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Grymes Memorial School: “Our Teachers Were Heroic”

Grymes Memorial School student

Grymes teachers worked through pandemic to ensure student progress continued

While the novel coronavirus transformed daily life for students in the spring of 2020, it didn’t change the underlying priorities that define learning at Grymes Memorial School in Orange County.

From learning to teach virtually, to holding graduation via Google Meet, to rolling out a new math program alongside back-to-school CDC protocols, staff, teachers and families at Grymes in 2020 focused on keeping students engaged and progressing academically while maintaining school community bonds.

“I am proud of the way our community rallied together,” said Head of School Jonathan Brand. “Parents were incredibly understanding and supportive. Our teachers were heroic in their efforts to finish out the year as well as we could. Our students adapted very well, although it was hard for them, and they missed their friends and teachers.”

With 150 students in junior kindergarten through eighth grade and an average of 15 students per class, Grymes was well-positioned to provide individual attention to students and families when Virginia schools closed abruptly in spring 2020. It would be weeks before anyone knew that campuses would not reopen before the end of the school year.

In that time, Brand said, teachers built an engaging virtual learning program that would continue students’ progress in key academic areas without tying them to screens for too long each day.

Regular class meetings became important check-in times for students, and teachers put together activities designed to build community.

One teacher’s short video about birdwatching led families across the school to make a habit of looking for birds in their own yards each day and sharing their discoveries with the school community.

Another teacher’s video about hiking the Appalachian Trail started the school on a goal to collectively hike 554 miles—the length of the Virginia portion of the trail. The 52 participants ended up covering 1,269 miles.

Activities like these are indicative of the emphasis Grymes places on getting children into the outdoors to learn—something that continued when in-person classes resumed in September on the school’s 42-acre campus overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains in Orange County.

After celebrating graduating eighth graders with a virtual graduation ceremony and reception, Brand and his team turned their focus to getting students and teachers back to campus in the fall.

One blessing of the closures was the fact that an empty building allowed Grymes to move forward with school renovations that included new flooring, touchless water fountains, new ceilings, lights and sprinkler system.

The school offered a two-week program free of charge to its students in late August that brought them back to campus three hours a day for four days a week for review and enrichment that would get them ready to hit the ground running in the new school year.

“It was well-received by our parents and it did serve that purpose of ensuring that students were academically prepared,” Brand said.

It also gave everyone a trial run with the safety protocols that made on-campus learning possible. This helped ease some of the anxiety about coming back in-person.

In addition to learning the safety protocols necessary for returning to school, Grymes teachers worked over the summer to prepare to start the new year with a new math program that the school believes will better prepare students for real-world math applications and give them a deeper understanding of the concepts behind mathematical operations.

Singapore Math launched in the fall, and Brand credits teachers for continuing with its rollout despite all the other added responsibilities they had during the pandemic.

“Our teachers really wanted to adopt this new program,” he said. “It really teaches students to understand and articulate the math concepts they are learning, and it fits very well with our school’s philosophy and approach to instruction.”

That approach in 2020 was defined not by Covid-19, but by working through ever-changing limitations to deliver quality, engaging learning.

To learn more, visit grymesschool.org.

Emily Freehling
Emily Freehling is an award-winning journalist who helps Fredericksburg Parent and Family's advertisers tell valuable stories through magazine advertorials and videos. Emily also produces content for a wide variety of other clients and outlets. Find her on LinkedIn and at emilyfreehling.com.

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