From Think Force to Continuous Remote Learning Success

By Norma Richman

“I think that this year is far better than last year. It might have been because teachers had much more time to prepare; it might have been because students have the experience, but I think that it is better this year because we all knew what worked and what didn’t work last year. We patched up the places that needed fixing and continued to do the things that worked well.”—Thomas M., grade 8.

Head of School Gary Stern describes the moment when Continuous Remote LearningCRL— was born: “Last spring, even though it felt like it was on the fly, the sudden dive into Continuous Remote Learning offered an opportunity for re-imagining what we could accomplish; it was that necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention moment.” The Think Force 2020 debuted in July with a community Zoom featuring videos, charts, and PowerPoints. With Mr. Stern at the helm—pardon the pun—teachers and administrators aimed to anticipate every conceivable concern that parents and children might have in order to create a successful experience for all.  While curricular plans were on everyone’s minds, it soon became clear that the social-emotional impact of CRL would be the controlling factor at all grade levels.

“In the greater community, High Point has become well known for having one of the most effective and successful CRL programs,” says Stern. It is recognized that the faculty, along with the administration, contributed to that conclusion. Seasoned instructors partnered with savvy techies whose language IS technology, and with quality control and constant reviews, High Point moved ahead with confidence in the process. The scaffolding that began last spring gave way to a comprehensive infrastructure, drawing from time-tested curriculum materials and recognizing the physical and psychological challenges for children as well as teachers to create the best of both worlds.

Those considerations, while demanding, proved their value when the kudos and thanks began rolling in: parents and students alike expressed appreciation for the hard work of High Point staff and administration. So what builds success? Feedback tells the story.

“This moment with my daughter reminded me that even though school looks different, the most valuable parts remain: connection, guidance, structure, support, and most importantly, presence. Our teachers are there every day for the kids. We are very lucky.”Colleen Zeiss, 8th Grade Dean, Jr. High English teacher, High Point parent.

Colleen Zeiss credits numerous parents with driving the dialogue: “It is always helpful to receive encouraging words from parents. We have heard from so many parents in this way. . . [They] have also communicated the stress level some kids are feeling, which reminds us to focus on the social emotional components of lesson planning.”

A parent of an eighth grader also reminds us all that even in this time of virtual learning, graduation from junior high is an important landmark: “Thanks for taking the time to speak to us tonight about the HS admissions process,” she wrote Zeiss, “We are grateful to have your guidance . . .”

As a High Point parent herself, Zeiss added her own perspective in a note to the administration. “I want to take a moment to say thank you (as a parent) for your tireless work over the past six months. As educational leaders, we were handed a near-impossible task. Somehow, you made the impossible possible: creating an engaging and connected learning community that our kids can count on.” She continued, “I had the opportunity to speak with some second-grade parents yesterday (outside with masks). They are overwhelmingly impressed and grateful for the structure and programming we are offering. I know it was a tough sell, but it is working.”

“I am ending with this picture that I took of my daughter Beatrice. It was right after her art class with Mr. Davis. She pretended to give her own imaginary ‘students’ an art lesson. This really struck me. I love observing these moments because it gives me insight into their experiences in the classroom, and particularly what they value (as they imitate).”

Mrs. Becky Lievense, fourth grader teacher, received this note from a parent: “I just wanted to let you know that the year has kicked off to a great start. You are doing a fantastic and enthusiastic job. I also wanted to let you know that I think [the school is] doing a great job keeping us posted on the issue of the waivers.”

Another parent also offered praise and encouragement for two of High Point’s sixth grade teachers: “Mrs. Nguyen and Ms. Chang, you have been nothing short of great with daily curriculum, Zoom lessons, and communicating with the kids and parents. The on-line learning seems to be working REALLY WELL for my daughter, so kudos to the teachers and administration for getting that up and working. She’s focused and learning and I am able to get things done, too.”

 “These notes have encouraged me to continue teaching the whole child, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically. It is important that students feel heard and understand their learning environment, so that they may connect with the curriculum. I’m grateful that admin and families agree!”—Becky Lievense, fourth grade teacher.

While it’s clear that teachers appreciate parental support, Kris Haines, Assistant Head of School, posed a question for the teachers themselves: How has remote learning changed the way students respond to your teaching? Jennette Neville, High Point’s librarian observed that students are still making connections with stories and some are becoming more vocal because they feel safer in this forum—an important lesson for teachers. “Even on Zoom, story time is still met with great enthusiasm and excitement. Now more than ever the kids are hungry for connection and stimulation. I am so impressed with how adaptable the kids are and how supportive the parents have been. [As instructors] we are teaching new platforms and giving kids access to resources they’ve never had before (like e-books, audio books, and curbside checkout from our library). They are eager to navigate it all and take full advantage of what the library can offer during remote learning.”

Ann Collard, High Point’s Spanish teacher, mentioned that because students are home, it is easier for them to gather materials and act out stories in Spanish. “Any new vocabulary we learn, we use it to get them talking about themselves. Traditionally they have brought pictures of their pets, families, etc. to school. Now they are sitting in their rooms so it is pretty fun that they can share their pets, their favorite trophy, their stuffed animal.” She continues, “I spent a lot of time researching ways to effectively engage and instruct in this virtual setting and it felt like the parents really appreciated the effort that I was putting in to making their child’s virtual learning experience the best that it could be. This pushed me to continue to spend hours creating Nearpod slideshows, record instructional videos, find and implement alternative projects and assessments, and sustain enthusiasm for instructing remotely.”

“At the beginning of the school year I was nervous to start 8th grade online. I didn’t know what the schedules would be like, I wanted to see my friends, and I didn’t know if I would do well. When school started I slowly became less nervous because I knew everyone was having the same feelings. After week one, I started to get the hang of it. My schedule seemed easier and I became better friends with other people in my cohort. The teachers offered great help and support to me as well and I felt way better.”—Cate G., eighth grade student.

The student stakeholders at High Point had a lot to add to the assessment. Cate G. found that “A pleasant surprise with CRL is that we have smaller classes now. I like that because teachers have more time to answer questions from students. I also like that we don’t have class every day, it’s a nice break from working constantly. . . [and] my teachers have been doing a lot to make class fun and engaging. Personally, I’m a visual learner, so this helps me do better on my work.”

Abby S., another eighth grade student, summed up her experience this way: “I know it may seem hard to believe, but there were actually some perks to CRL. The first one for me was that I got to spend more time with my family and my dog. This was very nice for me because with my busy schedule I usually can’t see them very often.”

In considering Continuous Remote Learning, Head of School Gary Stern was also surprised to see the degree to which students still felt connected to teachers and peers. He credits the tailoring of the program to meet the needs of the different grade levels for much of this connection. “For younger grades, it was important to clarify and simplify and to limit the number of different platforms. Pacing had to be different and so did assessment. Breakout rooms were instrumental not only in gauging how kids were doing but in making the best connection with students. This was a big job for teachers to orchestrate.” For all grades Morning Meetings, game days, virtual talent shows—those community building activities—pulled children in, and for junior high, a regular schedule also provided stability and familiarity.

As High Point teachers and administrators prepare for in-person learning in the coming months, their hard work, combined with new expertise and the awareness of the vital social emotional component, gives them the confidence to succeed. Continuous Remote Learning only adds to the quality education that will result in prepared graduates, no matter the ups and downs of our nation’s circumstances, and the sequential learning process and scope of teaching materials assure that uneven years do not mean unequal opportunities for the children

To learn more about High Point Academy’s Continuous Remote Learning Programs, please read the following pamphlets created for parents.

Jr. High Continuous Remote Learning Overview

K-6 Continuous Remote Learning Overview

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