Back to school: Reflecting on the lessons of the pandemic

Published on: 
1 Sep 2021
Kristen Keim

Feature image photo credit: Green School Bali.

Schools are either in session already or about to begin for the 2021–2022 school year, and after two years of pivoting their work from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, school staff have learned many lessons about adapting to meet their students’ needs. By sharing these lessons with one another, we can grow and succeed despite the setbacks. We wanted to honor this idea by sharing thoughts from some of our 2021 Best of Green School (BOGS) awardees in a "back to school" article series.

For the first article in the series, we asked our 2021 BOGS K–12 school and educator award recipients about the one strategy they implemented in the past school year that they would carry into this year.

Sal Gordon, head of teaching and learning at Green School Bali, Bali, Indonesia:

From the beginning [of Green School Bali’s inception], we designed our curriculum to be adaptable to a changing world. That intention was certainly put to the test this past year, but we acknowledge that change is really the only constant. With that in mind, we'll want to continue disseminating the knowledge we gain from growing and adapting to change with our community and the education industry as a whole—so a rising tide can lift all ships. We discussed this idea in our "Green Educators" panel about pivoting during COVID and turning limitations to possibilities [video] this year.

Jeff Rivero, social science and health teacher at Yosemite High School, Merced, California:

One of the most critical goals an academic staff member can take into this school year is to focus on the mental health of their students. Many people have experienced anxiety and depression issues due to the pandemic and shutdowns. Please make time to connect or reconnect with all students. Despite having more avenues to handle this crisis, adults continue to struggle with these same issues. Our students don’t deserve to be more traumatized. Your calming voice and deeds can help reset those [who are] struggling. Also, let your students know you love and care for them through random acts of weirdness. For example, on our first day of school at Yosemite High School, I dressed up in a bee mascot costume and met students getting off the bus with a sign that read, "Seeing You Back is...BEE-u-tiful."

Another word of inspiration is to allow students the opportunity to help others in their communities, or even around the world. Let them find a problem and advise them on finding the best solution. It's a guarantee that the outcome will be motivational and healing.

Teachers and students pose outdoors, holding plants

Jeff Rivero with students at the "Becoming a California Green Ribbon School" workshop. Photo credit: Yosemite High School yearbook team.

School staff may face similar challenges this year; however, the resources available are abundant and accessible. Our webinar series about keeping sustainability alive in schools in the time of COVID-19, for example, is a free education course series from USGBC featuring school staff addressing the challenges of maintaining school sustainability goals. Additionally, the Green Classroom Professional course was updated in 2020 to specifically address viral infection, so that school staff could be informed about the strategies to keeping their learning spaces clean and safe.

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