Normalcy in a Pandemic School Year

Charles W. Eliot Arts Magnet Academy – Eighth Grade Promotion Class of 2020

Imagine one day school stops. But it doesn’t. You’re still going to class, but you aren’t leaving your house. The campus is the kitchen or dining room table.

You can’t see your friends. You can’t play on the teams, and you can’t be in the musicals.

All of the Pasadena Unified School District Schools have had to cope with that reality because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but when so much of your everyday curriculum is based on interaction, it’s even more difficult.

“We have all had to learn how to be principals, and learn how to lead school through this pandemic when we are all trying to do so remotely,” said Dr. Benita Scheckel, principal of Altadena Arts Magnet, recently. The school specializes in performing arts, which means singing together and acting together, a bit of a struggle in these isolated times.

As Scheckel described the Spring 2020 elementary school year, “One of my goals was to try to figure out how I could maintain a sense of normalcy for my students and families even though we are home. So I continued doing all the same things that we would have done in person. We have tried to do them virtually. And what has been interesting is how many people have engaged with us in this online world.”

Altadena Arts Magnet Fifth Grade Promotion 5-27-20

Last week Altadena Arts hosted its annual “Evening of the Stars” event, in which every teacher selects one student who has exemplified the school’s values all year long.

And in a more “normal” school year, it’s a dinner and a big event for students and staff.

But, said Scheckel, “This time we did it all virtually.”

The school, of course, launched a video presentation with each of the students participating in the live event.

Said Scheckel, “I was so shocked to see over 40 families logged on to watch the event. We’re a very small school, so that was pretty amazing.”

Each one of the teachers dressed up and made speeches as well, much to Scheckel’s delight. Scheckel was, of course, nervous, not knowing whether a Zoom conference with that many people would work.

“When you get 40 or 50 people on one Zoom call, it’s really difficult to monitor and to know how people are going to engage,” she said. “But, everybody had a chance to speak. All the teachers made their speeches. We were able to feature each of the children in a video montage and now their names will go on a plaque that remains in our main office for all the rest of the history to come.”

The school also launched its fifth-grade promotion Thursday, a video which took staff about a month to produce.

“It had many disparate parts,” Scheckel explained. “We had student speakers who were recording their speeches from home. We had three different singers singing one song from three different homes and that all had to be put together into one song that made sense.

Scheckel completed her principal’s opening remarks without the professional video support that PUSD high schools enjoyed.

“The principals are having to figure this out on our own, she said. “And it has been really, really hard, but really rewarding.”

At the same time Dr. Shannon Malone, principal at Washington STEAM Multilingual Academy and Principal Lori Touloumian of Eliot Arts Magnet Academy reported virtual promotion ceremonies.

“Students each created a presentation slide to represent themselves and celebrated their unique interests and talents,” said Malone. The virtual promotion was then shared with students and family in an email, so that all students could view the ceremony and share it with their loved ones. They’re also emailing their celebration packets to the homes of all of their promoting eighth graders.

The Altadena Arts Magnet Elementary Virtual Promotion ceremony is available on YouTube at

The Eliot Arts Magnet Virtual Promotion ceremony is available on YouTube at

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