Students wearing winter coats and masks, sitting on a rug playing together

The comfort of the pod

Right now, during this Omicron surge, the question of whether schools should be in person or remote is in the news and in public debate. With the infection rate going ever higher, we have been forced to close classrooms for the first time in the pandemic.

Today, the Waves are back in school, after finishing last week with remote schooling due to teacher illness. I was up with them this morning as students trickled in, sanitized their hands, hung up their coats and started “morning choice” — a time of free choice activities before the school day starts.

I walked into the large Fellowship Hall space where a group of around ten Waves students were clustered on a corner of the rug. That rug is only a tiny portion of the large space, but all the children were in just that location, all focused on something. Self-organized large group games are pretty rare in this age group, so I wanted to see what game united them.

But as I got closer, I realized they weren’t playing a group game. As is typical of kids this age, they were playing in small groups of 2-3 children, each small group doing its own thing. But what struck me is that even though they were playing in twos and threes, they were all right next to each other on the rug. Not talking, not interacting across playgroups, they still were clustered together physically. Why do this in a large space? It’s comfortable and comforting to be physically near other people. Despite Covid, despite social distancing, our kids need each other. They need to be close to each other. It is simply more comfortable to be with each other than to be spread out.

Do kids need to be protected from Covid? Absolutely. Do they need each other’s presence? Yes to that as well.

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Karen Carney

is the head of school. Karen’s career demonstrates a rich and diverse set of skills: project oversight, curriculum development, educator training and mentoring, and classroom instruction. Prior to coming to Chicago Friends School, she worked as a senior specialist in science curriculum for American Institutes for Research. Before this, she oversaw educational programming at the Adler Planetarium, first as its director of education and then as associate vice president for visitor experience and learning. She has also worked in instruction and teacher development at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Learning Sciences Research Institute and has authored more than 20 scholarly papers, book chapters, and conference presentations.

Karen is an active, dedicated Friend (Quaker) and has held various leadership positions at the Evanston Friends Meeting. She enjoys baking, cooking, and painting and is a member of the Playmation improv comedy team.