Our Remote Learning Journey: Thriving Not Just Surviving

Written and submitted by Debra Butterfield and Lori Gingras, MSAD 11.

Rie Kittredge, English Department chair, reflected, “Gardiner Area High School was thriving not just surviving during remote learning.” Here is our travel log of ways we promoted student and staff community.

Debra  Butterfield, Teacher-Librarian, and Lori Gingras, English Teacher, found inspiration from a video series by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, nationally-acclaimed literacy leaders. One of the ideas featured in the videos was to help staff and students focus on silver linings during the pandemic. Butterfield and Gingras created a Flipgrid Silver Lining series as a place for students and staff to connect and share silver linings. Weekly topics ranged from introducing pets, to reflecting on a curated list of virtual April vacations, and to showcasing artistic pursuits. One student in English teacher Melissa Cheeseman’s class reflected in her journal, “ I love that the library team is doing this thing called Flipgrid. I’ve watched the videos, and it’s people I know but haven’t, you know, spoken to too much over the course of this whole thing. And it’s just good to hear their voices, see their faces.”

The English Department has a yearly tradition in May of hosting A Little Night Poetry for students to share their original poems. To carry on the tradition, students and staff gathered virtually on a Thursday for A Little Afternoon of Poetry. The energy and support of this event served as a catalyst for the creation of GAHS Thursdays at Three: Tigers Create! as a place for students and staff to come together to support each other’s creativity. 


Pictured above the English Department hosts A Little Afternoon of Poetry.

During the Tigers Create! sessions, students and staff showcased sewing projects, treehouse construction, songs, poetry, earth oven, book art, graphic novels, culinary arts, opera, music mixing, and bird photography. Students enjoyed seeing each other and staff while learning about their creative adventures. Being able to provide support and encouragement to one another quickly formed a community. Adding comments in the chat box added another level of excitement and enthusiasm. To spark the creative pursuits, special guests joined the sessions. 

Maria Padian, award-winning young adult author and long time friend to GAHS, visited students and staff during one session. Padian encouraged students by sharing, “If you write what you know is emotionally true, the deeper you will go.”  She told the story of how her own family’s diverse heritage inspired the development of the main character in her latest novel How to Build a Heart. This creation is the one closest to her own heart and personal life. Padian read an excerpt from her book and encouraged students to lean into their own stories to learn more about their characters.

Ninth-grader, Shawn Jiminez, responded, “I just want to say that I fell in love with your characters in the books of yours that I have read, and I want to thank you for making the books you write relatable and about really bold topics that not everyone might have experienced but could learn more about and feel some sort of empathy and understanding.” 


Pictured above is author Maria Padian during a virtual Tigers Create! Session. 

Members of the GAHS Drama Club, directed by Christina Benedict, English Teacher, and Nick Bucci, Video Production Teacher, did a virtual performance of a scene from The Princess Bride during a Tigers Create!  The Drama Club was three weeks away from the original performance dates when we transitioned to remote learning. With determined spirit and the show must go on attitude, a full virtual performance was held for public viewing on June 4. It was wildly successful! 

Gareth Hinds, nationally acclaimed graphic novelist, who visited GAHS in October was also a featured virtual guest for Tigers Create! He created a video response to questions generated by GAHS students and had some inspirational advice for all. He shared his own challenges with being creative during this pandemic and provided tips for how to overcome them.  

Gareth Hinds

Pictured above is graphic novelist Gareth Hinds during his GAHS visit in October. 

English Department Chair, Rie Kittredge, did an official unveiling of Uncovered during one of the Tigers Create!  Congratulations to the 27 Gardiner Area High School students whose work is represented in the English Department’s very first literary magazine. Artists, writers, and photographers stopped by the high school to pick up copies of the book, and the smiles were so bright we could see their happy glow from behind the masks! 


In the photo above Gardiner Area High School’s current Poet Laureate junior Maggie Barron showing off Uncovered, the English Department’s first literary magazine.

The final Tigers Create! of the school year featured GAHS science teacher, Mrs. Gallant. She gave a virtual tour of her garden shed turned art studio and shared some of her artwork. The samples she shared ranged from encaustic art (a wax medium), to book art, to an original poem inspired by her own beautiful mermaid creation. 

Gallant shared, “My art studio is like a sanctuary. Creativity has a place in everybody’s life.” She pointed out that many famous inventors and scientists, such as Samuel Morse and Beatrix Potter, are also renowned artists. When asked about her favorite artists, she answered, “Kids are my favorite artists, because they are so giving with their art and don’t worry about perfection.”  Sharon has been teaching a professional development course in book art this year to a group of GAHS staff members. They will use the techniques in their own classes. STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Math) is alive and well in Mrs. Gallant’s biology classes and in her studio. Participants of Tigers Create! were inspired by the knowledge and passion Mrs. Gallant has for science and art. 


In the picture above, Sharon Gallant’s creativity is full STEAM Ahead in Studio G! 

Students and staff have decided that they want to continue with Tigers Create!  this summer and next year. One student shared, “ I have the whole summer ahead of me. I want to make the best use of the time and space to create.” 

Enthusiasm for connecting spread at GAHS. Heidi Rivera and Tammy Allard, social studies teachers, invited students and staff to dust off their passports and travel to virtual gamelands of Pictionary, Jeopardy, and Trivia. Students loved challenging staff members and each other. 

As we consider the variety of plans and models for learning this fall, let’s keep reflecting on ways to keep our students and staff connected. Those who are interested in developing a road map for fostering connections among students and staff in a virtual world, may contact Debra Butterfield at dbutterfield@msad11.org or Lori Gingras at lgingras@msad11.org to learn more and share ideas.