Above: video from Aurora School, Oakland CA on Vimeo.

When the Aurora community began sheltering in place on March 16, 2020, the school’s teachers and staff, parents and students rose to the occasion swiftly and leapt into online learning.

Kindergarten and first-grade teachers filmed 7-minute daily reading lessons over the first two weeks; and heard from parents that their children would watch them repeatedly and respond to the recordings as if their teachers were in front of them!

Fourth- and fifth-grade teachers assigned writing exercises, including the Time Capsule, in which students write letters to other students or to their future selves, to be opened much later in life. While the exercise makes a yearly appearance, last semester’s exercise clearly will not be forgotten by these children. Some student reflections were wistful. “I miss hanging out with my friends in real life,” or “I sometimes dream I’m still at school, happy.” Some saw a silver lining: “I’ve been getting into cooking by myself and painting which is really amazing. Last week I made focaccia bread!” But all showed an awareness that we’re in uncharted waters, and that the future requires that we stay nimble, resilient.

These uncertain times require not only that we adapt, but also that we build contingencies. In preparation for the start of the 2020-21 school year, Aurora formed a COVID Task Force that met weekly over the summer. The task force is comprised of faculty, administration, and volunteer parents who work in relevant fields. For example, one is a doctor and another works at the Alameda County Health Department. Thanks to their tireless work, Aurora is prepared for two different scenarios: continued remote learning by itself; and a hybrid of remote learning and on-campus instruction (with new physical distancing and safety regulations).

On July 17, the task force distributed a 10-page protocol outlining the measures the school would take upon opening for in-person classes. These ranged from staggered pick-up and drop-off procedures to face covering, physical distancing and cleaning norms, daily symptom checks, and reporting.

Now more than ever, the small size of Aurora School remains a strength. Whether indoors or on Aurora’s playground or Green Space, students will maintain the proper distancing to maintain a healthy learning environment. (For the campus to reopen at all, of course, the school will first require approval from the Alameda County Health Department.)

Taking into account springtime iterations and parent feedback, remote learning consists of class meetings with social-emotional learning and academics in the morning, and individual check-ins and co-curricular activities (music and art, yoga and PE, STEM and Spanish, library and woodshop) in the afternoon.

Whether in the classroom or virtually, thriving educationally will always depend on relationships. The Power of Small has allowed this community to stay connected and close, despite the distance. Without a doubt — whether in person or online — our tightly knit community will remain connected this year, and for years to come.

To attend a virtual school tour, please visit auroraschool.org/visit-us or contact Aurora’s admission director, Lisa Piccione.

Above: On Friday, June 5, Aurora School’s fourth- and fifth-grade students and teachers pulled off what would have seemed impossible three months prior: they produced “Back in the Middle,” their first play via Zoom. In a series of vignettes, the students chronicle scenarios that showcase the importance of being an “upstander” rather than a bystander in uncomfortable situations.