Cheshire – A teacher probably wouldn’t have to cut their wood to heat a schoolhouse these days, but that doesn’t mean the modern day teacher doesn’t face real challenges.
From class sizes, to dealing with distance learning, masking, testing, and other protocols demanded by COVID-19, educators everywhere are facing their own hurdles to overcome.
Although flexibility and innovation are key components of public education, administrators sometimes encounter the problem of low morale among staff, students, or parents. It’s something that Headmaster Jeff Solan, now in his seventh year as Head of Cheshire Schools, takes very personally as he prepares the district for another school year.
“We want students to be in a good position to navigate the real world, whether it’s a pandemic or not, and most of all, we want to deliver great academic experiences. That got a little bit derailed (due to COVID-19),” Solan said.
Before classes officially begin again on August 30, The Cheshire Herald had a chance to catch Solan. There is no off-season in public education, but Solan took a short break in August before returning to Cheshire in time for a city council meeting on August 23. There, a proposal to send a $166.6 million school-building referendum to the polls in November was unanimously approved by the Board of Education and the School Modernization Committee.
Having been part of Cheshire Schools since 2006 and superintendent since 2016, Solan has witnessed the long and arduous process of moving school construction to a place where there is political support from city leaders and economic commitment from the state. As a district employee, Solan is now restricted to publicly calling for the referendum, but has been an outspoken supporter of the project, spending some time over the past few months meeting with organizations and residents to discuss what he sees as the benefits of moving forward with the proposal now.
However, this is a concern for the future. Now, after two years of relative turmoil caused by the impact of COVID-19, the 2022-23 school years will kick off with a sense of normalcy.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re maintaining the same guidance as last year,” Solan said, referring to a mask-choice policy that encourages anyone who’s not feeling well, or showing symptoms such as a high temperature or cough, to stay home, Get a PCR test if possible, and follow current CDC recommendations regarding isolation and recovery time. The mood is cautiously optimistic, but Solan is satisfied with what the staff and students have learned about keeping everyone as healthy as possible.
Concerns have been raised over the past two years that hiding, increased screen time, lack of physical activity and social isolation have had long-term adverse effects on some children.
Solan, who has a master’s degree in counseling and psychological services, stresses that he and others in the system are well aware of these potential issues and have taken steps to provide a range of resources to support students and families.
Solan describes meditative techniques that are used in some classrooms, such as taking a “dandelion breath,” in which one imagines blowing fluff from a flower to control one’s emotions through breathing. A program called Pet Partners has brought therapy animals – rabbits, dogs and guinea pigs – to different elementary schools to make school a happier place.
At the high school level, some federal funding has been used to administer first aid training in adolescent mental health, giving sophomores a chance to be the first line of defense for any fellow students who might be having difficulty with the novelty of the new school year, or whatever.
Regarding school lunches, the plan is to provide free meals to all students for as long as possible.
“It’s about doing everything we can to support the students on their journey,” he said.
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