Salaar Khan and Gretchen Neary
Much about the future of the school year and school events remain unclear. However, we interviewed principal John Marshall to gain insight on the impact of school closures specifically on the Freeman community.
One of the biggest concerns expressed by students has been the cancellation of major spring events including prom, the senior field trip, and graduation, to name a few.
Question: What events will and will not be cancelled?
Answer: Events are not cancelled yet! Administration is coming up with creative solutions. “We think it’s too early to just outright cancel most events, though [they may] take on a different form and timeline. Even for prom, which is coming up pretty quickly, we are exploring options for holding that on a later date and we’re working with the venue on that, but of course all that is contingent on the timeline of the health crisis we’re in, so it isn’t going to happen on the original schedule, but we’re doing everything we can do still hold those events. That includes prom, a senior field trip, and graduation. We’re still holding those dates at the Siegel Center until this time and we haven’t cancelled our reservations there. And that’ll all depend on the health crisis. Even if the health crisis does go into that time, we will explore every single option to still hold a formal graduation. I am determined to shake your hands, once shaking hands is a thing again. We realize how important each of those [events] are, but especially graduation, so we’re going to explore ways to do it.”
Further uncertainty has come from the status of grading and exams for the 2019-2020 school year. For example, before the governor’s decision to close schools across the Commonwealth, Henrico County had announced a decision to make all school work ungraded, a change targeted to ease the burden on families affected by the COVID-19 health crisis. Since Governor Northam’s order, however, a lot of questions have surrounded the future of the academic year.
Question: How will the upcoming decisions about the future of the academic year be distributed among state, county, and school officials?
Answer: “The state has published guidelines for the counties and then counties have some wiggle room within which to work. The state guidelines are relatively broad, and then it’s up to county interpretation and the county is asking for input from schools. Then we’ll take those and adopt those for Freeman within those guidelines. One of the things that the county is really interested in, and I am as well, is consistency and equity across schools across demographics, across the entire county . We’re gonna have people in every community impacted by it so we don’t to put students hit by the crisis – either healthwise, financially, taking care of younger siblings, keeping the household running – we don’t want to put them at a disadvantage by requiring mandatory assignments, and we’re thinking about those families who are going to be impacted in way worse ways than the gradebook and how we can ease the burden on them a little bit. So consistency weighs heavily on the county and on Freeman’s leadership team as well. ”
Question: Will teachers still be giving finals?
Answer: “As far as final exams, we don’t have that information yet but I expect that to be included in some of the information that’s coming out shortly.”
Question: What will be the school’s role in coordinating the AP tests this year?
Answer: “I don’t know that information. They published a date when they’ll provide more information so we’re waiting to get that.”
Question: Can you elaborate on the decision to not have graded assignments? Might that change in light of the Governor’s announcement?
Answer: “That decision was made Friday, before everything changed with the Governor’s announcement, so we’re in a holding pattern right now waiting to see what the post-announcement decision will be in terms of graded assignments. I think that will be part of the upcoming information, but until then we’re just sitting tight with the expectation that we want students to be engaged and we want you all to learn the material which makes you stronger for the next grade level or for college. At this point, the statement remains that the work is ungraded but we’re going to wait for the county directives on that in the next few days.”
But despite the many changes during this unprecedented time, Mr. Marshall is committed to communicating as effectively as he can with the Freeman Family as soon as he receives information.
Question: What’s the one idea of message that you want to communicate to Freeman students the most?
Answer: Continue to learn! “One? That’s tough. I’m going to do a couple. The first is that we are missing students. Every adult in the building has communicated that to me. The second is that the school building is closed, but Freeman as a community is not closed. We are a learning community, we are still a family that is tied together in a lot of ways, and it’s going to be up to us to make sure that that is maintained throughout that closure. So while the building is closed, Freeman remains united and a family. And lastly, the last thing is to keep learning in any way that students can. Read a book you want to read, write in a journal, watch engaging stuff like a documentary, talk to your fellow students about politics, engage in opportunities your teachers are putting out there. Continue to exercise your mental muscle. It’s something that we are going to need whenever school starts again in whatever format that is in, and something you’ll need when you’re older, so just continue to think, continue to read, continue to write, and continue to communicate effectively. “Continue to learn” is probably something you’ll hear from me a lot over the next few months.”