Written by Donna M. Nugent, Big Beaver Falls Superintendent of Schools
Whenever I get the chance, I ask my students “What did you learn in school today?” In writing this article, I thought I would share what I, as the Big Beaver Falls Area School District Superintendent, learned about our school district during this pandemic. I don’t think there are any earth-shattering discoveries here, but I thought I’d share what I’ve seen, heard, experienced, and learned about our children, families, teachers, and staff.
First and foremost, I learned children want to be in school. They want to be with their teachers and classmates. As the positive COVID-19 cases grew, forcing our schools to transition to remote learning, teachers began creating virtual learning and social experiences for their students. These virtual events were opportunities for students to see and communicate with their teachers and classmates. But when the virus lingered and school closures continued, it was evident that a computer couldn’t replace the in-school experience. Although remote learning filled the need at the time, children wanted and needed to be back in school. When the doors reopened at our schools, I witnessed firsthand the excitement of our students returning to the buildings and the joy of parents/guardians dropping their children off at school. This was a first for me, as an educator, the thrill of the first day of school twice within one school year. It was a wonderful sight to see students reentering the buildings, even if things were a bit different like smiles underneath their masks, air five highs, and social distancing.
I learned parents/guardians value our schools and staff. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve had the pleasure of talking with many parents regarding their child’s education. During many of my conversations, I was very pleased to hear how parents value our schools and staff. I heard from numerous parents the need for their child(ren) to be in school and how vital school is to children. Parents realized the importance of the district to our community. In my career as a superintendent, I’ve never seen this type of support for education from parents and community members. From this pandemic, we’ve had to take a step back and realize the value of education, our schools and staff. As I continue to speak with parents, there are recurring themes; they’ve come to realize how difficult teaching can be and how they have a newfound appreciation for teachers. Of all the many comments and words of wisdom I’ve heard, none have made me prouder than those that pay tribute to our staff.
I learned the critical role our community serves in supporting our students. Throughout the pandemic, I watched how community leaders and members stepped up to create learning pods, feeding centers, and numerous support services for students. These efforts were supported by government agencies, local donations, as well as our community leaders. In addition, local churches and community organizations provided critical support and services. Each made a commitment to serve our students and families. To combat the virus, our community pulled together to support those students and families in need. We owe all those who donated their time, resources, and efforts a great debt of gratitude. May we honor their commitment to our students by continuing to support these community leaders, agencies, churches, and organizations. I want to thank all those who help our students on a daily basis, especially during the pandemic. Your efforts are much appreciated and I am forever grateful.
I learned how in the most difficult times, our friends and neighbors can and will work together for the common good. Over the past year, the fourteen school districts in Beaver County joined forces and worked together to seek solutions to difficult problems brought on by the pandemic. School leaders learned to be resilient, cooperative, creative, and flexible. Most importantly, we prioritized the health and safety of students and staff. We continue to review procedures, make adjustments, and strengthen existing programs.
I learned very quickly that by working together we can and will find a way to overcome challenges, and ultimately get through it all. This is also true when we speak of working with the caring organizations in our own community. COVID-19 is a terrible foe. but I always believed that the people in our community would come together and rise to the occasion. By working together with community partners like Neighborhood North, we will win the battle. We jointly understand that we’ll need to work hard to address student needs and learning gaps.
We all are committed to getting children back in school every day to provide our students the academic, social, emotional, and physical support they need and deserve. Neighborhood North’s commitment to assist us in this endeavor is appreciated and valued.
With the end in sight, we must continue to persevere and follow all safety protocols. As we anticipate that back to normal school experience, we must continue to proceed with caution by keeping the health and safety of students and staff the first priority. Our school system relies on support from organizations like Neighborhood North in providing programs that benefit our youth and their families. This may include expansion of the Learning Pods, Outreach programs with the Children’s Museum, as well as other important initiatives. In the coming months, these partnerships will grow as we work together toward common goals that benefit our children.
I’ve learned a lot this year but I learned long ago that I am blessed to be a part of the Big Beaver Falls Area School District. I also know that this has never been a truer statement … “Once a Tiger, Always a Tiger”.
Donna M. Nugent
Big Beaver Falls Superintendent of Schools
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