Several Schools’ and Kids’ Activities Back up and Running with COVID Measures in Place

COVID-19 put a damper on many activities and educational opportunities for children when many of them had to close earlier this year. Heading into fall, many of Jamaica Plain’s schools and extracurricular activities are back in action with some modifications to keep kids, instructors, and families safe. The Gazette spoke with a few of them to learn what is being offered and what the protocols are.

Adventures in Montessori Early Childhood Center

     Located at 65 Rockwood St. in Jamaica Plain, Adventures in Montessori Early Childhood Center offers a true Montessori experience for young children in the Boston area. The school’s director, Professor Theodora Koziol, told the Gazette about some of Adventures in Montessori’s programming and COVID-19 protocols as it is fully reopen this fall.

     “We have completely reopened, very safely,” Koziol said, after being closed for four months as per state mandate.

     While the school was shut down, it was offering Zoom programming for children, which Koziol said was successful.

     Since the school has reopened for in person classes, staff are screened daily, and the temperatures of everyone coming into the building are evaluated. Additionally, daily staff members and children are tested each morning before entering the building, she said.

     Montessori learning takes a very international approach, Koziol sad. “We represent every single part of the world,” she said—“not only the teachers, but also all of our children. In the Montessori style and philosophy, we we respect ourselves, we respect others, and we respect the environment.”

     She said the school employs teachers from Spain, Portugal, Russia, Haiti, China, Italy, and Eastern Europe, among other places.

     Currently, 42 children are enrolled at Adventures in Montessori, and the school serves the communities of Jamaica Plain, Brookline, Roxbury, Roslindale, Newton, and many other surrounding communities, Koziol said.

     “We’re very blessed in this setting because it’s very bucolic,” she said. The school is “surrounded by nature,” and features two playgrounds surrounded by trees, flowers, and wildlife such as turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, and more that the children like to watch.

     Children learn about  the changing weather patterns in New England, and have participated in planting outside.       

     The school has been operating for the past two and a half years, over which Koziol said many events have occurred that she hopes will return once we get back to what she calls more “conventional times.”    

     The school held a Thanksgiving celebration where children and their families were invited to bring food from their culture to share with everyone else, and a special Grandparents Day celebration as well.

     Koziol also spoke of the school’s fine arts program, as well as its language instructors, who help teach the children languages like French and Mandarin, as “language is very important to Montessori schools,” she said. “I’m amazed as to how rapidly the children learn another language,” she said.

     She also said the school offers music instruction to students as well, with socially distanced classes outside led by a teacher who plays guitar and sings. “It’s wonderful to have movement and music as a continued part of the program,” she said. 

     “You can’t have an outstanding school without outstanding teachers,” Koziol said, “being that flavor of Montessori philosophy and the international education right into this building.”

     Koziol said that this is the ninth school she has headed, and she said she “thoroughly enjoys” her role at the Adventures in Montessori. “It’s most exciting because of the fact that we have come to the other side in these stressful and tumultuous times. I could never have done it without the help of a terrific staff,” she said. She said that parents have also offered “wonderful feedback” on the school’s programming.

     Having the children back in a classroom setting has its challenges, but she said that “the world has changed for them as well” and it’s important that they are learning in a safe environment.

     She said that the school has a cleaner who comes every evening, even before the pandemic, and staff cleans throughout the day as well.

     Tours of the school are still offered from 6:00-7:30pm, and the building is cleaned after that window in order to ensure it is sanitized and safe for students and staff the next morning.

     “We would love to show our beautiful classrooms, our spacious windows, and our Montessori school to the public,” Koziol said.

     For more information about Adventures in Montessori Early Childhood Center, visit http://adventuresinmontessori.org. 

Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts

     The Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts is a staple in the Jamaica Plain community for providing children and adults with art lessons in many different disciplines.

     The school typically provides lessons at its schoolhouse on Eliot St. as well as collaborates with the Boston Public Schools (BPS) on lessons for kids in the schools, but this year, things are looking very different.

     “In a normal year, we would be teaching between 2,000 and 2,500 kids” in woodworking classes, after school programs and more, said Eliot School Executive Director Abigail Norman. “We’ve been doing that for many years. That program has really grown.”       

     This year, that program will continue, and art will be taught to at least 1,300 BPS students, she said.

     “As partners, we’re, for the most part, not sending our teachers physically into the schools,” Norman said, due to the risk bouncing from location to location poses for both the teachers and the students.

     Instead, teachers will teach their art classes remotely, but to be able to do so, “we need to get individual art kits to kids,” Norman said. Normally, each classroom is provided with lots of crayons, markers, paper, and other supplies, but this year, those supplies will need to be packaged into kits and delivered to households.

     While the partnership program itself is grant funded, Norman said that it will not cover the cost of distributing supplies in this manner, so help from the community is needed to be able to purchase supplies that can be separated into identical kits so each student receives the same supplies.

     Right now, the schoolhouse remains closed, Norman said. Though she is not sure if it will be feasible, the school is looking into turning its annex classroom into a small video studio for teachers to use to do their online lessons.

     “It’s very hard for people to teach at home with their own children and spouses and cramped quarters,” Norman said. 

     “Our other significant program is our Teen Bridge program,” Norman said, “which mentors a group of…kids who enter in eighth grade and stay through their senior year.” The first group of seniors are going to graduate this year, as it has been five years since the program started, which Norman called “really incredible.”

     This program went online starting in March, and the students have been working on a project with a resident artist all summer that consists of audio interviews and a cut paper animation project that will be pieced together to create a video.

     Norman praised the work of these students and said that the project was “amazing,” especially after being completed in large part virtually. She said that the project will be unveiled in early December, an d a date will be announced soon.

     Additionally, there are two groups of people working on research for the Eliot School, Norman said. The first is a team of six business people who are looking at an online course option for the school “to see if it would be financially and logistically feasible for us to operate that,” and to decide what things would be taught via that method.

     The other group, led by Forte Architecture + Design, is working on a research project to “see if it is feasible to reopen our schoolhouse and annex classrooms” safely and how that might be done,” Norman said.

     Both groups are expected to have reports sometime in mid-November, she said.

     Also, a survey was recently issued seeking feedback from students about how they feel about online and in-person learning, as well as “what their main concerns and interests might be as we consider those two options,” she said.

     A “very generous neighbor” has also donated $30,000 to hire a maintenance team for fall and winter to complete work that is otherwise difficult to do while the schoolhouse is open and operating. They have installed a complete dust collection system in the woodshop, which Norman said is a “huge step for us.” Additionally, soundproofing has been installed for the woodshop, classrooms are being renovated, walls are being plastered and painted, and deferred maintenance is also being taken care of. She also said that installation is complete of woodshop equipment that was gifted to the school last winter.

     “When we do reopen, or classrooms and interior are going to be so nice and improved,” Norman said. “We are very, very grateful for that special donation.”

     Even though the schoolhouse is closed, the yard remains open for various activities like JP Taekwondo classes and JP Centre Yoga classes as well. On Sundays at 4:00pm through the end of October, there are also free jazz concerts available. All activities require preregistration to comply with COVID guidelines, Norman said.

For more information about the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts, visit https://eliotschool.org.

Tony Williams Dance Center

     The Tony Williams Dance Center, located at 284 Amory St. #5, offers dance lessons to people of all ages in many different forms, from jazz to hip hop to ballet.

     Tony Williams said that the dance center reopened in late August with a summer dance camp, and reopened for the fall semester on September 8.

     “We’re trying to keep afloat,” he said, adding that enrollment is down 30 to 40 percent of what it was last year.

     He said he is in negotiations with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, the landlord for the space, and he hopes something can be worked out. “I just want to keep the doors open,” he said.

     Though this is his business and his livelihood, “it’s not so much a personal thing. I want to keep the doors open for the community and the kids,” as they are being negatively affected by this virus.

     He said that the summer dance camps were very successful, and “even though the numbers were down, it was so gratifying to see the children back in the studio.”

     He said that despite the lower enrollment, “we’re doing well.” Parents are required to drop their kids off at the front door, all students have to wear masks at all times, the studio is cleaned in between each class and surfaces are frequently wiped down.

     “So far, knock on wood, we haven’t had any COVID issues at all,” Williams said.

     He said that a grant from the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation was recently received to provide scholarships for kids who are serious about dance and can’t afford to pay for classes. He said auditions will be happening in November for those scholarships, and then students will rehearse the Urban Nutcracker, but there will be no live performance this year.

     “This would have been the 20th anniversary,” he said of the show. Instead, there will be a virtual gala in December where a video performance of the Urban Nutcracker will be showcase. Even though the live performance is cancelled, students are still given the opportunity to learn and dance the show.

     Williams said that this fall, all classes that are typically offered are still being offered, including hip hop, tap, ballet, lyrical, and more. There are also “First Steps” classes for kids as young as three and four, and adult flamenco classes which will be starting up shortly.

     “We’re not dead,” Williams said. “We’re still breathing.”

     He said some Zoom classes are also being offered, which “seems to be working out.” He said that they are mostly for the ballet program and allow for a hybrid model where students come twice a week to the dance studio and remain six feet apart, and the third class of the week will be done on Zoom.

     “I’m most impressed with the…kids coming and wearing masks,” Williams said. “They are diligent about wearing masks. They don’t question it, they don’t complain about it. They’re really troopers with abiding by the COVID protocols.”

     For more information about the Tony Williams Dance Center, visit http://tonywilliamsdancecenter.com.

BCYF Curtis Hall

     Boston Centers for Youth and Families are currently offering limited programming and participants must pre-register. More activities and classes are expected to be added soon. For more information, visit https://www.boston.gov/departments/boston-centers-youth-families/bcyf-curtis-hall.

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