Although concerns over the spread of coronavirus have caused hindrance in normal activities for many families, the Lawler household is trying to get back to normal life as spring break ended this week.
“We’re in the first week. And I try to think what it is going to be like next week or the week after,” said mother-of-four Kristin Lawler. “But right now, this new norm is, while odd, going well.”
All family members wake up like usual. Breakfast gets served. And everyone gets dressed and ready to start the workday.
Then the children head out to school – without leaving the house.
Two of Lawler’s children go to All Saints’ Episcopal School of Fort Worth, whose doors to attain education are still open, albeit virtually.
All Saints’ Episcopal School of Fort Worth shifted all courses online from Monday, March 16, likely one of the first schools in North Texas to do so amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
As other educational institutes across Texas are either pondering or implementing similar plans, the 1,081 students enrolled at the All Saints’ are continuing their school year.
“I’m surprised with how smooth it has been for my family,” said Lawler, who is also a middle school History teacher at the school. “I credit the school’s administration for being on top of things and kind of planning ahead. I can see that reflected in what my kids are doing.”
On March 12, the school had announced an extended closure of its 147-acre campus. The school’s faculty then mobilized to discuss potential actions. They decided to modify learning plans and quickly pivoted to deliver a virtual environment for teaching.
Online learning and the use of technology was already highly integrated into most coursework at All Saints’.
“From an internal process standpoint, we have been preparing for a scenario such as this for several years and we are excited to flex our creativity to support our students,” said Becky Grimmer, All Saints’ CFO.
Though early, so far, the results have been positive.
“Academically speaking, these first two days have far exceeded expectations,” said Wallace Worden, the school’s upper school division head. “Faculty have launched engaging content with students at a high level, and for many, this is a continuation of leveraging a lot of digital tools that have been in use for a while.”
Teachers are utilizing virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts to hold classes and give presentations and lectures. Students can hold discussions or collaborate amongst peers and teachers through Google Docs.
Students are recording their pieces and sharing with the faculty for feedback as part of their music classes. P.E. coaches have demanded students to remain active and climb flights of stairs at home. Art students are taking virtual field trips to international and local art museums, like the Museum of Modern Art to sharpen their knowledge.
The online learning differs from class to class. Some teachers are holding asynchronous classes, a type of continual setting where activities are happening throughout the day. Others do synchronous classes by setting aside a block of time for one particular class, similar to a traditional classroom routine in school.
Joe Ferrara, an upper school science teacher, is doing both. Earlier in his AP biology class, Ferrara made students dig out soil samples from around their house. They had to feel and analyze the soil textures, come back to the online session and discuss what they found. Ferrara then described the science behind it all.
“This is an opportunity for us to practice and enhance the skills we might have to use more,” Ferrara said. “The world’s changing all the time. The country might love this work from home thing. It might be so much more efficient that companies move to that. These kiddos will then say, ‘when I was a senior in high school, I spent three weeks at home doing high-level work, all online.'”
The school is communicating with parents almost on a daily basis. Division Heads will formally check in with faculty and families weekly, and more frequently as needed.
Ferrara, who teaches about 65 students, said the focus right now is in providing students the highest quality of education.
“A lot is on the students’ plates right now,” Ferrara said. “So, we’re trying to make this experience as familiar as possible.”
Fort Worth ISD has extended spring break for its schools for at least two weeks, as it works on providing online learning as well.
Other school districts are also expected to roll out remote learning in the next few weeks.
“We have the benefit of, we got computers in the home. I’ve got resources,” Lawler said. “There are thousands of families out there who just don’t have those same resources.”