Doolittle School has always been unique.
Its smaller size and location — 735 Cornwall Ave. — have played a large part in the everyday education of students, especially its proximity to nature trails and woods that run adjacent to the facility.
And the uniqueness of the school has been especially important during the pandemic, as Principal Amy O’Brien has found multiple ways to utilize nature to help her students get through these uncertain times.
“We are really lucky to have such a special relationship with the nature around us,” O’Brien said. “We also have a wonderful courtyard in the center of the building, which our teachers have been using time and again to hold classes and (events) outdoors to keep our students connected to nature.”
When the pandemic began in March of last year, O’Brien’s faculty quickly went to work creating ways to hold classes outside and utilizing various spaces for their classrooms.
“We had a Google Doc up almost immediately where teachers could save the space (for a specific time period), maybe in the courtyard or somewhere for them to do their classes,” explained O’Brien. “The students have really been thriving with this set up, and now that it’s getting warmer we are excited to start having them outside again.”
During the warmer months, the Doolittle campus provides an opportunity to take advantage of large shade trees and open space, and O’Brien has also set up tents outdoors to hold as many classes as possible. The courtyard in the center of the building has a pond with fish, along with a variety of seating areas for students and staff.
“This is definitely something we want to carry on past the pandemic,” she said. “Nature is so important to the kids and it really changes a lot of unwanted behaviors when you can get the kids outdoors and moving.”
Throughout the pandemic, Doolittle has been operating under the cohort grouping model, similar to the rest of the schools in the district, where students stay together in one group for the entirety of the school day and year. In recent weeks, Doolittle has reintroduced 18 students to their in-person learning, which means that only about 10% of the school’s student body is still participating in remote learning only.
“We have the students who are in one class do everything together,” she detailed. “They move sort of as a unit. But at lunch time we are actually really blessed to have such a large cafeteria space that we can actually have all the students in one grade eat together.”
Although the students must all face in the same direction, just being able to sit in the same room together has made a difference, according to O’Brien.
”We’ve spaced out about 76 desks in the cafe for the kids and it’s worked really well,” she explained.
O’Brien has also made a point to continue to hold school-wide assemblies, although they look much different than they were pre-pandemic.
“We’ve had a few authors come in and present their work to our students through Google Meet and they have gone exceptionally well,” O’Brien said. “The students are really engaged in them … We had one assembly, called The NED Show, where students were all given yo-yos and they all really loved them and had a great time.”’