Students “returned” to their classrooms from kitchens, bedrooms, basements and backyards in a complete shift from in-person to online classes. These are unprecedented times for all of us. This sudden change could have been more disruptive and daunting for families who value our challenging academics, individualized learning and close-knit community, but because Barstow has a unique ability to respond rapidly to change, we were prepared for continuous learning in a way few other schools could be.
We already had a technology team and tools in place for every division level, a faculty able to adapt with ease — plus a decade of experience delivering instruction online. We already knew how to deliver education differently for the benefit of every student. We just needed to expand our platform. Here are four ways Barstow implemented online classes, using the same 21st century skills we instill in our students:
COLLABORATION AND PROBLEM SOLVING
A few days before our scheduled spring break, Barstow’s “rapid response team” made the decision to close campus. During that time, we expanded our continuous learning plan already in place for snow days or other unexpected closures. We took into consideration students’ academic needs and abilities, their access to technology and their health and well-being during a time of disruption. Our faculty shared interactive apps and trained each other to use them, our technology team hosted Zoom meetings to help teachers become comfortable with new ways to deliver meaningful content, division directors and administrators collaborated on assessment, testing and homework processes. We worked together to anticipate academic, technological and social-emotional challenges, always putting our students and families first. As a fully-accredited independent school, Barstow maintains the authority to offer our own brand of innovative, flexible and forward-looking instruction that responds to changing times and changing methods.
TECHNOLOGY EXPERIENCE AND SUPPORT
From the outset, our years of technology preparation and practice became one of our biggest advantages in launching fully online classes. Our technology team started hosting weekly trainings for faculty nearly 15 years ago and rolled out one of the region’s first 1:1 technology programs in 2003. In the past five years, our mandate has been technology integration and support in every grade and every classroom. Teachers set and met yearly technology goals, which prepared them for the rapid learning curve of daily online classes.
Our team includes a director of technology, professional development instructors, integration specialists in every division and a technical services staff. This team quickly developed and expanded our online learning platforms. The team installed additional apps on lower and middle school iPads, managed settings to ensure that students at every level had access to age-appropriate materials and worked with faculty and families to solve problems with home connectivity. Our teachers tell us they feel more confident in their environments each day and our students are actively attending classes. We’ve also built in flexibility that allows students to attend classes by watching recorded lessons, because we recognize that every family’s schedule is different and evolving during this time. Years of practice and preparation have given us the ability to make technological adjustments with immediacy, so that we can provide education without interruption.
CLEAR, CONTINUOUS COMMUNICATION
Parents are our partners, whether we are on campus or online. Our leadership team and Board of Trustees committed to clear, consistent and frequent communication with our school community. That means providing the right information at the right time in the right format to meet our families’ needs and expectations.
Our decisions are subject to change in response to local, state and federal guidelines for social distancing and campus closures, so sharing information in a consistent and timely manner is a priority. First, we created a COVID-19 Resource and Information page on our website and update it daily. We maintain our regular schedule of weekly communications and add emails “From the President” as needed. Division-specific information, online instructions and links to technical support are hosted on password-protected resource boards. Weekly virtual Town Halls provide a forum to answer parents’ questions and give them the opportunity to experience the Zoom environment that their children now use. Division directors also hosted virtual academic information meetings prior to our online launch.
Our next steps include reaching out to prospective families with the information they need as they make important decisions about their children’s future. This will include virtual Open Houses and tours, virtual meetings with our admissions team and videos that clearly illustrate the value of a Barstow education.
DEDICATION TO OUR MISSION
Finally, we resolved to stay true to our mission, since 1884, “to provide sound scholarship and to give symmetrical development of mind, body and character.” We made the decision to maintain our challenging curriculum and to offer classes that are meaningful, engaging and personalized. At the same time, we are also being deliberate about assigning less homework, being more flexible and offering more care, compassion and support than ever before. We purposefully built schedules to allow students time to interact with their teachers — and to step away from their screens. Our school counselor is providing resources for mindfulness, stress and anxiety reduction and information for parents to help their children navigate this new environment.
We have always delivered education differently at The Barstow School; for now, our method has shifted from face-to-face to virtual, but this in no way alters our mission and our commitment to the families we serve.