Back to School at Hardy: Same But Different 


It was the Welcome Back to School ice cream social at Hardy Middle School on 35th Street Aug. 10, and a small squealing crowd of middle schoolers and their parents braved a sudden hard rain storm to greet their new principal Errol Johnson and to see old friends, teachers and school officials. 

“The kids are really excited to be getting back or going for the first time now to middle school, to be able to socialize with their friends without masks, to join some of the new activities and the sports teams — especially the championship lacrosse team — already well established,” one parent told The Georgetowner.  “Even though we know some things will be different and require new adjustments, too.” 

“I’m excited too,” Johnson, the new principal who was just confirmed this summer, said with a big grin. The former assistant principal from Dunbar High School doesn’t just smile, he beams. “I know it’s going to be a wonderful year. We are offering a number of new after school clubs for students to join including robotics, chess and poetry.” The latter is a passion of Johnson’s, and he will be the club advisor. 

Almost all of the strict pandemic restrictions have been lifted, especially the required masks inside and on the outside grounds all day. “DC Public Schools is adamant that every student be vaccinated before being admitted,” Johnson said. “All that will be accounted for by the DCPS not the individual schools. Here, the one restriction will be to try to maintain social distancing of six feet in the hallways.” He pointed to footprint stencils the proper distance apart on the hallway floors. “And children who want to wear masks, of course, still can.” 

The day-long schedule has been changed as well. “My Italian classes will now be 90-minute sessions three days a week instead of shorter ones every day,” Chiara Monticelli told The Georgetowner. She has more than 120 students registered in her six classes. She has no desks nor chairs in her classroom. Everyone sits on the floor.  She teaches the language through conversation and sharing books, pictures, stories.  “Non capisco l’inglese,” she tells the students who from the first day are immersed in the language and culture.  Many students came up to give her hugs and big smiles. Monticelli was awarded D.C.’s World Language Teacher of the Year in 2021. “I’m just so glad I no longer have to try to teach another language with a mask on,” she said. 

A focus this year will be on the daily advisory groups that every student is assigned, according to Johnson and the charismatic assistant principal who asked to be identified as Miss Brady. About 20 students are in each informal discussion group led by teachers, staff and administrators. They can talk about their interests, activities, history and goings-on in Georgetown, Burleith and at the school and the like. Embedded in the advisory group concept is to build a place of trust. The core concern is bullying and students feeling safe. “We ask our students to identify at least one adult in the building whom you trust and to whom you can go personally for help at any time. It can be anyone. All the staff is trained to be friendly and able to help in incidents including bullying, discrimination and any inappropriate behavior. There are full-time trained social counselors, a psychologist and a nurse at the school, according to Brady. Access to enter the building has been tightened, and there continue to be on-site trained security personnel. 

“But nothing has come down to us from DCPS about gun violence protocols,” Johnson replied, when asked. Neither he nor Brady had been informed about live shooting drills or calling out “red flags” on social media. 

That concerned Georgetown-Burleith Advisory Neighborhood Advisory Commissioner Kishan Putta, who lives nearby. “I hear from parents who need assurances that the nightmare of Uvalde — where 19 children and two teachers were killed last June when dozens of armed police in the hallways refused to enter the classrooms — will not happen here. Putta has urged both the Metropolitan Police’s school safety division and DCPS to conduct town halls in the next two weeks to reassure parents that there are strict protocols in place to assure their children’s survival comes first in a sudden armed assault. “Bottom line is: will police risk their lives to save the children?” 

Other concerns about academics, kids catching up with pandemic losses, new support programs for students with various learning disabilities are being addressed. Still, more than 100 parents have signed a letter to Johnson and DCPS urging that the lack of an art teacher and a computer teacher at Hardy be addressed. Construction for an expanded sports field is also planned. 

D.C. public schools open to students on Aug. 29. Welcome, Hawks! 

 

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