Every weekday afternoon at 3:30 a classroom of 15-30 mostly Dewey School students and family members tune into a Zoom session of Parents’ Open School.
Organized and led by Dewey parents, at first to get through the Spring Break, and now to get through the Pandemic Break, the Parents’ Open School solicits volunteers (mostly parents, but other community members as well) to talk about their professions, something they know, or just something that interests them.
In the kick-off week, Karen van Ausdal, mother of Eliza and Jonah and a social-emotional learning specialist, led a session to help kids share their feelings about being home from school. Dewey father Lupe Orozco and his son Gael taught basketball tips, including how to practice at home when you’re cooped up indoors. One tip they shared: If you’re throwing the ball in the air while lying on your back, use a soft ball to protect your face in case you miss.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Patti Lee King showed the kids how to bake Irish Soda bread. And the Dewey father-daughter team of Andrew and Marit Skwish showed how to decorate Ukrainian Easter eggs (and told everyone not to eat them … they are raw!) Egg decorators use wax to put the traditional intricate and colorful folk designs on the eggs.
Subsequent sessions also held the attention of these grade-schoolers.
District 65 speech teacher Lisa Levine, mother of Ryan and Jojo, showed kids how to “sign” the alphabet and to greet other sign language users.
Dewey parent Elena Garfield and her children Chaya and Silvio provided a bilingual look at the many uses for old bananas. These included even freezing peeled bananas for later uses such as in cookies and pancakes. Their cookie recipe is currently posted on the website: www.parents’openschool.com.
Interior decorator, Meera Schlack, mother of Sarafina and Nathan, showed everyone how to measure a room and draw a floor plan of it to scale, including doors, windows and furniture locations.
Erick Lidell, Kennedy’s father and a water engineer with a Chicago-area water facility, spoke to the kids about how the water that comes to homes and businesses is cleaned, and how it gets there. Participants had a lot of questions, including whether fish ever get into the water system. Mr. Lidell answered that question affirmatively – but, “to his knowledge, only once.”
A Greek lesson (letters of the Greek alphabet) was taught by Sophia Patton, mother of Leo. Students were intrigued to find that the Greek language uses an entirely different alphabet – but they noticed similarities between some of the words in Greek and words in English.
Ethan Allen, an animalogist and fish researcher based in Hawaii, gave a fascinating look at what he has learned about fish from his research. Kids had lots of questions for him, such as whether fish see color the way humans do (yes, across the spectrum). He said fish behave differently at night, and that they can be trained. Humans are gradually eating fish more and more down the fish food chain, he said.
How “smart” are fish? “Smart is as smart does” he said.
He works with cichlid fish, a popular aquarium fish, of which there are 1,300 species.
An introduction to beat-boxing for kids by Dewey fifth-grade teacher Ashley Stanley showed everyone how to make different drum and other percussive sounds, including a zipper noise, with their mouths. It ended with Ms. Ashley’s demonstrating how to beat-box with a flute. “It was so cool!” said third-grader Elena Skeaff.
Local print-maker and artist Ben Blount discussed book making. He then kept everyone busy making booklets out of a single piece of paper. He also explained haiku to the kids, as the perfect length of poem to appear in their new booklets. One of his haiku poems, written on an original book of his own making, was much appreciated by the group:
“Still in my PJs
I ‘may’ have brushed my teeth
See you on the Zoom.”
Musician Gordon Wright, father of Jonah and Eliza, showed the kids the fundamentals of writing a hit song – and then created an actual song out of suggestions from the kids. His song, “Potato Pizza” was built on their suggestions, and it was a big hit.
Karla Thomas, mother of Ellie and Thomasi, introduced everyone to the U.S. Census, and explained the importance and challenge of making sure that everyone in a community is counted. She also noted problems with the wording of some of the Census questions, in particular the questions about race, gender and sexual orientation.
A special guest at one session was Dewey alumna Sara Molinaro, chief baker at Zingerman’s Bake House in Ann Arbor, Mich., who demonstrated how to make different shapes of pasta from scratch. She encouraged kids to name their pasta after themselves – by using their own name and then adding an “ini” on the end.
Another special guest, who joined in from his home in southeastern Massachusetts, was the Grammy-award-winning storyteller and songwriter Bill Harley. He performed multiple songs and stories including “Skunk in the Middle’” and “Turn the World Around.”
Former Dewey parent Alaka Wali curator at the Field Museum, showed maps and photos of the Amazon rainforest and of the families who live there. She showed what their houses are built of (palm leaves) and what they eat (local fruits and vegetables.) She noted that the families live sustainably and pass on their traditions from generation to generation (and also that most families have tvs) She said they are the protectors of the rainforest.
Mary Cox, mother of Ainslie, demonstrated exercises for kids and their parents to do at home without equipment. The students worked hard to keep up with a range of exercises they had to hold for up to 45 seconds.
And Joan Chiao, mother of Leo, held a listening guide to “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens, a French Romantic composer. Students sat quietly for a full 30 minutes listening and imagining what the music meant.
During the Parents’ Open School, the kids learn how to use the Zoom platform, muting and un-muting themselves, depending on whether they are speaking, or chiming in at the end of each day with a big “Thank You” for the presenter.
The kids get a chance to see each other every day, and to “chat” with each other using the chat box at the bottom of the screen.
The kids voted on the Parents’ Open School (POS) logo, choosing it from several designed by Marit and Andrew Squish.
Many kids create their own personal background behind their Zoom faces, which makes them appear to be from a far-off planet or a tropical island.
Parents’ Open School is open to all kids from all schools, and other interested viewers (and volunteers!).
All information is on www.parentsopenschool.com.