Milton Hershey School Teachers Prove to be Exceptional Innovators in their Field
Milton Hershey School teachers are innovators who think outside the box—which is one of the reasons students get an experience like no other when they enroll. During the second half of the 2019-20 school year, MHS elected to have its students learn virtually—whether from their home communities or from campus because of COVID-19. At the start of the 2020-21 school year, all classes were held in person—but strictly followed federal and state guidelines, CDC considerations, and MHS-established health and safety protocols.
The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic created many challenges for educators and MHS was no exception; however, at MHS, during exceptional times, our staff step-up to be exceptional leaders.
Below are examples of how our teachers are stepping up to modify their teaching to make sure our students are still getting an exceptional education while following CDC and state guidelines.
Virtual Field Trips
In November, during Founders Month, fourth-grade students traditionally have a Founders’ Week field trip to places within the Hershey community that were significant in Milton Hershey’s career and life. The field trip was canceled, but that didn’t stop the fourth-grade teachers from collaborating on a virtual field trip through Google Earth.
Keeping physical distancing in mind, Dave Bruce, a sixth-grade social studies teacher turned his classroom into a cave so that students could look for artifacts around the room and answer questions as if they were social scientists.
“Social scientists act like detectives. They carefully examine ancient art and artifacts and then draw conclusions about early humans. In the lesson, students learned about the process of making observations and hypotheses,” he said. “What I appreciated about this lesson was that it was fun, engaging, and got kids out of their seats, while also being safe.”
Virtual Speaker Series
Throughout the school year, MHS eighth-grade teachers brought experts into the classroom through more than a dozen virtual learning experiences. Each Friday, they introduced different experts from around the world to talk about their careers. They’ve met virtually with a barber, a geneticist, several authors, and a German Astronomer from the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Heidelberg, Germany.
Physically Distant Music Education
Although physically distant, our music teachers found unique ways to stay together and connect through music. For example, during the holiday season, elementary students practiced their part for a musical performance, it was recorded individually, and then edited together.
In addition, in all divisions, students were assigned their own practice stations and each station was set up with physical distancing in mind.
“Our teachers are strategically mitigating for COVID-19 while also providing important academic engagement opportunities for their students,” said Ed Varner, MHS Director of Visual Performing Arts. “We can’t thank them enough for keeping the music going!”
Physical Education Uses Commuter Bikes
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted how curriculum is taught within education, especially Physical Education (P.E.). Milton Hershey School P.E. teachers have provided a unique opportunity for students to engage in activity while building strong relationships with peers and staff.
Jimmy Taylor, MHS Physical Education teacher, was able to coordinate the purchase of 25 commuter bikes used by Senior Division students at no charge. Commuter bikes are very common in larger cities and typically require a credit card to purchase a ride.
“The commuter bikes provide an opportunity for MHS students to get out of the classroom and enjoy our beautiful campus while getting some exercise,” Taylor said. “The casual pace allows students and teachers the chance to get to know one another outside of the normal hustle associated with sports-related activities.”
Character and Leadership Development
The fifth annual Milton Hershey School Girls Grace event was hosted virtually this school year, but still created a sense of community while also empowering nearly 100 Senior Division girls. For two hours, the girls heard keynote messages from MHS graduates that focused on kindness—which was the theme of the 2020 event.
“The fact that we can have this event, even on a virtual platform, is an example to the students that while things may be different as a result of COVID-19 this school year, we can still have fun and bring the class together,” said Sharice Johnson, founder of Girls Grace and MHS Coordinator of Student Character and Leadership Development. “Our students are craving normalcy during an untraditional school year for everyone. It is great to see them learning how to navigate the world around them together and empowered to be leaders in their class and community.”
Creation of Calming Corners
As part of the school’s commitment to social and emotional learning and wellness, calming corners were created to help students year-round in both classrooms and student homes to help students cope with and manage their emotions. While students navigate changes to the regular school year as a result of the pandemic, these spaces are working exactly as designed.
What exactly is a calming corner? It is a quiet area of a room with soft furnishings and soothing materials to help children de-escalate or find calmness when they are upset. The corner is equipped with tools to help students self-regulate their emotions and build their own social-emotional skills.