Crane School’s Traditional Year-End Events Go Virtual

By Ann Pieramici   |   June 11, 2020
Second grader Shay Murphy invented the “wrist defender” bracelet as a fashionable, self-defense mechanism as part of her study of inventions

The theater at Crane Country Day School is dark, but that hasn’t stopped production of its annual Upper School musical. In fact, the school has barely missed a beat as it continues with nearly all of the spring traditions that have come to define the K-8 school.

“Our spring culminations are still happening, just not in our typical face-to-face format,” explained Headmaster Joel Weiss. “It’s new territory for all of us and we’ve infused our year-end projects, events and performances with more technology and creativity to ensure that students get to experience the programs they’ve anticipated.”

High-tech forces are clearly at work in the school’s production of Peter Pan which launches to life in three installments: a full cast music video, podcast, and a scene filmed as a movie using green screen technology.

This Crane fifth grader was so inspired by his virtual tour of Sturbridge Village that he baked German Cherry Streusel Cake – a recipe straight out of the 1800s

“We’ve never done anything like this before,” said drama teacher Shana Arthurs. “Students are being stretched and learning new skills that will serve them well in the end.” Perks of the virtual version include enhanced imagery for Peter Pan’s flights and the making of a new star – Maverick – the real-life golden retriever who plays Nana.

The fifth-grade class also tapped into their creativity to reimagine their cancelled Boston trip, which traditionally marks the culmination of colonial and revolutionary American studies. Although they couldn’t participate in an actual scavenger hunt at Sturbridge Village, the Crane teachers created a virtual pursuit on the official Sturbridge website. Additionally, students were encouraged to replicate a recipe from the 1800s from their own kitchens. Andrew Sheshunoff made a mincemeat pie with homemade crust – a first for the fifth grader. Loma Murdy baked pumpkin muffins that she says her family devoured in two days. The Freedom Trail was experienced via video and students were treated to a reading of the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” by the school librarian.

“We focused on key events that students would have experienced in Boston and we had the benefit of mixing lessons with internet searches giving students a visual of what they would have seen,” said fifth grade teacher Carrie Althoff.

Fifth graders also donned lab coats for an at-home edition of the famous egg-drop experiment. Challenged with building a capsule and parachute to protect a raw egg from impact, these young scientists tested their designs with a few confident souls dropping their creations off staircases and balconies inside their homes.

“I miss being with my friends,” said Sheshunoff, yet the fifth grader admits that working from home allows him more focused time on assignments which has resulted in improved grades.

“We try to keep all of our lessons interactive and distinct, mixing slides and writing activities with reading and videos to keep students engaged,” explained Althoff. And the time away from screens is cherished. Sheshunoff says he loved working on his six-foot-high paper mache dragon for his art class’s culminating project. Murdy said she enjoyed creating her miniature ballet studio because it gave her a break from the screen and “took her mind off what’s happening in the world.”

Loma Murdy says she really felt like she was in Boston recreating this old-time pumpkin muffin recipe inspired by her virtual visit to Sturbridge Village. She also appreciated the baking break from screen time.

Second-grade students were also tasked with creating labs at home to inspire their study of inventions. This long-standing unit itself needed to be reinvented for a virtual platform. After remotely studying inventors and their creations, students devised their own innovation. Shay Murphy created the “wrist defender” fashioned out of pipe cleaners; the unassuming bracelet doubles as a self-defense mechanism when its spikes are revealed. Her classmate Jones Baffa wanted “help reaching high stuff” so he designed “riser blocks” that attach to shoes to give kids the lift they need to access the top shelf.

One the perks of at-home learning for Andrew Sheshunoff was creating this huge, 6-foot-tall dragon for his final art project. With a wingspan of 11 feet, this three-dimensional creature now replaces the car in his family’s garage!

“This year our students were pushed beyond the bounds of imagining a new innovation as they also had to create a video presentation to share their discovery virtually with the whole class,” explained second grade teacher Karen Ohrn.

For the past 19 years, Crane’s seventh-grade class has pursued their passions through Crane’s QED (Quests, Explorations, Discoveries) Project. “QED is a chance for students to dream big,” said librarian Traci Cope who oversees the program. Seventh-graders pick something they want to know more about or learn a new skill, working with an expert mentor in the community. “This year, we’re calling it by its lowercase acronym, “qed” as we’ve had to pivot to Zoom meetings and some students’ big dreams have shifted to shelter-at-home endeavors. One student hoped to learn to sail but when COVID struck he transitioned to studying finance, riding the waves of the stock market instead. All students shared their ventures through a compilation video and a live Zoom Q&A.

One the perks of at-home learning for Andrew Sheshunoff was creating this huge, 6-foot-tall dragon for his final art project. With a wingspan of 11 feet, this three-dimensional creature now replaces the car in his family’s garage!

Cope says that in addition to learning about their new enterprises, students also gained the critical life skills of adaptability and flexibility and experienced the importance of being able to go with the flow.

“The end of the year is among our busiest times and that’s compounded this year with the added task of transitioning to remote platforms,” said Weiss. “But that won’t impede the continuation of traditional academic programs and events that have been part of Crane for nearly a century.”

One of Crane’s most impactful rites of passage is the expectation that every 8th grade student delivers a 15-minute presentation to the entire school, and then the most stressful part – responds to a wide array of questions from the audience. This year many students experienced the added challenge of presenting to an unseen, socially-distant audience. This is yet another tool in students’ arsenal of learning the fine art of public speaking.

As Crane continues uploading art installations, poetry recitations and live literature discussions, the school is finding new audiences – grandparents and extended friends and family who don’t live nearby and who haven’t had the pleasure of witnessing students’ accomplishments.

“Crane has always prided itself on having an active, tight-knit community and we’re thrilled to extend that connection, providing entertainment and education to our greater Crane family,” said Weiss.

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