There’s nothing like a classroom of first graders to inspire top educational leaders.
That goes for the chair of the School Committee, the superintendent of schools, and the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education.
All three joined Brianne Mansfield’s first grade at Davis School for about half an hour Thursday morning as students worked in small groups to prepare starter seedlings for eventual transplant into the school’s community garden.
Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) was the guest of honor, in response to an invitation from School Superintendent Philip Conrad. Davis School Principal Beth Benoit led a tour of the building, highlighted by time in three classrooms. Riley was accompanied by Leldamy Correa, DESE chief of staff.
Welcoming the commissioner were Conrad and Assistant Superintendent Tricia Clifford, State Rep. Kenneth Gordon, and School Committee chair Sarah Scoville, chair, with members Ann Guay, and Dan Brosgol—who, as director of Kids Club, was a mini-celebrity at Davis.
They began and ended in the principal’s conference room, where Riley said, “It has been 24-7, and that’s how we like it.” He joked, “Having been a middle school principal, what can they throw at me that I haven’t already seen?”
The commissioner said that his department’s decision to bring students back to classrooms a year ago was “the right thing to do.” The department’s medical advisors said there was no difference between three and six feet of social distancing, he said.
“There is a huge value of the socialization of kids being with each other,” he remarked. “I’m optimistic. Hopefully, better days are ahead.”
Guay thanked the commissioner for validating the Bedford School Committee’s decision to return to classrooms.
Conrad noted that the focus is pivoting to the pandemic’s impact on social and emotional learning and academics, all of which will have to be monitored for several years. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime event and we just have to keep our eye on the kids,” Riley replied.
Riley shared a metaphor that he may have originated: the response to the pandemic “in some ways kind of shook the Etch-a-Sketch clean.”
The commissioner talked about student engagement: teachers shouldn’t just teach math and science; they need to nurture mathematicians and scientists. Watching the first-graders prepare their plantings “is little kids being scientists. A kid interested and engaged in the work is more likely to learn it.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763