BRIDGES PASSES PANDEMIC TEST
Updated: Jul 31
What makes Seabury special?
That’s a tough question. Not because it’s hard to name something special, but because there are so many special things.
When we made the transition to distance learning, we were determined to preserve as many of our unique activities, programs and traditions as possible.
Bridges is a great example. By adapting the program to the new norm, teacher Ruth Maitlen enabled our fifth graders – the T. nutricula (a species of jellyfish and one of the Seaburiest class names ever) – to complete one of Seabury’s signature experiences.
When it comes to our middle school, we like to say the city is our classroom, providing our students with numerous real-world learning opportunities right outside our door. Bridges extends that opportunity to our fifth graders.
Once a week during the school year, our fifth graders ride our bus from the lower campus in Browns Point to the middle school in downtown Tacoma, where they learn what awaits them as sixth graders and explore the city around them – with an emphasis on government and civics.
Before classrooms were shuttered in March, the program took its usual course. Students toured the state capitol, met with a superior court judge and visited the police department among other field trips.
“That all takes place during the first half of the year. The second half of the year we start visiting nonprofit organizations,” Ruth said. “This year we did the YWCA, Tacoma Community House, the Toy Rescue Mission, the Nourish Food Bank.”
Normally that sets the stage for students to complete service projects that involve selecting a nonprofit to feature in a video raising awaerness about the organization’s mission and soliciting the public’s help. This was the step where the coronavirus forced a reset.
“In the past, we would go visit the organization and set up an interview with a representative of that organization and use it in the video,” Ruth said. “Once the shutdown happened, I didn’t know how we were going to continue, but I didn’t want to give up. The service piece is what the whole year is leading up to – getting the kids to understand they have a voice and a way to make change in the community.”
The first adjustment Ruth made was to encourage her students to join Zoom meetings with community helpers – most if not all involved in responding to COVID-19 – that teacher Gabrielle Plastrik was leading.
The second adjustment was to give students greater flexibility in choosing the subject of their service project and the product they would create – a video, a poster, an infographic, etc.
A number of students chose projects related to marine science because they had already been asked to write a paper on that topic as part of a separate unit.
Zimraan published a colorful infographic on Facebook to raise awareness about the axoltol, an endangered species of salamander found only in a lake near Mexico City. ”There are only 1,200-1,500 remaining in the whole word,” he wrote.
Elena also chose an endangered aquatic animal found only in Mexico, the vaquita porpoise. She created Vaquita Awareness Cards with information about the animal – less than two dozen survive – and put them in stores and libraries around the area. She is continuing to raise awareness by creating and selling artwork with the proceeds benefiting Save the Vaquita.
Ishaan pivoted in an entirely different direction. He created a website offering free online game development coaching to kids. “I feel that this will help out parents and give them some time to do what they need to do while their young kids are engaged in this course,” wrote Ishaan. “Thank you for allowing me to support the community during the time of COVID-19.”
Ruth is proud of how her class responded. “Every single kid came through with some kind of a project where they contacted an agency ... and published their work outside of our Seabury community,” said Ruth. “They really overcame huge obstacles to keep working.”
Bravo, T. nutricula. Bravo!