FAQs About COVID-19 Answered by a School Leader
In mid-March 2020, Governor Wolf announced the closure of all PA schools due to the growing concern surrounding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) breakout. The Department of Education has been doing their part to help support and facilitate home-schooling, but right now, we’ve encountered more questions than there are answers.
To get an insider’s take on the new norm for our students, we connected with Mike Simpson, Head of School at The Stone Independent School, to help us answer a few frequently asked questions we’ve been hearing from both parents and students. Located in Downtown Lancaster on New Holland Ave, The Stone Independent School, or Stone for short, is a private high school committed to inspiring work that matters by connecting education to the real world. Believing in their students and developing their ability to choose are just two of their six primary guiding principles—each designed to help a student learn who they are and whom they will become.
Imagery provided by Fine Living Lancaster Magazine.
Will my child advance a grade year next Fall or be required to retake the year?
The short answer is: if your student wasn’t in danger of repeating the year before the recent shutdown, it’s highly unlikely that they might have to now. While most schools in Pennsylvania are governed by Act 80—that’s the 180 Day Rule—Governor Wolf made it clear when he first closed the Pennsylvania Public School system that he intended to waive Act 80 and provide schools with much-needed flexibility. In passing Senate Bill 751, Harrisburg made it official that, regardless of what happens next, no Pennsylvania school would be in a position where they would be obligated to extend the school year past June 30th (that’s the end of the fiscal year and an important deadline for many schools).
Senate Bill 751 also requires that school districts develop a plan to offer remote learning for all k-12 students—that means, despite the 180 Day Rule waiver, your student has not necessarily “completed” their school year. The Department of Education has requested all districts to post on their website their expectations for “online” learning. My advice is to check your school’s website and communicate with your district early and often!
My school is providing limited to no virtual learning options. What should I do?
It’s important to remember just how complex a proposition it is to move a school to a “virtual” learning model. It’s also important to remember that the larger the school, the greater the complexity. While we live in an internet-saturated world, not all students have access to internet-ready devices or have internet service at home. Some students may not even live in a municipality that is serviced by ISP’s. To pivot to “virtual,” schools need to support their entire community, they need a dynamic cloud-based Learning Management System (like Schoology, Canvas, or—here at Stone—Google Classroom), they need hardware infrastructure and a tech support team. Most importantly, they need the pedagogy to make it work. Pivoting to virtual doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean packing a Zoom meeting with students and teachers—it’s about incentivizing deep and rich learning in a brand new ecosystem, and that pivot takes time. This pivot demands that teachers across all schools almost immediately drop all of their planning, tools, technique, etc. and become entirely different teachers. It certainly isn’t impossible, but it’s a challenge with a steep learning curve.
That being said, the vast majority of schools in Pennsylvania either are or are about to roll out virtual learning plans. If you are looking to supplement those plans, you’re in luck! We live in an era where a near-infinite number of great (and free!) online learning opportunities already exist. Here at Stone, we lean heavily on the experts at Global Online Academy—GOA runs classes for students as well as for teachers and is deeply committed to designing best practices for rich online learning experiences. I’d also encourage families to look at Khan Academy and the Khan Academy Lab School, and when in doubt, explore YouTube. As it turns out, YouTube is about as good a resource as is imaginable for learning how to do just about anything!
I’m not a teacher. How do I maintain sanity in my home and make sure my child doesn’t fall behind?
My number one piece of advice for anyone teaching-from-home? Cut yourself a lot of slack! You probably aren’t a trained teacher, teaching is incredibly challenging even in the best of times, and most teachers I know feel the same way you do when they try to teach their own kids: it’s hard! So, forgive yourself, and remember: what’s hard for you is also hard for everyone else too (despite what all of your friends are posting on social media!). And remember too: we are living through unprecedented times. It’s probably the case that taking care of each other, expressing love for one another, and spending “good” time with each other is more important than, say, writing a book report on The Great Gatsby. As Jennie Weiner, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the Neag School of Education, recently wrote in the New York Times, “My kids are watching TV, playing video games and eating cookies. It’s fine.”
A different question might be something like, “What kinds of habits do I want to instill in my children while we are all living together for this extended time?” We all want our students to be curious, to love to learn, to solve problems, and to be healthy. At Stone, we talk a lot about putting “make-sense” boundaries in place at home.
A few boundaries we recommend include: be online exactly as much as is necessary and absolutely no more than that. Turn off screens 30 minutes before students go to sleep. Maintain normal and healthy sleep habits (most adolescents need between 8-10 hours of sleep). Count your steps, drink a lot of water and eat nutritionally. We also ask that, if necessary, our families “turn off” the internet at night to incentivize healthy habits.
What we’ve found after a few weeks of Learning-From-Home is that working on those habits while at home—remembering that this isn’t a “vacation,” it’s a shift in learning—has helped our students feel more connected to themselves and has helped them be more present and engaged in their teaching and learning practices.
Should I transfer my child’s enrollment to a PA Cyber School for the rest of the school year?
I wouldn’t advise transferring anywhere just for the sake of the remaining 50-60 days of the 2019-2020 school year. Transferring school has inherent challenges (especially when it comes to matching up credit hours), doing it twice in 60 days may have unintended consequences, and most learners can find interesting ways to learn and stay engaged until the end of May.
However, I encourage all learners everywhere to seek “fit.” When we reconvene schools, next Fall, I suspect there will be significant questions to ask about what school “should be” in the future. All the tenets of “traditional school,” (Standardized testing, traditional assessment models, AP and IB courses) have fallen by the wayside in this “new normal.” Across the country, schools are seeing the impact of distance learning on traditional learning paradigms. It is forcing schools to explore inquiry-based models, pass-fail and competency-based assessments, and context-based pedagogies for this time of real uncertainty. In fact, Forbes.com just published a great piece, “The Hard Reset,” that basically argues “school” will necessarily have to become more project-based, more competency-based, and more future-ready.
As the Head of School of a project-based, competency-based institution, I couldn’t be happier to hear this news!
The Jeremy Ganse Team is here to help. We, too, are parents of students or know of students who are asking these questions and are unsure of what is next. As we continue to update our COVID-19 FAQs page, we want to hear from you. What questions does your family have about the current global situation? Together, we can answer these questions and finish this academic year on a high note.