As schools across the country adjust to distance learning formats to help combat the spread of COVID-19, challenges are met locally with creativity and flexibility. On March 16th, Brookwood School’s campus closed, and online Continuous Learning began the very next day.
The possibility of a campus closure is something that Brookwood has had in the works even before the COVID-19 outbreak. “Preparing for a Continuous Learning situation where all students and teachers would be working remotely is not something that happened overnight,” Josh Hanke, Brookwood’s Director of Instructional Technology, explained. “This is something that started six years ago when we moved to a 1:1 [Apple] program.”
The 1:1 program ensures that students in the fifth through twelfth grade have a Macbook, as well as Lower School students having access to an iPad.
Last month, faculty and staff gathered in person following the campus closure to finalize Continuous Learning plans and to practice in the new online environment before the school officially went virtual. Upper School math teacher Mark Humphries stated, “Hearing what other teachers are doing has really helped me out. I am also just trying things and seeing what works and what doesn't; a lot of trial and error. I am excited about the things I'm learning about presenting the material in new ways.”
For Dr. Jeremy Kasten, this circumstance has presented a chance for him to grow as a Spanish teacher and as an educator overall. “I have enjoyed the opportunity to create dynamic and innovative lessons; this experience has forced me to grow professionally, and I'm learning new things every day.” Virtual classrooms require teachers to get creative with their instruction, which led Kasten to employ the help of his Spanish-speaking friends to share recordings of themselves speaking about current events, like COVID-19, with his students. “The key for me is keeping the students engaged, making them enjoy learning Spanish, and giving them lots and lots of practice in Spanish!”
Since Brookwood’s student population ranges from Junior Kindergarten to 12th grade, Continuous Learning is not a ‘one size fits all’ lesson plan. For Lower School, virtual circle time, independent reading, journaling, and physical education exercises are some of the activities utilized. Second grade teacher Laurie Edwards said, “All of us have learned a great deal in the past few weeks. The children have not been afraid to try something new. I think learning style, drive, and experience impact the success of each learning environment.”
Kendra Burrus, Lower School Director of Instructional Technology, has appreciated seeing all of the students’ and teachers’ hard work come to fruition. She shared, “It has been exciting to have a bird's eye view of how well the students and teachers are doing with this transition. Our teachers have stepped up in a big way! Many had never participated in a group video chat before and began teaching their classes this way on the first day. Our students and teachers are gaining confidence each day.”
For Middle and Upper Schools, it involves meeting with students in real-time through Google Hangouts Meet for class discussion and even completing at-home workouts for those in PE and strength and conditioning classes. It also provides the opportunity for teachers to pre-record their lesson and allows students to view on their own and complete subsequent assignments. T.J. Thomas ‘24 appreciates the more free-form nature of Continuous Learning. He mentioned, “I like that I can take breaks and finish some work in advance.” While some like Beau Spence ‘26 look forward to the day when they can return to in-classroom learning, he recognizes that “the teachers have done
a lot of work to make it as easy as possible for us.” Spence went on to say that what he misses most about going to campus is seeing his friends and teachers.
This transition is also allowing the school to add new meaning to their ‘college prep’ label. Senior Kelley Richardson ‘20 remarked, “I definitely feel like this experience is preparing me for college. It takes a lot more responsibility to complete schoolwork on time and keep up with the daily assignments when we don't have teachers reminding us every day.” Junior Abby Lee ‘21 stated that, “it has taught me to come up with my own schedule to know what I have to do and when I should do it.”
In addition to changes for students and teachers, parents are having to adjust to the new learning environment as well. Many are adapting to a new work-from-home setting while simultaneously helping their children with schoolwork. Ashley Carugati, mother of Dominic Carugati ‘30, is focused on establishing a routine. “We are working very hard to keep a consistent routine from day to day,” Carugati elaborated. “We are also placing limits on his ‘fun’ devices to ensure that he does not lose focus on his schoolwork.” Mollie Cohen, mother of two Upper School students at Brookwood, said “We could not be more pleased with how quickly Continuous Learning was implemented and how smoothly it is going! The support from teachers and staff has been above and beyond. We’ve
had personal phone calls from teachers checking in, and I’ve seen my children laughing with their teachers and classmates.”
“The adaptability and perseverance of our faculty is truly inspiring, “ stated Dr. Randy Watts, Brookwood’s Headmaster. “They have done a masterful job of taking the Brookwood experience and putting it into a virtual environment. We are proud of the fact that our students are learning, connecting, and progressing despite the challenges in the world around us. We know that we will need to continue to responsively make refinements throughout this time. However, I am confident that we are moving in the right direction.”
Amidst all of the change, Brookwood strives to stay true to its mission of developing the whole child academically, physically, spiritually, and socially. Each day at 8:00 a.m., a devotion is sent out to the entire school community through email so that they all can begin the school day in a moment of reflection together.