Message from the Director: When the School Bell Rings

A ringing school bell has special meaning this year. I realized this during an early morning walk a few weeks back when I passed our neighborhood elementary school just as the bells were ringing, preparing for the opening of the school year. Immediately, I felt joy at hearing these bells, abruptly silenced for so many months. It felt like the school was exercising its vocal cords for the first time after a long and troubled sleep. Joy quickly succumbed to the complex feeling of uncertainty at the realization that the buildings and playgrounds had been silent and empty for an important reason, to ensure the students’ and staff’s safety. Finally, uncertainty yielded to optimism, thanks to the knowledge that educators and administrators at all levels, pre-K through graduate school, worked assiduously during the summer months to prepare for a variety of fall opening day scenarios, and a variety of possibilities throughout the 2020-2021 academic year. These preparations aimed to simultaneously respect schools’ and universities’ educational mission while upholding the primary value of safety for all.

Photo by Pixabay on

My colleagues and I realize that the most crucial aspect of the Belin-Blank Center’s preparation is to uphold our primary value of our students’ and staff’s safety. We will do this while striving to maintain – to the extent possible – programming and services for students and teachers and pursuing our active research agenda. For safety, during the fall semester, the majority of the Belin-Blank Center staff and faculty will continue to work off-campus. Others have shifted to a hybrid approach to doing their work. No matter what the arrangement, we are all fully present to serve you.

Each area of the Belin-Blank Center is adapting to the many changes that this school year brings. Our programming and services for students and teachers have shifted online. We replaced the cancelled Summer Writing Residency with the Summer Writing Online Experience for high school students. Program evaluations indicated that this was a wonderful experience for all involved. We also introduced a new online summer writing class for junior high students, the Workshop for Young Writers, which started at the same time as a derecho approached our location in eastern Iowa. Despite the physical and humanitarian devastation from this natural disaster, including extreme technology challenges due to electricity loss, the Workshop for Young Writers was a success. We are now developing comprehensive online writing opportunities through a new program, the Writers’ Room.

The ever-changing nature of this time calls for many pivots and timely updates to keep you informed. Therefore, last month, we published the first special issue of the Belin-Blank Center newsletter to distribute information about new opportunities for students and teachers. We will continue to offer special editions as needed to announce new pandemic-safe initiatives as they arise.

The Assessment and Counseling Clinic rose to the challenges of working off-site by offering their services online during the pandemic’s early months. When the campus commenced a phased re-opening in early July, the Clinic resumed in-person services with COVID-19 precautions in place. So, too, the professional development program for teachers seemed not to skip a beat during the summer. Check out the many opportunities that await teachers during this coming year.

COVID-19 restrictions somewhat altered the timeline for activities related to our grant-based research agenda. Nevertheless, we have published the research we conducted over the two years before the pandemic in four recent peer-reviewed articles:

This month, we welcome our students, including the Bucksbaum Academy first-and second-year students, and our graduate assistants to a new and unprecedented year. It is energizing to see students back on the University of Iowa campus and meet virtually with Belin-Blank Center students. It has re-ignited the spark of optimism that comes with the ringing bells ushering in every new school year.

On behalf of the Belin-Blank Center team, we extend each of you our wishes for a safe and energizing start to the new school year. This fall, we may not hear the school bell in person; yet, I hope you feel optimistic with the knowledge that the bell and the schools are still there. Whether virtual, in-person, or hybrid, the school bell represents new beginnings and opportunities to thrive in an educational environment and within various learning and teaching formats. Have a safe and wonderful year!

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