"We are starting the school year in the midst of a global pandemic!" were words that no one ever expected to utter or to hear. Distance, Blended and In-Person learning were choices that we were never faced with in prior years. Red Phase, Yellow Phase and Green Phase were new creations and came with challenges that no one expected. Contact tracing and quarantines were terms reserved for those working in infectious disease or for sci-fi movies. Unless you were in the medical field, masks were something that you wore on Halloween. Hand sanitizer and toilet paper were always available. Social Distancing was something that we hoped to enforce at the Prom, not in the classrooms and hallways. 'Sit Here' stickers made their way onto the bus seats and cafeteria benches. Mask breaks became a time during the day that students valued almost as much as recess. Zoom, Google Classroom, virtual field trips, and drive-by birthday parties became common terminology.
Our teachers, staff, and parents have been true rocks stars through all of this unexpectedness; however, our students have been the true heroes. They have shown such a growth mindset with regard to "how" they do school in this new situation. The students took ownership of their learning as they mastered Google Classroom and Zoom participation. We never expected students to be willing/able to wear masks during the school day. We were all so surprised (and so proud!) when students wore their masks with very little encouragement.
Throughout the school year teachers, students, and families juggled the RED, YELLOW, and GREEN phase schedules with more ease than we ever anticipated. Our school nurses were so diligent in their contact tracing and making phone calls to families when there was a needed quarantine. Even though this was a hard call to make, and an even harder call to receive, families took the news in stride and our students were so resilient as they bounced back and forth between being in-person and virtual learners.
We had many positive outcomes from our school year during the pandemic. We learned that not only are we "all in this together," we learned that we are so capable of learning and doing SO much more than we had ever imagined! Our teachers learned new teaching strategies to deliver quality instruction in a virtual and blended learning environment. Our students encountered diverse ways to learn, communicate, and to partner with their peers. Parents were especially challenged when they were asked to master new technology and to help their children to successfully learn from home. Teachers, staff, students and parents had true grit and resiliency as we navigated through the school year together!
Mr. Wilfong and I can not begin to share how proud and grateful we are to be a part of this team on the Hilltop. Our district pulled together, supported one another, and forged ahead. Despite all of the events that could have held us back, our Hilltoppers kept climbing and reached heights that we hadn't thought imaginable.
To list a few activities that stood out this year; our students were able to participate in a building-wide virtual field trip to listen to the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, the high school students (Save Promise Club) were able to visit with our first graders to read with them, dart frogs made their way into grade 4 science classes, as our 2nd graders raised tadpoles. The highlight of our spring break was watching the baby chicks hatch in kindergarten. The PBIS team held the 'whole group reinforcer' (Bingo Bash) using donations from the local community (all while social distancing). Our STEAM, Arts and Humanities teachers worked together to provide students with a virtual STEAM Fair. The classroom teachers worked really hard, not only to help students academically, but also to make this year fun for everyone, despite the situation in the world around us.
All of us here at WHES are so very grateful for the unending support from our Westy families during this pandemic. Even with the restrictions of the pandemic, WHES was still the happiest place on the hilltop during the 2020-21 school year!
Mrs. Nicole Kuzmiak (Principal) and Mr. Adam Wilfong (Assistant Principal)