The district’s theme is “#MahwahConnects.” And connecting was a central focus for Principal John Pascale well before COVID-19 struck. But now that it is here, and everyone is adjusting to a new normal that resembles nothing like the traditional school house, providing a sense of connection back to his school building became goal number one.
Principal Pascale knew he could continue to communicate with the students through normal avenues such as using video Screencastify, which are still ongoing. And he knew he could continue to communicate with his staff through his school-wide text message system. But realizing communicating was different than connecting, Pascale went straight back to that district theme “#MahwahConnects” and started thinking outside of the box….and outside of his comfort zone!
From his Instagram live “How to Make Mozzarella,” to pretending to ride Disney’s Seven Dwarf Mine train while encouraging everyone to “find their happy place,” and my personal favorite: dressing in winter gear, holding a snow shovel, and standing next to a giant snowman while singing a quarantine version of Frozen’s “Do you want to build a Snowman?” Pascale acknowledged he is not a singer and even questioned how well his post would be received. Turns out there was no cause for concern about the reception — the entire school community looks forward to his always positive, always morale-boosting, and always entertaining messages.
He isn’t keeping all the fun to himself, though, as he finds new and creative ways to incorporate different areas of school life into his posts. He borrowed a saxophone from his daughter and quickly learned “Hot Cross Buns” as a way to connect with his performing arts students. The focus of his outreach varies depending on the week and what is going on. A recent video message was a communication to his graduating seniors and their families seeking input for alternatives to graduation if a traditional ceremony is prohibited. He said the goal of every post is to keep the school community together through a human connection. “I just want them to feel that sense of community and support with me and our dedicated staff,” Pascale said.
Connecting with high school students can be a challenge under the best of circumstances. Reaching and connecting with them during an unprecedented life-changing pandemic and giving them a sense of normalcy, comfort, and relatedness is a very special accomplishment achieved only through extraordinary hard work. Pascale noted that he had recently reshared a Rita Pierson TED Talk “Every Kid Needs a Champion” with his faculty members to help boost their spirits. Principal Pascale, you are indeed that champion.
Principal John P. Pascale is the Principal at Mahwah High School in Mahwah, NJ. You can find the posts referenced here and more on the district’s Instagram: mahwahhs