun fact he has read on the internet.  Lastly, I enjoy hearing a 7th grade student describing the system she has put in place to help her determine which mask she would wear each day she is in school.


I am thankful for the resiliency that the remote teachers are exhibiting when they have to manage Zoom and other technical issues that are beyond their control and to figure out on the fly class management issues they never had to contend with during in-person instruction.


I am thankful for all the in-person teachers and staff who have to put aside their worries about contracting the virus and put forth their best efforts to ensure they are delivering the best instruction possible.


I am thankful for members of our administrative team and every teacher and staff member who has volunteered their time to cover classes and take on additional duties because we are short staffed almost every day.


I am thankful for our nurses who are on duty every weekend to help with the contact tracing effort.  I am grateful for the fact they are willing to put themselves at risk every time they have to treat students with COVID symptoms.


I am thankful for our custodial and building services staff for working tirelessly to ensure every inch of our building is clean and disinfected and to maximize the limited amount of space we have to ensure we can accommodate as many in-person students as we can.


I am thankful for all our mental health professionals for supporting all our students and staff and helping them manage the additional levels of stress and anxiety that are created by the pandemic.


I am thankful for the McCall Parent Association and all the parents and guardians out there who continue to provide the school and its staff with financial and emotional support during this difficult school year.


I am thankful for all the parents and guardians out there who are working so hard to support their students during the at home days so they can access the teachers’ remote instructions and the asynchronous work the students have been assigned to do.


I would like to end by sharing this CBS News segment on offering thanks during the pandemic.  In it, a gentleman named Gabriel offered this thought to the reporter:

 

“I'm going to have an amazing Thanksgiving all by myself.  I will sit on a park bench, and I will think about the great Thanksgivings that I've had in my life and be thankful for them. One bad Thanksgiving out of 63 amazing Thanksgivings – that's pretty good odds. Maybe we should be a little more thankful for what we do have than constantly be complaining about what we don't have.”

 

The entire segment is included here

 

Given all the reports regarding the increased rate of infections across the country, it is likely our work educating the students will become more challenging before it becomes easier.  I think it is important that we continue to focus on what we are able to accomplish with the limited amount of resources we have as opposed to lamenting what we are not able to do with the resources we wish we have but are not available to us at this moment.

 

Thank you for your continued support, and I wish everyone a great Thanksgiving.

 

James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School  

Sunday, November 8, 2020

November 8 Update

Dear McCall Parents and Guardians,

I hope this message finds you well. I would like to begin by wishing all members of the McCall community who are veterans of the United States armed forces and their family members a happy Veteran’s Day. This include McCall teachers Mr. John Gill, Mr. Larry Farelli as well our head custodian Mr. Phil Doucette and our School Resource Officer Officer Dan Perenick - all of whom have served in the US military prior to starting their current career with Winchester Public Schools. On behalf of the entire McCall community, we thank you for the services and sacrifices you have made for our country.

Please don’t forget there is no school this coming Wednesday due to the fact that it is Veteran’s Day. No Zoom sessions will be held that day.

I would like to take this moment to remind everyone of a few things.

  • Although we had encountered a few cases where students had tested positive for COVID or were deemed to be close contacts and therefore had to undergo quarantine, the school community as a whole has been able to avoid a schoolwide spread of the disease and remain open. This is largely due to the fact that all staff, parents, guardians, and students have been vigilant in the participation in our mitigation efforts. It is important to remember not to let up on our work as we head into the holiday season when we are all tempted to travel and visit with friends and families. Please remember that the travel order that was put in place by the Governor in August is still in effect. Part of the order includes the requirement to quarantine after you return from higher risk states which include those that neighbor Massachusetts such as Rhode Island and Connecticut. I ask all families to please review the travel information posted on the Department of Health website (please click here) and take all necessary steps to do your part in order to keep all members of the McCall community healthy and safe. 
 
  • Many of our teachers and staff members worked very hard this past summer to create Curriculum Overview documents for all the courses that are being taught at McCall Middle School. I would like to make everyone aware that this information is now posted on the WPS COVID website (please click here). These documents include helpful information such as the learning standards and essential questions that teachers plan to teach and include in every course McCall offers. I highly recommend families who plan to withdraw students from McCall for an extended period of time to review this information. 
 
  • The holiday season can be a stressful time for families who are in need. I would like everyone to know that the Winchester Gives Back program is here to help all those who need assistance. Please review this letter to learn how to access this resource if you need support (please click here).
 
  • Don’t forget that the McCall Spirit Wear sale held by the MPA is now taking place. Please click here if you are interested in purchasing cool clothing with Winchester and McCall logos.



Thank you, and I wish everyone a good week.



James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School

 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

November 1 Update

 Dear McCall Parents and Guardians,

I hope you are well. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of our teachers’ experiences with remote teaching and learning. One of the questions teachers often ask themselves is whether to require students to turn on their cameras while they are on Zoom. We understand some students are reluctant to turn on the cameras because they are conscious about their own appearances or how their background may look to others. However, it is also important to recognize the negative impact to the students’ remote learning experiences if they consistently attend Zoom classes without having their cameras turned on. For example, it is very difficult for some teachers – impossible for others – to properly provide feedback to the students without being able to see them. This is particularly the case for teachers who teach performance-based skills such as those in the music, physical education, and World Language departments. Those teachers have to be able to see the students do what they are being taught to do in real time in order for the instruction to be effective.

The other reason that teachers are encouraging students to turn on cameras during Zoom lessons is because effective instruction is often dependent on the relationship the students have with their teachers. It is very difficult for teachers to develop those relationships if they do not have important information that is conveyed through the facial expressions and body language of the students during instruction.

We are also finding that some students consistently have a hard time following the norms their teachers have set for their remote classes. Some examples of those incidences include students walking away from their Zoom sessions for long periods of time, family pets and younger siblings distracting the students and interrupting the entire remote lesson, and students zooming while in bed dressed in manners that are not appropriate for the school setting.

When establishing classroom rules and norms, I often asked teachers and staff to think carefully about what the underlying reasons are for putting them in place. In a world where it is so important all of us to be flexible, it becomes even more important for all of us to make sure we are not spending time and energy enforcing rules that really do not lead to the students attaining the learning goals we want them to achieve.

I understand the challenges of managing your students’ at-home learning at the same time that you are meeting the demands of your professional and everyday lives. When our teachers reach out to communicate with you about the challenges they are facing with your students’ remote learning, I hope I can count on you to understand what we are asking the students to do during remote lessons is truly important to helping them reach their learning goals. I hope I can also count on you to collaborate with our teachers and problem-solve through the challenges they face so that your students are able to learn as effectively as possible.



Thank you,

 

James Lin

Principal McCall 

Middle School

Sunday, October 25, 2020

October 25 Update

Dear McCall Parents and Guardians,

 

I hope this message finds you well.  During these past two weeks, some of you have reached to out to my administrative team and me to ask questions about the asynchronous learning as well as remote learning activities that the McCall teachers have been assigning to their students.  Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify a few things regarding these aspects of both the Hybrid and Full Remote Learning models of instruction.

 

The first important information to remember is that during the At Home Days for Hybrid students (or the days when Fully Remote students are taking World Language and Exploratory classes), academic learning is not limited to the World Language and the two Exploratory classes students are assigned to take.  During those two days of the week, teachers are also assigning Asynchronous assignments for students to complete when they are not receiving remote instruction from their World Language and Exploratory teachers.  Your students should expect to receive about 30-35 minutes of Asynchronous assignments from each of their Team (i.e., Math, English, Science, and Social Studies) and World Language Teachers to complete for each of their At Home days.  In other words, your students have academic tasks they are required to do between 9:30 am – 3:07 pm (i.e., a typical school day for this school year) of their At Home Days when they are not taking their remote World Language and Exploratory classes.

 

In addition to the Asynchronous work that your students are expected to do for their Team and World Language classes, those teachers are assigning about two to three nights of homework per week for your students; Exploratory teachers are giving about one night of homework per class per week to your students. 

 

I strongly suggest all parents do some digging if you are noticing your students are taking part in little or no academic endeavors outside of attending their scheduled remote classes.  When that happens, it would be helpful for you to ask students to show you what their teachers are posting on Google Classroom and to check with the students to see if those assignments have been completed.  Even though most students have fifty minutes of Support Block per In-Person day to work on their assignments, it is highly unlikely students would be able to complete all their Asynchronous Work and their after school assignments during those two fifty minute periods of times per week.

 

Secondly, some parents and guardians have inquired why students are not interacting with their teachers during the entire period they are scheduled to be attending remote classes.  I encourage all parents and guardians to remember that effective instruction at the middle school level does not often involve teachers talking to students during the entire class.  Subject matter that are taught in all of our classes involve students learning by doing or discussing with their classmates.  This is particularly the case for our Exploratory classes such as Art, Music, and Technology and Engineering.  Therefore, parents and guardians should expect to see teachers delivering direct instruction to students during part of the class and providing students with the opportunity to work independently to practice what they have been taught or explore what they have been instructed more deeply either independently or with other classmates.

 

Thirdly, parents and guardians have asked about the purpose of the Wednesday Zooms and why content instruction is not taking place during that day.  Students have about 20-26 minutes of meeting time with each teacher on Wednesdays.  Teachers may use the limited time they have with students on Wednesdays to do a variety of things which may, or may not, include teaching of new content.  They might check in with students regarding the asynchronous work they have assigned, review content that was taught and/or instructions on long term assignments that were given, preview new materials that will be taught, or  help students engage in executive functioning activities such as planning for their asynchronous days. Given that our in-person time with students is so limited this year, teachers might also prioritize activities that help them build relationships and a sense of community in the class. These are all essential parts of what middle school teachers do to help students to be successful learners. It is unlikely students will be able to be learn new content effectively if teachers do not spend time on these activities.

 

In addition, it is also important for everyone to remember that students are spending pretty much their entire school day on screens on Wednesdays.  Zoom fatigue is real and does negatively impact students’ physical and mental well-being if we do not make a conscious effort to manage it.  Therefore, McCall teachers’ decisions to have students spend time away from Zoom and other screen-related activities is not just to ensure instruction is being delivered effectively, but they are also made to ensure teaching and learning are not happening at the expense of everyone’s physical and mental health.

 

The shift to Hybrid and Fully Remote models of education fundamentally changed how we deliver instruction.  However, it did not change McCall teachers and staff’s commitment to delivering quality education.  It is inevitable you are going to see education being done differently, however, that does not necessarily mean quality of teaching is lesser than before COVID hit us.  I hope everyone will always keep in the back of your minds that the McCall teachers and staff’s priority is the education and well-being of your students, and the decisions we make are always made with that priority in mind.

 

Thank you,

 

James Lin

Principal

McCall Middle School

Sunday, October 4, 2020

October 4 Update

During these past few weeks quite a few parents (both of in-person and fully remote students) have reached out expressing concerns about the amount of time students are spending on screen during instructions. This is a legitimate worry, and how to modulate the amount of time our students spend on screen – particularly for our fully remote students – is something all members of the McCall faculty are thinking about. With that being said, I urge all parents and guardians to consider the following factors related to the usage of screen during teachers’ instructional practices.

The Challenge of Promoting Social Interactions While Adhering to Health and Safety Protocols – As all of you know by now, the pandemic has created a world where we all have to social distance, wear masks, and minimize the amount of physical materials we are sharing with each other. These essential safety practices really limit our faculty’s ability to facilitate learning experiences where students and teachers are able to socially engage with each other in meaningful ways. Therefore, teachers are relying on technology to create opportunities for students to collaborate with each other and to participate during instructions.  The need to adhere to public health guidelines are also making teachers to rely on digital tools so they can communicate with students and monitor their progress.  As McCall teachers work to find that right amount of screen time for your students, I hope all parents and guardians understand that due to the restrictions with which the teachers are working, it is inevitable that all students will be spending more time learning in front of a screen compared to the pre-COVID days.

Not All Screen Time are Equal – Students (and adults) use computers, smart phones, and other devices in a lot of different ways. Dr. Taren Sanders, a health scientist from Australian Catholic University, sorted the ways students use technology into five categories and they are: Passive (e.g., watching a movie), Interactive (e.g., playing a video game), Social (e.g. texting and Tweeting), Education, and Others. As all of you know, students using electronic devices to do homework or Facetime with relatives are engaging in different experiences than using the same devices to watch movies, play Fortnite, or post messages on social media sites. Therefore, if the amount of educational screen time has to increase for the reasons I just mentioned, students will need to decrease the amount of time they are spending in front of screens for the other purposes in order to maintain or decrease their overall screen time. I would like to point out that the American Academy of Pediatrics screen time guidelines changed in 2015. Its recommendation for appropriate screen usage is no longer a set time limit of less than two hours per day. Instead, the AAP is recommending that screen time does not replace children and adolescents’ sleep time and active time.  Other recommendations include adults setting no screen time zones such as during meal time and modeling positive screen usage behaviors. I am including an article published by the AAP which includes many of its recommendations on student’s digital usage for your reference. Please click here.

The McCall teachers, staff, and I do recognize the start of the school year involved a lot of screen usage. Much of that is due to the fact that teachers (especially those who teach remote classes) have to have some form of face-to-face connections with the students in order to establish relationships with them. A lot of the screen usage during the start of the school year is also to make sure students are learning how to use the digital tools that will be part of the courses throughout the school year.


COVID-19 is causing all of us to adjust and sometimes fundamentally change our practices. While we are navigating through the pandemic, we will frequently find that effective educational practices are at odds with public health and safety protocols. During these situations it is natural for us to lament what we are no longer able to do. However, we should also consider that many of the changes we have to make for our new normal are actually good changes. For example, pre-recorded lessons are benefiting students who struggles with keeping up with the fast pace of live direct instructions. Digital tools such as Padlet is allowing students who used to be hesitant about raising their hands to participate more in their remote lessons. These are practices I would encourage McCall teachers and staff to keep when we are able to return to full in-person schooling



Sunday, September 27, 2020

September 27 Update

Ever since school shut down last March and caused a sudden shift to remote learning, the question of parent involvement in student’s schooling became a heavily discussed topic. Parenting is a difficult job during the best of circumstances and is now even harder, whether your student is attending school fully remotely or under the hybrid model. All of us parents are struggling with the question of when and how to get involved with our children’s remote learning. Since remote learning in such a large scale is still very new to the world of education, there is not a lot of data gathered on this topic. However, according to Dr. Erik Black, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Education in the University of Florida who studied virtual schooling at the high school level in 2008, there are a few things we do know about parental involvement in remote learning.

The first is an absence of parental involvement in a student’s education will likely impact his or her academic progress in a negative way, and the same is true if a parent exhibits uber helicopter parenting behaviors. The question then is, how to figure out when and how much to be involved. The answer is it all depends on the individual needs of the students and their families.

According to Dr. Black, parental involvement falls into four buckets: encouragement, modeling, reinforcement, and instruction. What he has learned is that some parental involvement, particularly in the area of encouraging students and modeling positive behaviors are good things. In other words, a parent learning Algebra and reteaching it to her child is probably not going to be as effective as the parent encouraging her student to work hard and showing him behaviors related to good study habits and emotional regulation. 

As a parent I can understand the unpleasant feelings one experiences when seeing your own children struggle. However, students will continue to encounter demands that will challenge (and at times overwhelm) them especially while we are in midst of a pandemic. I see parents’ roles in these situations are to guide them to resources where they can access help as opposed to solving the problems for them. If we continue to lean toward the latter, we will miss the opportunity to teach students the skills necessary to help them overcome the struggles they will inevitably face.

Therefore, if your students continue to have difficulty navigating their schedules, accessing remote classes, or learning the content that their teachers are teaching them, I suggest you encourage them to view setbacks as temporary events instead of seeing it as the end of the world. In addition, I suggest you model for your students the necessary skills to seek help from McCall teachers and staff. An example of those skills may be how to craft an appropriate email to teachers when asking for help. Consider this approach as opposed to you reaching out to the teachers and learning how to navigate schedules yourselves and reteaching it to you students. Both approaches may get you the same outcome, however, the latter takes away the opportunity for students to learn and practice the skill of self-advocacy.

One parent recently said to me that she has been working so hard getting her student ready for the start of school. If you ever feel this way about any aspect of school, I encourage you to ask yourself the question, “Am I working harder than my child?” If the answer is yes, then it may be time to consider where you are on the spectrum of parent involvement. It may be time for you to contact your child’s teachers or guidance counselor so we can help you figure out the level of involvement that would be appropriate for your student and your family.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

September 20 Update

As many of you know, I have three children of my own, and my wife is a special education teacher in a public school district not that different than Winchester Public Schools. Therefore, we wear both hats – the parent one and the school official one. My two girls had a great start to the school year. They like being back in the school buildings and seeing their friends and teachers. Wearing masks and staying six feet away from classmates did not seem to bother them that much.

My son’s start of the school year was much rockier. He is the only middle schooler we have right now. He was already dreading this school year because during the summer he found out his buddies were either fully remote or due to the first letter of our last name he was placed in the different cohort than his other good friends.

My son said he felt lonely throughout the first day of school. He tried to do what my wife advised him to do to make new friends. However, having a mask on and being seated six feet away from other people made it hard to engage in conversations with students he did not know well. He reported that lunch was horrible because other kids seated around him knew each other and were talking over him like he was not there.

He was in tears when he came home after the second day of school. The terrible lunch experience of the first day of school became in his mind the stuff of horror movies. He was let out late the period before lunch so most seats in the cafeteria were already taken when he arrived there. He was then seated in the cafeteria annex with a few other kids who all happened to be girls. The horror movie escalated to the level of Stephen King’s The Shining because in the middle of lunch the Assistant Principal announced that the seats the students were sitting in were everyone’s assigned seats.

Tomorrow will be his third day back in school, and I suspect at the time you are reading this post, my wife and I are desperately trying to pump our son up and putting a positive spin on things so we can get him to go back to school. We will likely be telling him that sitting with girls gives him the opportunity to be that “cool kid who all the girls like” and that spending more time with kids he does not know will help him make new friends.

The fact is both my wife and I want to wave a magic wand and instantly make everything better for our son. However, as public school officials we both know why things have to be the way they are. Kids have to have assigned seats to make contact tracing possible. Kids have to be grouped into cohorts in order to create space for social distancing. Schools with large student populations cannot accommodate requests to place a student with their preferred peers because they will never be able to create any schedule or seating chart that make every one of the 1,000 students happy.

All my wife and I can do as parents is to help our son embrace a growth mindset and give him some TLC. This weekend, he got to pick his favorite meal for dinner which to the horror of my vegetarian oldest daughter were ribs from Blue Ribbons Barbecue in Arlington. He also got extra Fortnite time so he has the chance to be with his buddies even if it is online.

It is not easy to see our son be this upset, but my wife and I are working hard to remind ourselves that two days of school is a small sample size. We have to trust the work we have done as parents to teach our son how to be resilient will take effect, and he will find a way to work through this difficult situation. If none of this works after another week or so, we plan to reach out to the teachers and my son’s guidance counselor to see what support the school can offer him. I am hopeful by working with the school we will figure this out even though the solution may end up to be less than perfect.  Or better yet, with some time my son will figure out on his own how to navigate through this middle school nightmare.