The beginning of the school year has given us a great opportunity to get to know the students, both in person and via Zoom. The first two weeks we held socially distanced classes outdoors. The ones that were not able to join us in person were able to participate on Zoom, but it was nice to have so many of the students with us. We were able to go through some discussions with the students about the difficulties that online learning can pose and how we can work to avoid them. We’ve been incredibly proud of how well the students have adjusted to so many changes.
Our third week marked the switch to online learning. The students have all been given individualized schedules with times throughout the week when they will meet with each teacher in large groups, small groups, and one-on-one when needed. We will also try to do socially distanced walks with groups of students throughout the year.
Outside of class time, the students will be able to participate in weekly extracurricular opportunities like cooking or art classes hosted over Zoom as well as some outdoor exploration in small groups.
One of the most interesting projects this school year is the Out of Eden Walk which Ursina is teaching about in her classes. With a focus on slow journalism (which is centered around slowing down and making deeper connections), the Out of Eden Walk invites students to learn about the world around them in a more careful and meaningful way. The students also have independent projects to do, and many have already gotten started on those.
Although this year will be challenging, and though we may need to make alterations if plans don’t work out occasionally, we believe that this will still be a great year!
— Chris Abbott, Middle School teacher (One of our ECP teachers, adapting to teaching in the middle school this year)
Middle & High School PE
Physical Education teacher Neil Smith has 12 students this year. All meet online on Tuesdays and 11 of them meet for socially distanced in-person classes on Thursdays. For in-person class, so far he’s adapted frisbee-golf and created a lawn bowling-curling hybrid.
Perhaps the most exciting news from the high school this fall has been the departure of high school senior, Kobe Thompson, on his senior project: to swim the English Channel! Kobe travelled to the UK in the second week of September, where he has been getting acclimatized to the weather and the temperature of the water in preparation for his swim. Despite distance and time differences, Kobe has still been making it to class – even joining the American Century last week for our day-long Holocaust Retreat – an advantage of online learning. [Editor’s note: After much preparation and anticipation, and waiting for the Channel Swimming Association to give him the green light to start swimming, Kobe finally got in the water the morning of October 12. We’ve heard the initial report back that he didn’t finish the swim, but we’re so proud of his effort. We’ll be sharing more of Kobe’s story after he makes it back to the US.]
Both students and teachers certainly miss seeing each other in person, but we have also discovered some benefits of the virtual classroom. Jamie writes, “I love Zoom’s share screen function. In ‘Greek and Latin Roots’ in particular, typing notes in real time into a document on a shared screen seems to be more effective than writing on a classroom chalkboard. I also love the breakout rooms, which allow students to be very focused in pairs, compared to the openness and activity of a physical classroom.”
In 9th Grade English we are reading stories of social justice and personal empowerment. In Greek and Latin Roots we are learning about Oscar Wilde and the history of the word “art.” In Shakespeare we are identifying literary devices in Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Radio Theater we are learning to use the powerful audio editing tool, Audacity. In all of our classes we are discovering ways to use the internet to communicate and to build community.
In general, I am trying to approach the challenges of online instruction the way Maya Angelou advised we approach all things in life: “Not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style.”
Erica, too, has been pleased with the way things are going: “It IS absolutely more work, and keeping track of things requires a bit more finesse, but it’s challenged me to find different ways of engagement to reach the students. I think in the classroom setting, once something is explained, we might think it is sufficient and move on – now we are faced with the possibility that it doesn’t translate well via virtual learning…so it’s forced me to offer more examples and a multitude of different perspectives.”
Speaking for my social studies students, I have been delighted by how well they have adapted to our learning online. Discussions during our Holocaust Retreat were among the richest I remember and were preceded in the days before by some excellent presentations from student teams on The Brits During the Blitz; Children at War; Teens Fighting Back; A Day in the Life of the Leningrad Siege; and A Day in the Life of a Japanese POW. They produce these by working together in Breakout Room groups which, as Jamie mentioned, seem to provoke very focused and well thought-out work. This has also been evident among the seniors – several of whom are ready to present their project proposals to the High School community for their vote – way ahead of schedule.
We are all doing our best to compensate for the loss of face-to-face interaction. Teachers are meeting with students one-on-one, to support them academically – but also emotionally, creating spaces where people can just talk. And we are having some fun! Erica has recommenced our Wednesday evening Taskmaster contest on Discord, where a large Halloween party is also being planned for the afternoon of Friday, October 30th. The community is strong – and every high school student and teacher deserves credit for holding us together.
— Sallyann Murphey, High School teacher and senior advisor