Community: Meet the Gurukul School in Seattle, WA (Cont.)

Interviewer: Nandini Daga; July 12, 2020

Interviewee: Renu Grover, Teacher's Committee Chair @ Gurukul

Gurukul has plans to go online next year due to COVID, which will require curriculum adjustments (Taj Travel).

As someone who graduated this year I’d say that everyone did put in a lot of effort and it really worked out! What do you believe others can do to help your organization?

The way others, like parents and others outside the organization, is to really understand the effort that goes into this and really appreciate it. If help is required we will reach out to parents and other committees who are taking a step back because we are not on site. But to support and applaud the efforts, to encourage the teachers and students who are putting in all this work, I think that in itself is a huge help. It’s very motivating. Getting everyone together and saying, you know, thank you, for teaching our kids and thank you for doing what you’re doing. Because no one is getting paid for this, it’s volunteer work. Just getting that support from everybody for the organization and supporting your children would be great. Especially the little ones who have more trouble being engaged, being by their side, that would help.

"... to support and applaud the efforts, to encourage the teachers and students who are putting in all this work, I think that in itself is a huge help. It’s very motivating."

If this situation with COVID-19 continues into next year, what further changes would you put into place, what else do you think would change online?

So, Gurukul has decided to go online next year, because of the COVID-19 situation. Regular schools are trying to put measures in place and still struggling to come up with a good model on how they’re going to do this with the masks, and enforce prevention. We decided to go online, instead of waiting endlessly for the schools to give us a plan. And with what we’re hearing about the restrictions of how many people can be in the school and the distancing requirements, it's not going to fit the number of students we have and the model of teaching we have. It’s going to be very challenging for us to enforce those constraints. So we decided to play it safe, we’re not going to expose our children to this issue. And if they are going to go to school, they are already going to faced with all this exposure, let’s just have them be at home over the weekend.

Having said that now we know, we can plan better, since we know in advance we will be online. We can start thinking about changing the curriculum for the next year. We are looking into alternative technology so we can have the students turn in homework, and take attendance, and put in more accountability so we can do more legitimate grading. We will also be making stricter, more secure classrooms--so if you’re in 6A that classroom will only be available to 6A, nobody else can get in if they just have the link. All these technology changes, we will make them secure. So all that work is going on in the background and hopefully we will be ready for next year.

Do you anticipate a drop in attendance?

I think there will be a little bit of a drop because Gurukul does offer a lot when we are on site, all those activities and demos and the experience. So there will be a little bit of a drop. But at the same time we are being approached by parents from other states saying that if Gurukul is going online they’d like to be able to participate and enroll their students so they can have the experience as well. I think it’ll be close, we may be able to open it up to students who want to join from the outside. In fact, we have had students who moved away from the Seattle area who were able to complete Gurukul since it was online. Because it is online they are interested in continuing. We might hit a sort of balance, I don’t think there will be a big cut.

There was a student in my class who moved to Texas who was able to complete the year, so that’s great to hear.

Yeah, him and his sibling will be able to continue next year, and his mom will continue to teach as well. He’s even going to join the Youth Board.

Wow! So we’ve touched on how a lot of what makes Gurukul special is its culture demos, picnics, and things like Annual Day. Are you guys thinking about any replacements for next year?

We are thinking about at least doing the competitions online next year, we will start planning for it. One part of me hopes that by January there will be vaccines in place, and places will open up and it will be safe to meet, that by then we can at least hold Annual Day in person. It’s sitting there in limbo, our options. However with meeting only once a week and without everyone is a challenge, so we may try to have in-class Annual days instead of each level. It might be very difficult online.

But we are definitely hoping to have demos. Maybe some recorded demos from the past or put together demos from our own homes. We do want demos to be a part of the online experience.

Is there any other group involved in Gurukul that you’d want to talk about?

Yeah, sure. Aside from the teachers we have the curriculum leads who have worked very hard, and the teacher coordinators who have worked with all the logistics and moderation of the classes. They have worked hard to keep the online classes going and that everything is being run, and that teachers are prepared, and more.

Besides that, the Youth Board was also having classes at the same time. The multimedia teams were doing there projects, and the public speaking teams. I am especially proud of my Deep se Deep Jale kids (One Candle Lights Another), that’s a program where students participate in the Kindergarten classrooms as teacher associates. Every KG classroom has two Youth Board students who come in. Onsite their responsibility was to help students participate and be Bhaiyas and Didis (Older brothers and sisters) in the classroom. They would sit down with the kids and make it fun, review vocabulary with them, play learning games with them, engage with them. They were also helping with a scrapbook project--but that was lost in the online format. But they kids, they jumped and became storytellers. After the online class was over, the Youth Board kids would jump in and tell the kids a story from a book, and do demos of their homework. They did an incredible job of still staying engaged with the students of their classrooms.

I also want to mention our events team, they are also now working towards putting some gifts together for our teachers and volunteers to appreciate them for their work through the year. Cabinet as well. It’s been a good experience with anybody.

"They did an incredible job of still staying engaged with the students of their classrooms."

Is there anything you’d like to say to similar organizations?

What I would like to say, you know, is that when you are faced with situations like this, you just have to take them head on. Don’t lose hope, don’t give up really quickly. Put your thinking hat on and solutions will come up. If you’re faced with a challenge you know what they say, when the going gets tough the tough get going. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Collaborate, believe in your team and the people around you. Take on the challenge and solutions will come up and you will be successful.

And even if you aren’t and you're faced with a failure, it's ok. You’ll live with the fact that you tried. You’ll feel proud that you gave it a shop. And I think that most everybody should be able to learn from the model and say yes we can.

That’s an amazing message. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

All I want to say is that we are now working really hard planning the next year out, and I am looking forward to hopefully an even better experience for our students. We will continue to help them learn, stay connected, enjoy the experience, and get through this challenging time.

One other thing that we accomplished is getting a lot of kudos from the parents because before they would not really know what’s going on behind the classroom doors, they would just drop off their children and leave. And now they were able to see what goes on and attend classes. They were able to better support their children.

All in all it was a successful year, and thanks to everyone involved. It was a big effort, and a very selfless and gratifying experience.