On Friday morning, Chef Dave Luscher was setting up his kitchen to cook for a smaller group than the normal crowd of students and staff at Springdale Preparatory Academy in New Windsor. That day it was just a handful of essential staff and faculty still in the building and a video camera.
While the students are learning from home as part of social distancing measures meant to slow the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, Luscher’s cooking classes are one of the extracurricular activities the school is offering its students online.
As the public school system in Carroll County rushes to find equitable ways to teach 25,000 students from a distance, many area private schools have already gotten started, able to move more quickly with their smaller sizes and for some, already established technology infrastructure.
Springdale Prep students began online learning March 18.
Deputy Head of School Lorraine Fulton was eager to share her pride over students and staff. Their effort “demonstrates school spirit and ability to carry on when they have challenges,” she said.
The school has 67 students across all grade levels, about 30 of whom are are boarding students from all over the United States and the U.S. Virgin islands.
One of the first steps in planning was to figure out how to send boarding students home without causing financial burden to families, said Erin Holden, associate dean of academics and instruction.
Part of keeping a structured environment was writing an adjusted honor code for an online environment and having each teacher draft their own “classroom” expectations. Attendance is still taken and there is even Saturday school if a discipline issue arises.
“We have been accountable to them and they have been accountable to us,” Fulton said.
In addition to academic curriculum, students are also beginning online extracurriculars like the cooking lessons, book club, jazz music and strength training. Students will soon be able to register for a 10-day course for preparing for the SAT and PSAT.
Fulton was excited the first time she got to drop in on a virtual class and see students’ faces.
“It makes you realize how we’re all connected,” she said. “I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. ... As a small school, we have fewer obstacles to overcome to make this positive initiative a reality, but we’ve done it and I just want to share it.”
Administrators from Springdale attended the National Ossification of Independant Schools conference in late Febuary where they started using resources there to make COVID-19 plans. Emergency preparations began the first week of March and before dismissing students on March 15, the school held training session for students to let them know what was coming with virtual learning. Alongside academics, the school’s tutor is also offering services.
“We’ve gotten incredible feedback, which I wasn’t expecting,” Holden said. She expected more communication about problems, and while there have been hiccups, she said, “overwhelmingly its been positive.”
The school uses Google cloud services to hand out and turn in work, and makes use of both Google platforms and Zoom for video communication with the classes.
Kirsten Milne, who teaches 9-11th grade science classes, said her main concern is “making as many resources available to students as possible,” from lectures to books.
As a physics and chemistry teacher, her classes have not yet had to miss any scheduled labs, but as distance learning continues, she has identified interactive virtual labs and video labs.
She predicts that for some students, learning online might even be more familiar to the way their tech-savvy generation is used to interacting with information. With the nation focused on remote work and learning, companies are putting out new online resources “hourly.”
She has also tried to provide structure, and requires that students are getting up on time for classes. Teachers have freedom to chose how to conduct classes, but many in the middle school level, especially, are making face-to-face video connection mandatory, and some are setting standards for sitting upright during class or maintaining a level of proper dress code. For high school students, many have more freedom as long as they are checking in and chatting regularly.
The school is approaching a two-week spring break and will return to classes April 15. Before April 24, administration will reevaluate whether to return to school or continue online instruction.
“This is a whole new world for us, just as it is for evetybody,” Fulton said.
Carroll Christian School
The Westminster kindergarten through high school facility started its distance learning program March 16, immediately after Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement of public school closures.
They started with work packets for students through a drive-thru system for picking up and turning in work. Meanwhile, technology staff began setting up students and staff for virtual classroom learning, which began March 23.
Teachers teach video lectures just as they would in person, and students watch from home. Teachers can add video links and supplemental resources as needed. Then there are group sessions for discussion and further instruction.
“We are offering digital format for tests and quizzes, etc., when we can,” Principal Matthew Reisberg said. “Obviously, some of these things help elementary and some are more beneficial for secondary. We try to use what works best for each group.”
He recognized the Teach Team who worked hard to put structure in place and train staff members.
“It has gone very well,” he said. “The staff has done well to learn new things and to implement them and the students have done great at applying themselves and learning. ... We just miss having the kids physically with us."
Mount Airy Christian Academy
Mount Airy Christian Academy began distance learning March 18 after two days away from school that were counted like inclement weather days.
About 310 students attend the school across all grade levels, preschool through 12th grade.
Head of School Vicky Webster said the first thing they set out to do was to “calm everyone’s fears to let them know that we were prepared and that we were in this together.”
“Our team began the day in prayer and we reflected on all the ways that God went before us to prepare us for this new season at MACA,” she told families in a video message.
Two administrators happened to have been working on graduate- and doctoral-level work related to distance learning and they were ready to help with the transition.
Students at the high school level already had been provided with Chromebook laptops as part of tuition and students at all levels have some familiarity with computers in the classroom.
Hoping to keep things positive, for their first day of virtual learning, they held a “first day” photo contest on social media, and participants were entered in to win a gift card to a local restaurant.
Each day, first thing in the morning, students receive a video from teachers for each of their subjects and notes on what assignments to complete for the day.
“It’s important to us that that relationship continue as much as possible,” Webster said in an interview Friday.
On a class-by-class basis, teachers have set up times when students might be able to video chat for help, and teachers are responsive to email. They hope to provide structure and continuity, she said.
But at the same time, they wanted a model where students did not have to be doing their classwork at a set time, to help families where multiple students may be sharing one computer.
‘We try to be understanding of families’ schedule as well — we respect that not everyone can do a ‘regular’ schedule" she said. But they want to make the option available for those who prefer a set daily routine.
The weekly chapel for students is being filmed also, and families are encouraged to share in it with their children.
Kristen Furr, director of marketing and a parent of a student at the school, said that quick continuity from in-person to online learning was comforting to her as a parent. “It just took one less worry off the parents’ plate,” she said.
The school plans to hold its Easter break from classes as scheduled and because only two days of instruction were missed, plans for the last day of school to stay on schedule.
This model means long hours for teachers, Webster said, as they work to prepare videos for class. For their students, “these teachers are heroes,” she said. “They are shining out bright in a difficult time.”
The all-grade school in Finksburg has been keeping families informed about their education continuity plan with updates online and messages from President John Polasko.
Remote educational opportunities have been put in place for lower, middle and upper school students and include academic classes as well as special areas. Division heads at the school are holding video conference meetings with parents to update them while the school remains closed to in-person learning, at least through April 24.
A school administrator could not be reached for comment on this story.
North Carroll Community School
The Westminster school, which teaches about 105 students across grade levels, is prepared to start distance learning on Monday, March 30 with a focus on teacher created content. Teachers are working on preparing video lessens and interactive games to teach concepts.
In the two-week gap between schools closing and the formal start of teaching online, teachers connected with students virtually “for that social piece and keeping that community piece intact,” said Administrator Sam Havighurst.
They’re also focusing on creating structure by establishing virtual “office hours” for teachers, in the form of an hour set aside daily for web-chatting with families, and designated email hours from 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
They understand that some parents may need flexibility with those hours, particularly in uncertain times for many industries, and are prepared to be flexible, Havighurst said.
To prepare for distance learning, the school’s learning support specialist led the charge to help staff and students transition online. All middle school students already had a device provided by the school. And because the school uses an online portal extensively for day-to-day interaction with families, they had already addressed connectivity for the most part with all families, he said.
Overall, he said, “It’s a lot of new for everybody.”
The Montessori School of Westminster
Head of School Jodi Lupco said in an email, that The Montessori School of Westminster has endured many challneges since its founding in 1974. “This pandemic is one more challenge that will go into the history books.”
Friday, March 13 kindergarten through eighth grade students went home with paper and pencil work for two weeks. Parents of younger students aged two to four received some digital activities. Monday, march 30, they moved learning online.
“Our youngest students will be able to view recorded lessons, songs, and stories read by their teachers with their parents. The parents will also have access to an online digital file with a variety of activities to do with their children. Elementary and Middle school students will be engaging in live and recorded lessons each day as well as having access to digital assignments using a combination of Office 365 and Zoom,” Lupco said.
They are also encouraging families to value the daily tasks and chores of life at home such as cleaning and spending time outside because “Montessori pedagogy has a strong commitment to practical life skills and the environment," she said.
“We recognize that many of our parents are working from home now and managing distance learning with their child will be a learning process. It is important to us that we give our parents the flexibility to create a schedule that works for their entire family. We have a wonderful school community filled with parents and staff that are working together to stay connected while physically being apart!,” she said.
Carroll Lutheran School
Principal Mandy Gilbart said Friday, March 13 was their last day of in-person instruction, and they worked hard to get students everything they would need to for their first two weeks away from the school. For most this meant pencil and paper work and activities on educational websites they were already familiar with from class. The school provided Chromebooks for families who needed devices.
During those two weeks, Gilbart and the staff were “all hands on deck” as they prepared to start learning via Google Classroom on March 30, where students will be expected to check in daily, complete assignments and meet for chat or video discussions.
The staff met for video meetings and helped each other become more familiar with the Google classrooms platform, making sure assignments were showing up or videos were posting correctly. In the meantime, the school was in daily contact with families, keeping track of how students were feeling and making sure they had WiFi and other resources. The school has about 65 students and 21 staff total.
The expectation is not that students will be working eight hours a day constantly like they were in school. Gilbart said their message is enrichment activities like outdoor exercise, arts and crafts, cooking and other activities are important for kid’s a physical and mental health.
Her goal when addressing families through a series of videos has been to “really factual but really uplifting and encouraging,” she said. She doesn’t share hypotheticals, only actions she knew the school would take. She hopes the message to students was “it’s going to be OK, they are loved, we have your back ... and reminding them that our school community is still a community.”