The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted lives across the globe. Before California issued the stay-at-home order, La Jolla Country Day School took proactive measures to close the campus. The last day of in-person classes was on Friday, March 13, 2020, and all in-person events, including plays, performances, games and practices were canceled.
The school implemented a Professional Growth Day for faculty on Monday, March 16. On Tuesday, March 17, LJCDS conducted a practice e-learning day. Faculty and staff worked quickly to prevent as little disruption in the continuity of learning as possible. The faculty modified their lesson plans, altered their teaching process and adopted new technologies. The IT department prepared the technology infrastructure that would support some 1,120 students and 200 faculty and staff members learning and working from home. The operations team deep cleaned and disinfected the entire school. The annual fundraiser, Blue Bash, scheduled for March 14, went virtual with great success. Parent/guardian gatherings and coffees went online.
With a commitment to providing a high-quality learning experience, LJCDS’s distance learning curriculum remains student-centered, rich, active and challenging. As is the case when implementing a new system, a lot was learned that first week of e-learning. Based on the feedback from students and parents/guardians, the LJCDS academic team made ongoing adjustments to improve and enhance the learning experience.
“It’s hard to improve what we don’t understand, thus, the e-learning practice day was critical to our success,” shares Colleen O’Boyle, assistant head of school for academic affairs. “We know that the current schedule isn’t perfect, but this hasn’t stopped us from improving, asking questions, and focusing on how feedback from all stakeholders can enhance the overall experience.”
The core and the foundation that has been building yearlong proved to support the virtual space. “What we’re finding is that those core instructional practices that work really well for us in the physical environment are being translated into the virtual environment,” shares Payton Hobbs, head of Lower School. “Our educators know the students as individuals and how they learn, and they differentiate their instructions to meet the specific needs of each student.”
As it became clear that distance learning would last longer than a couple of weeks, the school created a new schedule to accommodate e-learning better. The heads of all three divisions collaborated, and based on feedback from the community, created grade-level appropriate schedules that balanced screentime with offline assignments and exercises. On synchronous days students and teachers interact virtually with each other in real-time. On asynchronous days students work independently or with peers.
The new schedule also introduced a later start time, which was well-received by all grade levels (and parents/guardians). Lower School is asynchronous on Fridays. Instead of the seven-day block schedule for Middle and Upper Schoolers, the new simplified Monday through Friday schedule synchronized academic block times and featured Wednesdays as an independent learning day. Lower Schoolers begin their day with morning meetings and Middle Schoolers are in advisory. Upper Schoolers have advisory and Flex Times built into their week. Breaks occur multiple times a day, allowing another opportunity to be offline. Set office hours allow students to meet with teachers before and after school and during free periods.
In this challenging time, LJCDS educators continue to model how to successfully adapt to a rapidly changing world by exhibiting a growth mindset. They reinvented the ways they taught instantly in the best interest of their students.
Zoom is part of the nation’s vocabulary now, but with so many technology options available, teachers are working together to support one another more than ever.
Middle School world language teacher Laura del Moral picked up a variety of online educational resources over the years during professional growth conferences. Her comfort level with using tools like Pear Deck, EDpuzzle, Quizlet and Kahoot allowed her to help others at LJCDS and across the country.
In addition to new technology, faculty are determining how to maximize learning as they balance synchronous and asynchronous days to make every moment on-screen with the students more impactful. “It’s definitely made me more aware of how to use time more wisely,” explains Andy D’Avanzo, Middle School math educator. “I’m thinking about how I facilitate their growth while being flexible and adaptable to make sure that I’m not giving myself any barriers to doing the best that I can.”
The online resources like interactive Google Slides and Pear Deck allow students to share their work and get immediate feedback. Zoom breakout rooms and Kahoot bring students together in smaller groups to collaborate despite their physical distance.
Other teachers have learned how to make and edit quality teaching videos. Science teachers found opportunities for students to conduct labs at home or simulation labs (for the more dangerous labs).
Here are some ways that departments have adapted:
School Counselors (LJCDS Wellness Team) are holding virtual parent education to provide resources and consultation regarding the social, emotional and behavioral functioning of students, and are offering one-on-one virtual sessions with students.
Athletics: PE classes are continuing for all LJCDS students with PE teachers conducting Zoom lessons. Coaches are helping their players stay positive, stay in shape by sharing workout videos and links to drills or resources, and staying connected with virtual meetings.
Arts: The Middle Schoolers will adapt Treasure Island from the stage to podcast format. Every student will perform their own scene and produce it before it is shared with the community. Lower School is using Google Music Labs apps, and Upper School has access to online sites such as SmartMusic, kaDON and MuseScore.
Many teachers are connecting students to the world and leveraging the stay-at-home-order by scheduling guest speakers whose schedule would typically be filled months or years in advance. Guest speakers are traditionally a regular occurrence at LJCDS and an essential part of LJCDS’s promise of offering resources and mentors. Now, with not having to coordinate travel time and the convenience of logging onto Zoom, new opportunities have opened up. In the last month, LJCDS virtually welcomed a professor from a prestigious university in Mexico City, the chief of staff of FEMA District IX, a software engineer from Microsoft, the CEO of BlueNalu and more.
The yearbook staff included a spread about COVID-19 in the yearbook and were recognized by the Student Press Law Center. In the arts, students are using photography to document their perspective on quarantine life. More than 40 Upper School innovation technology students were challenged to focus on problems related to this new experience and identify novel solutions.
“Philosophically, we believe that’s what students should be doing rather than taking someone else’s design and making a small tweak to it,” shares director of Design & Innovation Dan Lenzen. “We want them to create new ideas. We’re putting our faith in our students’ ability to have an impact in the longer term. There may be parts of this quarantine life that will exist for years to come, and students can make impactful work.”
Relationship-Centered and Social/Emotional
What each child and each family are experiencing varies from person to person and can change from day to day or hour to hour. Student well-being is a priority at LJCDS and the school remains committed to supporting the mental health and wellness of all students during this unprecedented and difficult time.
Educators in all divisions and departments conduct group check-ins and one-on-ones with students. On Zoom, teachers use anonymous polls to get an emotional pulse check on their classes. Students may rate how they’re feeling on a scale of 1 to 5, or for Lower School students, they can express their feelings using weather icons—rainbow, sunshine, cloud, rain or thunder.
To foster connection and infuse joy, educators are incorporating creative and fun non-academic-related group activities like a treasure hunt for items in students’ homes or show and tell. Upper Schoolers played virtual bingo and participated in virtual spirit week. Middle Schoolers enjoy voting for the funniest virtual Zoom background or bringing a pet (real or stuffed) to advisory. Lower School still holds Flag Assemblies on Fridays for community time and planned a Torreys Got Talent show for May. Arts teachers recorded TikTok blinding lights dance challenge and PE teachers recorded a favorite song for the youngest Torreys.
Faculty and staff are showing up for each other as well. “Wellness Wednesdays” and “Fitness Fridays” internal emails filled with resources are sent by the wellness team and athletics department, respectively.
As the school prepares for what comes next and what the “new normal” will bring, the LJCDS community will emerge from this pandemic stronger together.
“Over the past several months, we learned that there is no shortage of goodness, kindness and dignity at our school,” shares Dr. Gary Krahn, head of school. “The pandemic was not the catalyst to create a community; rather, it provided the time for us to appreciate the community that we have. The heart of a community is made up of the care, rapport and connection that we have for one another that transcends distance.”