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Classrooms Go Virtual During Time Away from Campus

As Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School—and the rest of the world—navigates the new territory of exclusive online learning, quarantines and physical distancing, division leaders have implemented a variety of measures to continue the school’s mission, provide instruction for students and include some normalcy in daily life and work. 

In Primary School, Principal Greg Kaiser starts each day with morning announcements over the PA system. He has recrafted that time as a live Zoom call at 8:30 a.m. where parents and students can see Mr. Kaiser for daily announcements, prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance. He also mentions students that he “sees” in the Magic Mirror based on comments that teachers send him about students being kind or helpful or doing good deeds. Now, parents are emailing Mr. Kaiser the comments so he can include them in the Zoom calls. 

“When Primary teachers looked at how we tackle remote learning for our youngest students, we talked about what would be most effective and what we wanted to get out of it,” Mr. Kaiser said. “A sense of routine, consistency and connection were the words we talked about the most.” 

Primary teachers hold a morning meeting with their classes on Zoom so that they can see each other and touch base. They are sending assignments for parents to work on with their children at home and making videos in Flipgrid to share with students. Some assignments request for students to create a Flipgrid video to send back to teachers. For now, teachers do not plan to introduce new material but will review and reinforce concepts the classes were already working on. 

“As challenging as it is, this time is forcing us to take some steps outside of our comfort zone,” Mr. Kaiser said. “Teachers have even found some new tools that they want to take back to their classrooms when we return to campus.” 

Lower School teachers also are using Flipgrid and are holding classes on Zoom. Science teacher Amanda McGehee, who is studying water with second grades, recently assigned students to design a house at the bottom of a hill. Learning about slope, gravity, waterproofing and absorbent materials, students had to design a house that would not flood, explain it in Flipgrid and send it back to Ms. McGehee. 

Upper School Principal Manning Weir, who normally reads morning announcements over the PA system, has been sending morning emails instead. He includes students’ birthdays, schedule changes and helpful hints. The Upper School even held Spirit Week with different dress for each day; students were able to admire each other’s outfits virtually. 

Upper School students are participating in their classes using Zoom with four classes per day, breaks between class periods, a lunch break and a testing period at the end of the day. Classes meet Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday was recently designated an independent work day to allow students to catch up on homework and contact teachers if they need assistance. Lower School and Middle School also implemented the change on Wednesdays, which has worked well overall.

“I call it a catch-up day where students can catch up on work, exercise, sleep or whatever they need to do,” Maureen Danzig, seventh-grade dean, said. “It gives kids a mental break and gives teachers a chance to meet with their teams and with students. Wednesday is definitely working for the Middle School.”

Teachers typically hold Wednesday office hours on Zoom where students can drop in to ask questions or get help; students may also schedule one-on-one time with teachers if needed. Sometimes students just need to talk and see the familiar face of their teacher. 

“Their feelings count and they need to be heard,” Ms. Danzig said. 

In Zoom, students can still have class discussions and interact with each other. Danzig has even invited mystery guests to her classes. Tyler Grant, Middle School and Upper School band director, recently popped in to offer suggestions for music that connected with the book “Refugee” that they are reading in English class. 

“It was a fun surprise and a great way to switch things up,” Ms. Danzig said. 

“I can’t walk around and check on everyone, but we can use the Zoom time to be more succinct,” Patrick Allegra, world languages department chair, said. 

He and his colleagues check in with each other several times per day and are available to students outside of scheduled class time as well. For example, Mr. Allegra has offered a 9:30 p.m. “office hour” via Zoom after his own children are in bed. He regularly emails with his students, as he often does on campus. 

“I see them and we still connect and laugh,” he said. 

Principals and teachers continue to modify the online learning system as they determine what is working well and what needs adjustments while all look forward to returning to campus in the future.