Staying Connected
May 2020
Dear Colleagues,

The entire world is navigating an extremely challenging and unprecedented situation in response to COVID-19. While schools are closed here in New York State, you -- teachers, administrators, and school personnel -- have shown such an extraordinary and unwavering commitment to your students. 

At the New York State Education Department, we are proud of the way our state's educators have demonstrated unmatched resilience and determination to ensure students continuity of learning. In addition to the stories about your dedication to children, we are overwhelmed by the stories of kindness and love that you as educators and your school communities have shown to students, their families, essential workers, and those in need throughout this crisis. 

We want to share some of the many inspiring examples of the ways that acts of kindness are spreading throughout the state to help us all stay connected. Across New York, you as educators are taking thoughtful actions to help others, but beyond that, you are leading by example and encouraging your students to take action to spread kindness themselves.

During this time of social distancing and many unknowns, it is critical that our students know we are still all in this together even when we are physically apart. May is Mental Health Month, and during this time when many members of our communities are feeling isolated, it is especially important to raise awareness and do what we can to help.

One way to help reduce feelings of isolation during this time is to reach out to those who are struggling to help them feel the comfort of their communities around them. There is no better way to feel a true sense of togetherness than to be intentionally kind to other people. A recent study suggests that performing acts of kindness boosts happiness, whether the kindness is directed at someone you know or at a complete stranger. Performing random acts of kindness can heighten our awareness of the things in our lives that we have to be thankful for, something I'm sure we have all been reflecting upon lately.

As educators, teaching your students about the profound impact that even one small act of kindness can have on another person might be one of the most important lessons you will ever teach. I have heard the sentiment that we will emerge from this current challenge stronger than ever before. I believe that is true, but the reason for our strength will be the kindness that we have shown one another throughout this pandemic and the resulting unbreakable community connections that will propel us forward.

Please take a few moments to read the stories below highlighting ways in which educators, students, and communities are spreading kindness, hope, and optimism during this challenging time. Today's stories include a successful video challenge asking students to demonstrate kindness and connections, a creative way for a school community to stay positive, an innovative project to help healthcare workers, and an uplifting story about spreading hope through music performances. If you have your own stories to share, please visit our Submit Your Stories page for additional information.

I hope you, your families, and your school communities are staying safe and healthy. Thank you for all you do.


Shannon Tahoe
Interim Commissioner
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Greece Central School District's Video Challenge
Greece Central School District
Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathleen Graupman issued a  video challenge  for the entire Greece community to share the unique ways they are staying connected and being kind even though we can't be together right now. Dozens of people accepted the challenge and shared videos and social media posts showing how they are connecting with their Greece school family and remaining positive. Videos and photos continue to be shared via email and social media. Superintendent Graupman shares some of her favorites in her weekly update to staff and families.
The Dyker Family: When Can I See You Again?
Dyker Heights Intermediate School 201, Brooklyn
Dyker Heights IS 201 Montage Movie
March 15th, 2020 should have been just another day.  Instead, it was a day of shock and a day of anguish. What exactly did a shutdown mean? How would we continue to teach our students, our children, at home? Now, here we are weeks in, and I could not be prouder to be part of The Dyker Family, a title we have always used when referring to our staff. We were able to contact students about their academics, but we noticed we were missing a key piece of emotional connectivity. Human interaction is what we miss most. What better way to do that than with a Dyker Staff Spirit Day Video? The Dyker Family more than happily obliged. Each picture and message sent from the staff displays the care and love that we have for our students.  What started as a simple "We miss you!" video has spiraled into a weekly spirit day, each with a different theme.

-Christina DeClara, Teacher, Dyker Heights Intermediate School 
5th and 6th Graders 3-D Print Personal Protective Equipment
Byron-Bergen Elementary School
STEAM Lab Teacher Craig Schroth holds a face shield designed by a student
If a health care worker puts on a face shield inscribed with the words "Heroes wear scrubs, not capes," it might have been designed by a Byron-Bergen 5th or 6th grader. STEAM Lab Teacher Craig Schroth recently dropped off 100 face shields designed and donated by students to Face Shields ROC, an organization collecting face shields to distribute to medical facilities and first responders in the Rochester area.

Before Byron-Bergen Elementary School closed its doors in March, Schroth was granted permission to move the District's three 3-D printers to his home to avoid a backlog of printing student work when school recommenced. Three weeks later, he proposed a new project to his students.

"Many health care workers are short on personal protective equipment at hospitals and health care facilities," said Schroth. "One thing that people are doing to help is using 3-D printers to print face shields. I wanted to give our students an opportunity to get involved with this project." 

face shield designed by a student with the inscription _thank you_
Schroth invited students to add a positive message to the basic face shield design. Using the skills they gained while designing keychains and jack-o-lanterns in class, and guidance from Schroth via email, students worked on their designs from their homes. They submitted their finished files electronically and Schroth printed them on the 3-D printers now in his basement. 

Fifth grade student Rena Wilson has submitted 55 designs with a goal of designing 100. "I was glad to have the chance to thank these health workers by giving them a nice message that would brighten their day."

"I'm very proud of our students for their enthusiasm in this project," said Byron-Bergen Elementary Principal Brian Meister. "Mr. Schroth has shown amazing initiative in not only stepping up to produce needed resources for the medical community but creating a meaningful experience for his students. They will not forget this. Neither will the recipients of these unique face shields."

As more designs are submitted, Schroth will continue to print and deliver the face shields on behalf of his students.
High School Band Won't Let Pandemic Stop the Music
Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School 

High School Band Won't Let Pandemic Stop the Music
When the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to in-person band practice, music teacher Lexi Carlson and her band students knew they had to keep the music going.

After trial, error, and six weeks of hard work, the Syracuse Academy of Science High School Band is releasing their first ever recording, "Ode to Joy," the theme from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that for centuries has been a symbol of hope and the resilience of the human spirit.

Many of the band members began playing their instruments just this school year.  They started practicing "Ode to Joy" at school in February and continued to learn it remotely through one-on-one sessions over Zoom in order to put together the recording. It is the first time the students have ever practiced and recorded music on their own. Lexi Carlson, the Syracuse Academy of Science High School band teacher, put together the students' individual recordings with the support of the Science Academies of New York multimedia department to create the released video recording.

"'Ode to Joy' has been used across cultures throughout the world to bring hope and joy during difficult times," Carlson says. "We hope that our performance brings some hope and joy to families in Syracuse today. We're excited that we've found a way to still make music together, now and in the weeks to come."