The 2020-21 school year continues with uncertainty as schools face sudden closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We started the year in distance learning, which was covered in Part I of this blog series. We successfully moved to in-person instruction five days per week for our PreK-2 students and a hybrid model for our grade 3-9 students where they are on campus five consecutive school days and then home for distance learning five days.
Yet, we are always prepared to “flip the switch” for a move from fully in-person and hybrid to an all distance learning model. Our readiness can be proven by the thoughtful planning and implementation of our schedules and curriculum. Robert Runyon (Director of Academic Programs) explains more in detail how our staff excels in this realm, families are supported, and students are set-up for success.
How do you ensure the success of distance learning, specifically for your students and their parents?
In order for distance learning to work, we need to be clear-eyed in what we do. That comes from proactive communication, observation, and feedback. We constantly discuss how our practice is proceeding, and are not afraid to be flexible if something is clearly not working.
For distance learning to be more successful for our parents, we’ve revised our schedule to have a more natural flow to it. One example demonstrating this is the way we aim to reduce the number of times a younger student needs to log on and off, middle and high school students online time is optimized.
We are tuned into the fact that our community has many dual-working households and therefore offer support during distance learning including virtual student and parent hours, as well as assistance from our Student Affairs team of Deans and a dedicated School Counselor.
What has been your take on the adaptation of BASIS Independent Manhattan teachers to distance learning?
I’ve been beyond impressed with our teachers. They have found inventive ways to keep their lessons engaging while collaborating with their co-teachers to deliver differentiated instruction even in virtual classrooms. Our teachers continue to find new tools that enhance our online platforms and then lead professional development sessions to share that knowledge with one another. Our teachers are brilliant, and the work they’ve been doing during this trying time keeps me inspired.
How do you maintain academic integrity with such a rigorous curriculum in a distance learning environment?
That was one of our big questions going into this year as all educators face this challenge. To us, the issue comes down to both understanding and opportunity.
First, we want to make sure our students know exactly what it means to be academically honest. There were a couple of cases of students who pasted in work from another source, and simply offered the explanation, “I put it in there because I agreed with it.” The students didn’t fully understand what plagiarism was, and immediately were recalcitrant once they had learned what they had actually done.
That’s why we sent out a contract to our families this year that demonstrates the many forms of academic honesty and dishonesty. Parents and students were asked to read through it together and then sign it. The contract is carried out in school as teachers adjust how they instruct and assign work to students, adding more focus on open-ended work and writing responses rather than multiple choice.
What advice do you have for parents as they embark on a year of distance and/or hybrid learning?
My advice is to be patient, communicative, and understanding. Parents during this time have gotten a window into their children’s education that they have, for the most part, never had before. The learning process for a child is not a smooth incline – it happens in fits and starts. It’s important to have patience as your child works through a topic.
Furthermore, parent communication is instrumental, as both teachers and administration use that feedback to fine-tune our distance learning plans. The last piece, understanding, is self-evident. So much has happened since the start of the pandemic, and it has touched every one of our lives in a variety of ways. Understanding and giving each other the benefit of the doubt is going to be key for our entire school community in order for our students to be successful.
If we all could put on rose-colored glasses for a minute, what do you see at the conclusion of this academic year?
I see opportunity. I know it’s silly to say something like that given the way the world is. Students are going to be able to express themselves in ways that we never thought possible even a year ago. That’s a big deal! We are living through history, and I’m confident in our school’s ability to guide our students through this unprecedented time and provide opportunities to understand their place in the world. Most importantly, though, I anticipate our students being able to progress through our rigorous academic curriculum with the support they need to succeed.
If you would like to learn more about our program, you are invited to attend one of our upcoming information sessions.