Serving Preschool Through 8th Grade in the San Francisco East Bay Since 1962

Connection: A Foundation to Whole Child Education

Seven Hills students’ learning outcomes were possible because of, not in spite of, the time spent on care and connection.
In August 2020, there was still plenty of uncertainty for the upcoming school year. While the possibility of teaching and learning remotely seemed daunting, so too did the task of bringing students back in person. Drawing on one of the core tenets of the Seven Hills creed, “be positive,” faculty, staff, and administrators rose to the occasion united by our commitment to whole-child education. Rather than focusing on what might be lost, we focused on creating connection and joyful learning wherever possible. Planning centered around two essential and mission-driven questions:

• How will we run a program that is hands-on, relationship-based, and stays true to our whole child approach to education?
• How can we create community in an educational world of desks spaced six feet apart, masks, individualized materials, stable cohorts, and no schoolwide gatherings?

From here, everything flowed. From meeting students for the first time in the online classroom in August to students trickling back to campus in October, we continued to revisit these essential questions. We reimagined favorite school traditions and discovered Zoom to be a great platform for Box City and Shark Tank. Many outdoor traditions like Astrogation week remained intact with just a little extra planning to ensure adequate distancing. Students took virtual field trips to new places from Yosemite to Levi’s Stadium. And of course, we allowed for students to innovate and create new traditions of their own—such as the Kindergarteners, who without adult direction, formed a “welcoming committee” to cheer for and welcome their peers during the morning carline. Throughout, faculty and students demonstrated qualities that Seven Hills touts as graduation outcomes—resiliency, creativity, and mindfulness.

Whether on-campus or online, at the heart of the year was the foundation of our program that prioritizes the emotional and social health of our students along with the academics. In a tumultuous year, it’s what our students and community needed. At the end of the day, Seven Hills students’ learning outcomes were possible because of, not in spite of, the time spent on care and connection.

All-School Assemblies Deepen Student Belonging
By October 2020, classroom learning was looking remarkably normal. However, community gatherings were limited by the inability to come together in large groups. Rather than writing off the tradition of K-8 assemblies as another COVID loss, Seven Hills embraced Zoom and moved to a weekly instead of monthly assembly schedule. The new cadence revealed a silver lining—an opportunity to infuse even more voices and deeper connections across grades.

Each week, students and teachers were invited to share a piece of themselves—their interests, talents, playlists, upbringings, family members, identities, and cultural celebrations. Some favorite moments happened during Heritage and Awareness months, including celebrations of Black History, Deaf History, Ramadan, Pride, and Poetry Month. The virtual setting created a sense of intimacy, with up-close views of students sharing their personal stories. One Lower School student expressed after the Ramadan assembly, “Yesterday’s assembly filled me with joy. Thank you for sharing about this month with the whole school. I am beyond grateful.”

By showing up more fully in front of their schoolmates and witnessing others do the same, students’ sense of belonging and understanding grew exponentially.

Rainbow Students Learn Foundational Interpersonal Skills
Preserving one of the pillars of Reggio Emilia education, the idea that children are collaborators and learn through interactions within their communities, our youngest learners practiced making connections while masked and made visitors feel welcome when physically distanced. Undeterred by COVID-19 restrictions, they explored: How do we greet others? What questions do we ask to get to know someone? How do we introduce ourselves? How do we say goodbye?

From greeting the facilities crew or Epicurean team into their space with a “hello!” or “hola!” (or even a socially distanced dance party), to waving at siblings and other passersby from the gate, children in Rainbow modeled confidence, speaking skills, and kindness to make others feel welcome when they had to be physically apart.

Middle School Students Deepen Sense of Connection
As a return to campus approached, the Middle School faculty rethought and reframed what it meant to (re)launch a school year and rallied behind an approach that proved to be profoundly impactful. Connection would have to come first and would serve as the foundation upon which in-person learning would occur.

Teachers came to campus to host small group activity-based orientations for the incoming sixth graders who would be entering Hunt Hall for the first time. Those who arrived with trepidation left with smiles and excitement about the transition to Middle School. Seventh and eighth graders also had a staggered entry to campus, with their first few days about making sure they felt connected and cared for.

“We trusted the process,” says Dan Meyers, Head of Middle School. “We knew that using a few academic days at the onset would help create student capacity to learn and help everyone build the stamina required for on-campus school.”