Keeping on Course at Harding: Devon Azzam 4-8-2020

Friday, April 17, 2020
drawing of a chain of people in front of a school
Education and Applied Psychology in a Time of COVID-19

Week 4 of quarantine. Time to check in with Harding, our partner school. My colleague Lilly Garcia, Director of Outreach, and I used to be on campus for many hours of the week, gathering information, making connections, and identifying needs by being present and part of the conversation. So what will this work look like in the weeks to come?

My role at Harding has been to plant the seeds for new learning opportunities that build on the strong literacy and social emotional foundation that has been established. Before the quarantine, two projects had been gaining momentum to provide Harding kids with authentic ways to apply their reading, writing and mathematical skills: the development of a nature playscape and a makerspace on campus. I am thinking these projects will need to take a back seat while the school transitions to distance learning.

Harding staff are working endlessly to make sure families’ basic needs are being met. What ways can GGSE support these efforts? Our usual means of communication with the community are not accessible. My colleague and I brainstorm ways to reconnect and gather information from families. We zoom with Veronica Binkley, the principal, this week to check in and get an update.

Incredibly, Principal Binkley is able to keep on course, despite uncharted waters. Conversations bounce from immediate needs to long term planning. School website is ready to launch, teachers, lifelong learners as they are, work tirelessly to develop their online classrooms. Despite the challenges they may be facing at home, Harding kids are showing up on Zoom. All of that talk about student agency is showing its colors through the multitude of faces that appear on the screen each morning, ready to participate in their learning community.

We touch base about the projects, and I am amazed that Principal Binkley has the capacity and drive to keep the ball rolling for Harding. Next steps discussed, emails composed and sent. The school board approved the STEAM position. District architect is working on plans for the playscape. Research application submitted. She is determined to have Harding kids making, designing, and connecting with nature when they return to campus in the fall.

I take a few minutes to debrief with Lilly Garcia. We think about how we can best provide support, knowing that many Harding families are facing hardship during quarantine. School can no longer serve as a safe place to be during the day. Three meals a day is now one sack lunch. Despite the challenging circumstances, the learning community at Harding perseveres.

Devon Azzam, Gevirtz School Assistant Director of Outreach, is sheltering in place at home in Santa Barbara with partner Tarek, daughter Sophia (10) and son Dominic (7). Last day in the office 3/13, last day in the water 3/20, last day unmasked in public 4/3, last meltdown a few hours ago. Still running, gardening and listening to the trees.