A Message from our Executive Director: Getting Back to School in Body AND Mind

by | October 5, 2021

Dear GALS Community!

Happy Fall!!

The past 18 months have been like an alternate reality for many of us. For our students, this was a real shift in their adolescent lives as they knew it. As we finished up our fifth week of school, we wanted to reach out to share a few things that we are noticing as education professionals and that we are experiencing in the GALS community.

First, we have had 24 days of school. We have been in a pandemic for 18 months. Of that, 14 months were NOT in school, and four of those months we were back 80% time, with 50% of students at a time.

There are many layers of in-school and out-of-school conditions that are making our return to our core, strong, GALS culture feel a little slower and a little different than some of us may be used to. Please note that the following describes some generalized observations by our staff at GALS as well as other school educators across the country.

Grit and stamina levels are different.

Spending a year away from regular, in-person schooling, and adjusting to and doing school in a remote setting, can have a great impact on the habits students use for their own learning. By and large, most students did not have a full seven+hour day last year, where they were expected to show up for their learning in a way that mimics this year. Going back to full-time school can be an exhausting adjustment for some. Remote learning for some students really tested their love or like of school, their routines for learning, homework, and the processes of learning itself. Students are working to find their muscle memory of what “school” feels like.

Maturity is affected.

Adolescent development is key in the ages of middle school and high school. Students are moving from pre-adolescence to early adolescence in middle school, and early adolescence through middle adolescence in high school. There are SO MANY changes happening in their development; cognitively, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically. Their identities are shifting and forming, their hormones are changing, and this social time is critical in their development.

For many of our students, this pathway to growth shifted dramatically with remote schooling. Socialization, especially in a school setting, was incredibly minimized. We are seeing that some of our students are off from where they may be with an additional 18 months of in-person school experiences, of course, they are! Students may be finding voice and stability in negative ways, or feeling overwhelmed at the day-to-day expectations of who they are now, as opposed to the last time they were in full-time in-person school. Many of our staff are noting that their grade levels feel different this year. We continue to adjust to create the most effective school space possible.

Anxiety and Trauma are real for some of us.

Unfortunately, we are still in a pandemic. We are seeing an incredible increase in the number of students needing access to mental health and other types of support. We are also feeling a lot of worry from our students. They report being worried about going back into a remote setting, worry about having to be back in school, worry of not being good enough, worry about finding a place in a friendship circle or community, worry of getting sick, worry of not being accepted. Some of these worries are normal in adolescence or in a shift to middle or high school. But these anxieties are noticeably heightened across the community at this time.

Rebuilding school skills.

School is demanding for students. We ask them to self-manage feelings and emotions, to use high executive functioning skills, to be kind, curious, focused, and responsive to the work in front of them for seven hours a day. Accountability may feel hard, especially if students are out of practice with the expectation. We have heard that teachers holding students accountable sometimes feels “mean”. Adjusting to a new middle school or high school schedule (when the last time they were regularly in school was 4th/7th grade) feels hard. We are working to rebuild our muscle memory for school, academics and friendships/socializing, and that can be overwhelming.

GALSified culture is emerging. We are still GALS.

Many students in multiple grade levels have had only a small sliver of what a regular GALS experience has been. Our legacy events and hallowed halls are out of practice. Building our culture back is intentional, and it will take a little more time than usual. We still believe in every line of our student pledge and every tenant of our mission. We are working with students to succeed academically, lead confidently, live boldly, and thrive physically.

There is much laughter, kindness, playfulness, deep learning, and compassion happening daily at GALS. We have heard from some of you that your student feels like a new person. One parent said, “She is engaged, and loving school for the first time in 18 months!” And, we have some students expressing themselves in negative ways that are hurtful to others. We continue to track incidents closely, work toward conflict resolution and healing.

So, if things feel scratchy or off with your student, there are many reasons they may be! These are great things to talk to your student about, many of us are all feeling a little off. It may help to be reminded that we are all in control of our own actions, and we are all coming out of what may have been a really difficult time of adjustment. Now more than ever we need to be a full GALS community, a GALS family, holding each other up, showing kindness and care.

Thank you for being a part of the GALS Community, we are honored to have you.

Please join us in celebrating your student’s first Movement Module: Running! We invite you to come and cheer, run with your student, or bring snacks to share! The GALS Middle School Final Mile on Oct. 7, and the GALS High School Monster Mash Thunder Dash on Oct. 13. We
look forward to seeing you!

Also, be sure to mark your calendar for virtual conferences, they are coming up on October 13 – 15 more info will be coming out in your school newsletters.

Please reach out any time, we are in this community together!

Warmest Regards,

Carol Bowar
Executive Director and GALS Parent
In partnership with Leah Bock, Head of Middle School; Carrie Donovan, Head of High School; and the GALS Team

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