State of the School 11/6/20: Hybrid Learning Update

November 5, 2020 | Thomas Postema

Head of School Tom Postema updates the community on plans for distance learning after Christmas break and what is happening around school.


Hello Mustard Seed School Community,

The Leadership Team and I have spent significant time during our last few meetings looking at data and weighing our options for the return from Christmas break. We have decided that the safest option is to return from Christmas break on January 5 in a distance learning model. We will distance learn for two weeks and return to on-site instruction on Tuesday, January 19th. This will enable everyone who travels or spends time gathering with family and friends to quarantine for two weeks at the end of Christmas break. 

I am communicating this news right away so that you have plenty of time to plan. I know that for some of you, this decision will impact your childcare plans. For some this is a burden. We do not take that lightly. For some of you, this is a relief. It is our hope that by giving time for quarantine, we will be able to avoid any potential COVID-19 spread in our community. It is our hope that once we resume on-site learning, we will be able to continue learning on-site and avoid a longer time of distance learning in the future. 

I am asking each one of you to adhere to state and local mandates. If you travel to a state on the NJ quarantine list, please return by January 5th and quarantine. It is of utmost importance that we protect each other as a community. I’m going to say it again: when you make your plans for Christmas break, please be home by January 5th if you travel to a place where you need to quarantine or if you have been in a situation where you could have been exposed.

Switching to distance learning for two weeks after break was a difficult decision, and, as we looked at the pros and cons of each option, we acknowledged that there was no perfect decision. But as we watch the numbers of cases rise, the approach of cold & flu season, and as we consider the mental health of our students, parents, faculty, & staff, we felt that this was the decision that we needed to make. We have asked our staff to refrain from travel over Thanksgiving. We felt that it would be a hardship to ask everyone to refrain from travel over Christmas break. And, to give you a preview:  it is likely that we will ask you not to travel over Easter break. 

The program directors and I are confident that we are well prepared for this plan. Our teachers are ready and capable of making the switch to distance learning. Most of our students have experience with at least partial distance learning from the hybrid model. Our technology is in place. We’re in a much stronger position than we were last March when we transitioned to distance learning over a weekend. Thank you for your patience and flexibility. 

While COVID decisions take an inordinate amount of time, there are many exciting and educational things happening at school. We really miss having you in the building to see them firsthand. I hope that at least highlighting some helps you to feel a little more connected!

It’s the time of year when our eighth grade students are applying to high school. Students have been meeting each week with Ms. Sanders, our Director of Admissions and High School Guidance. They have been writing essays, creating portfolios, and taking standardized tests. Teachers are helping students prepare and are writing letters of recommendation. It is quite a challenge to apply to high school during this time and I want to applaud the work of our eighth grade students and teachers. They are showing us what it means to be resilient!

The Middle School team has compiled all of the Middle School curriculum information into one, beautifully designed document. This document is a work in progress. We’ll be adding to it and refining it in the coming weeks and months. It is a fantastic overview of the program. I’m linking it in my email. Middle School parents received it last week, but I encourage preschool and Lower School parents to take a look and see what’s ahead for your child.

Seventh and eighth grade students are working on their first exhibition of the year: the Music Exhibition. They are creating audiobooks of fables in a digital audio workstation, Soundtrap.  In addition to reading the fable, they are adding sound effects and composing preludes, interludes, and postludes. 

Kindergarten students are wrapping up their baby food collection for the In Jesus’ Name food pantry. You can still send in baby food between now and next Wednesday.  Kindergarten students have been counting and sorting baby food. And learning the joy of serving others. Now the preschool begins their work collecting baby cereal and toddler snacks to supplement the kindergarten’s efforts.  Sixth grade is getting ready to launch a week-long service project  to raise money for meals at the Hoboken Shelter right before Thanksgiving break. They are also preparing the Thanksgiving Celebration.

The kindergarten and lower school classes have taken hikes around Hoboken to connect with nature, to explore the world beyond our walls, and to enjoy a shared community-building adventure.  

The early childhood families have been invited to connect with the classrooms through the Seesaw Family app so that they can see students’ work in real time and take a peek into the students’ life at school.  

The weather has turned into, well, frosty November weather. Please remember that we’re keeping the windows open at school for ventilation. Last week, we gave our students, faculty, and staff Mustard Seed School warm fleece-lined hats. We hope that these help keep them warm inside and outside. Additionally, we recommend that students keep an extra sweatshirt or sweater at school for layering. Don’t forget to put your child’s name in the hat or any item of clothing you send to keep in the classroom.

For the month of November, we are celebrating the lives of saints during worship. Dr. Smith recently reminded us of Pope Francis’ definition of a saint. He says, “The saints are men and women who have joy in their hearts and spread it to others.” 

Today, I’m focusing on the joy that I have in my heart. The joy of being a part of a community with you and your children. A community under God that is present to each other during times of struggle and times of celebration. A community that learns together and cares for one another. 

I imagine us surrounded by the cloud of witnesses that Paul talks about in Hebrews. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

I pray that today you are able to run with perseverance the race that is set before you. May you have joy in your heart. 

Bye for now.

Thomas Postema

Head of School

Mr. Postema was the Head of School from Fall 2011 to Spring 2021, when he retired.

An educator for over 35 years, Mr. Postema taught math and was a school administrator at international schools in Japan and South Korea, as well as schools in the USA (New Jersey and Alaska). He taught at Mustard Seed from 1989-1991 when Mr. Cuervo and Mr. Johnson were MSS students!

As Head of School, Mr. Postema successfully led the school through the NJAIS accreditation process and the Together for Tomorrow endowment campaign, which raised over $3M to benefit MSS students. Mr. Postema loves to tell the Mustard Seed story and continues to be passionate about the mission even in his retirement.

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