Time Capsule Dedication: A Family Literacy Event
From the Mouths of Babes
Chezla Madson, Maggie Marley, Joseph Chang, and Loni Edie
As any teacher could explain, family involvement is an integral part of a child’s education. Schools design events that encourage family engagement with reading, writing, and math skills every year. But how do you design an engaging event when families are not allowed to gather on school grounds? Furthermore, how do you engage families in an optional project when they have been more responsible for their child’s learning over the past year than ever before and are just plain burnt out?
In 2018 Mt. Stuart Elementary School opened a time capsule that had been closed for roughly 50 years. The opening ceremony was a big deal for the small rural community. Former students and teachers were invited to watch the opening and the local paper wrote a piece on the event. The capsule was full of student writing samples, pictures, and even a banner with everyone’s signature. It was exciting to see what the students’ interests were so many years ago and how so much has changed, while others hadn’t changed as much as you might expect. There was talk of replacing the time capsule, but naturally, the school year ended and the idea was moved to the back burner. Fast forward to the 2020-21 school year. This was the last year for students and teachers in the original Mt. Stuart building. A new school was being built on the same property and will open for the 2021-22 school year. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for families to celebrate the closing of one chapter and the beginning of a new one by finally replacing the original time capsule and dedicating it to the new Mt. Stuart building. Only there was one minor consideration, schools had closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020 and were starting the year off virtually with a move to a Hybrid model where students would come to school 2 days a week with virtual learning opportunities the other 3 days alternating by small group A or B to allow for social distancing requirements to be met.
When students moved into the hybrid model, the plans for the time capsule really gained traction. To build interest in the project, families were encouraged to design a time capsule together and submit their design for a prize. Optional activities always run the risk of minimal participation, so incentives were heavily used. A kickoff video was also created to share via social media where various teachers from the building shared their own idea for a time capsule to give families a starting point. Because this project was sponsored by the Panda Cares Foundation, a plan was made to support local businesses with a portion of the funds from the foundation. Students that submitted a design for the capsule were eligible to receive a Mt. Stuart t-shirt or mask made by a local screen printing company. There was a decent turnout for the design activity, with more than 40 designs collected. At least 3 students grades K-5 received a t-shirt for their participation and creativity. After finalizing the design, it came time to decide what would go into the capsule, but if we have learned nothing over the last year-plus, it is that change is inevitable and that is exactly what happened.
Right as the announcement for creating the “filling” of the time capsule was about to be announced, the school district announced that students would return fully in-person to school for the final 2 months of the school year. This change, while exciting, meant that teachers needed to prepare to have their full classes return together for the first time in well over a year. With plates already full, the time capsule project was put on pause to allow students and teachers to prepare and adjust to yet another change in their learning structure. It is worth noting that springtime in schools is always full of exciting activities, trips, projects, and the like to celebrate the closing of yet another school year, so it felt possible to finish the capsule project in time.
In order to gain the most participation and engagement, digital tools, like Flipgrid, were used to allow students and their families to answer various questions where they reflected on their learning over the past year, their favorite memories from the original Mt. Stuart building, and their favorite aspects of the community. It was felt that these types of questions would truly show what school was like during a pandemic, from learning online to wearing masks at school, as well as what the community was like in 2020-21. With the time capsule scheduled to be opened 25 years from now, these could be important, first-person accounts and experiences of such a unique time in history. Daily posts were made on the school Facebook page posing a question with a link to post directly on Flipgrid. While this plan originally felt like a great way to maximize participation, when students returned to school full-time families were expected to return all district loaned Chromebooks and Hot Spots, leaving many without the tools necessary to easily participate in the digital submission process. To address this inequity, hard copies of the prompts were made available at request.
As mentioned above, families have been more responsible for their child’s learning more over the last year than could ever have been expected, families are burnt out. The year is almost over and many are not looking for another thing to add to their already full plates. That being said, incentives were offered. The first 40 families that submitted a response would be entered into a raffle for a gift card to 1 of 5 local businesses. Two families submitted hard copy responses by the suggested deadline. Unfortunately, there were no digital responses submitted by the deadline. The deadline was initially put in place to allow time to format the responses on Youtube and download to a thumb drive in time for the culminating family event where the time capsule would be officially dedicated to the new Mt. Stuart building and participating families would get to watch a selection of responses. The plan for the final event was changed to encourage maximum participation. Rather than show families the completed project, teachers would be available via Zoom to support them through the submission process. In previous years, Mt. Stuart has experienced tremendous turnouts for school events. Having to host this event virtually was seeming to impact participation. The day of the event came, and unfortunately, no families joined the Zoom.
The main goal of a family event is to always strengthen connections and relationships. And while this specific event wasn’t as successful as years previous, extenuating circumstances made significant impacts. There are always additional opportunities in the future. And while there were few submissions from families, teachers were encouraged to participate in the submission process with their classes as well. Overall, there were 105 submissions from about 30 students made via Flipgrid for the time capsule making this project an overall success! Students were able to reflect on their learning over the last year and how much has happened over the past year. One student explained what learning was like from home and how “we have really persevered through the hard stuff and are making it out the other side.” Another student shared how having to isolate from others impacted her anxiety, but returning to school helped her feel better. Others shared some of their favorite memories overall, a consistent favorite being the annual Wacky Fund Run. Even more shared what they loved about the community, from the local restaurants to the small town, “everyone knows each other” feel. These responses were extremely touching, insightful, and will be a wonderful representation of this trying time when the time capsule is opened in the future. All directly from the perspectives of our students. When future Mt. Stuart eagles open this time capsule they will find a student directory signed by each student with their picture, a Mt. Stuart t-shirt, mask and buff, as well as the thumb drive and a link to the Youtube video, just in case thumb drives are obsolete in the future.
As was said, relationships and connections are an important part of education. There were other connections made through this event. Mt. Stuart was able to show commitment to our community by supporting local businesses. The students that submitted responses for the time capsule all received a gift card to a variety of local shops, such as ice cream/yogurt stores, bakery, and coffee shops. Teachers were also able to work directly with the building Parent Group in executing this event. Another wonderful partnership to come from this event was with Central Washington Writing Project and Central Washington University. Thanks to the generous funds from these groups, each student at Mt. Stuart was able to take home a brand new book!
As the next 25 years come to pass it will be interesting to see how these relationships evolve and how the community changes. When the time capsule is finally opened again it will be a wonderful experience to reflect back and remember what this time was like directly from our very own students.