By Aiza Shaikh
The hybrid plan and the pandemic aren’t the only challenges EGHS students will be facing this fall. The school now has a new principal, Ken Hopkins, and students haven’t had the chance to get to know him. Hopkins has an answer for that – as daunting as the goal may be, he plans to speak with each and every student at the school.
Communication is important to Hopkins and he understands students might have worries about what school will look and feel like this very unusual year.
“I’m coming into a building during a pandemic,” Hopkins acknowledged. “I’m sure there’s a little bit of anxiety about what the building-context tenor and culture is going to look like, going into this. I want to reassure people as much as possible, to ensure continuity from Mr. Podraza – who’s done a phenomenal job over the past – and just ensure that this administration that’s coming in is going to connect with people. That’s our main focus: to communicate.”
Hopkins came to East Greenwich in August, after serving as assistant principal at Smithfield High School (read more HERE).
“Something that I’ve always prided myself on is getting to know every student in the building and knowing at least one thing about them,” Hopkins said. “That’s very, very important to me, because I feel that knowing students in a dimension that goes a little bit beyond the academic perspective gives you context. It allows you to be able to see where they’re coming from.”
Hopkins used this strategy of connecting with students while in the Smithfield School District. “…I developed close relationships with students, and I’ve seen their successes and just been so proud of the things they’ve accomplished along the way,” he said of his time in Smithfield.
The inspiration behind Hopkins’ idea of communicating with each student comes from one of his former teachers, who told him, “You can never teach somebody unless you enter into their shoes.”
Hopkins knows that isn’t fully possible, but “you have to use that sense of empathy and find out where a person is coming from in order to really communicate with them and get to know them, and then be able to educate them.”
As with a lot of things, Hopkins’ plan to connect with each individual student is hindered somewhat by the COVID-19 pandemic. But he isn’t abandoning his plan.
“It is more difficult to [connect] under these circumstances – however, it’s still possible,” he said. “The first thing is being visible…. We’ve seen students on the athletic fields over at the high school. Going up and saying ‘Hi,’ just getting to know somebody. What do they do? What are they about? How are they a part of the school community, beyond just the academic life?”
Hopkins takes a holistic approach to teens and school. While students should continue to work hard in their academics, says Hopkins, they should also remember to pause and take a breath every so often.
“Though we need to maintain high standards and high expectations – and everybody has that – we all need to breathe,” he said. “We all need to give ourselves a little bit of forgiveness, a little bit of flexibility, because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. [The pandemic] is unlike anything any of us have ever experienced before.”
It comes back to communication.
“So I’m really trying to talk to staff, students,” added Hopkins, “not necessarily to decrease the standards or decrease the rigor … but to think about less onerous ways to get there.”
Taking a moment to breathe will be an essential part of the learning process this year, says Hopkins. “If you’re in front of a computer for seven hours a day, and then you have three hours of homework on top of that, you are absolutely drained,” he said. “A lot of the information that you’re receiving and attempting to retain is just simply not going to be retained in that [hybrid] model, because of the level of exhaustion.”
Hopkins wants EGHS students to keep in mind: “This is temporary. This is not permanent. This is not a long time. And though it’s going to shift some things, it’s not a permanent shift in how we’re going to do things. So during the temporary time frame – when we’re strained – sometimes you’ve got to take a little bit of a pause in order to make sure that you’ve maintained your energy level.”
Another unique addition to EGHS this year is a student advisory council. Its role will be different from the preexisting student council, says Hopkins. “We need a group of student representatives who are going to enforce policies,” he said. “Not school committee policies…but school procedures, school practices, being involved in the conversation of what education looks like.”
Hopkins wants to remind students to focus on the present rather than the future. “Right now, all we can do is take this present moment and do our job in the present moment, which is to plan,” he said. “It’s important for everybody to stay in the present and not get so caught up in the hypotheticals and permutations… Stay grounded right now.”
EGHS faculty and staff are working hard to create the best possible learning experience for students, Hopkins said.
“I cannot tell you how awesome our teachers are in their levels of planning and preparation,” said Hopkins. “There’s groups of teachers doing hybrid lessons in model forms…. That’s a level of dedication – that ‘behind the scenes’ you don’t necessarily see.”
“[You’re] not necessarily seeing all the custodians who are working hard to make sure that every floor is waxed and moving every desk in this building,” he added. “You show up and it’s there, but it’s all of this preparation work that goes in.”
As a way of promoting positivity throughout EGHS, Hopkins and the rest of the school administration have adopted the phrase “Avengers Unite” to represent this year’s theme.
“We have a mission, we have a global crisis, and we have to make this work,” said Hopkins. “And the only way that we’re going to make this work is if we do it together…. Community is so important during this time frame. We’ve been isolated from each other for so long, and we miss those relationships. And the relationships that we gain – and how we do those relationships – are going to look different going back to school.”
To that end, Hopkins encourages students to share their positive experiences on social media by using the school’s hashtag, #AvengersUnite.
“So what I’m asking people to do is this: If you’re doing something good for somebody, share it out,” Hopkins said. “Share out the good things that are happening.”
“Everybody’s working together…getting together,” Hopkins says to students. “We are Avengers, and Avengers have to unite right now.”
Aiza Shaikh, a rising senior at EGHS, has been an EG resident since 2008. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, traveling, and eating coffee ice cream.
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