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Friday, May 22, 2020

Educators Taking Action

Fourth grader Max Nelson (and his dog) celebrate Pacelli’s Virtual Spirit Week.

By Mary Casey-Sturk
Photos provided by the schools

Editor’s Note: While a number of both public and private schools were invited to participate in this article, the following are those who provided responses. We acknowledge and thank all educators whose priority has been to develop and execute - in a short span of time - solid plans for their school communities during the crisis resulting from the recent virus outbreak.


In March, our community, the United States and much of the world had our “normal” turned upside down as COVID-19 (Coronavirus) spread. Most of us were asked initially to stay at home and practice social distancing to stop the spread of the disease.

As the situation progressed, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued the statewide Stay at Home order. Schools were closed and education moved online, while organizations, businesses and restaurants closed or severely altered operations. At schools, cafeterias were closed, custodians worked on projects and administrative staff and teachers worked from home.

Hyde Park Living reached out to local educators to discuss with them the fast changes they made to accommodate and protect students and staff.

Marta Runnels, Director of Admissions and Marketing at St. Ursula Villa, shared the school’s initial statement on the crisis:

“St. Ursula Villa administration and teachers are committed to delivering high-quality academic instruction and educational content during our government-mandated closure. As a preschool through Junior High school, we are implementing various methods of instruction to manage the different learning needs and styles based on our students’ wide age range.

Villa teachers utilize age-appropriate educational platforms including See Saw, RenWeb (our parent/school portal) and Office 365. Teachers post videos and academic work and assignments for online learning as well as email and regularly check in to monitor student progress. Teachers and parents maintain close communication to evaluate and refine instructional processes and procedures

“St. Ursula Villa is striving to maintain our strong school community connection during these very challenging and uncertain times as well as support our students, parents, and faculty. As a school, we are keeping communications strong and open, providing educational resources and support to students and parents, and praying for the health and safety of our families, employees, and larger community.”

Terri Cento, Principal of Cardinal Pacelli School, shared what her school did to prepare for online classes. “Two weeks prior to the governor's order to shut down schools, I spoke with my faculty on beginning to put together lessons that would be good on-line Distance Learning. I am so grateful that they listened to me. Currently, our teachers and students in grades 5 - 8 use Google Classroom. Almost all of their assignments and submissions go through this platform.

From "Crazy Hat, Hair and Sock Day" of Cardinal Pacelli's Virtual Spirit Week, here is first grader Josie Hines. 

“We are a One-to-One Technology school and our students have technology available daily. Students in grades 5-8 have either laptops or chromebooks they use throughout the school day in every class. Our students in the lower grades have computer instruction, where they have become quite proficient in the use of the internet. Students in grades K-4 have a little more of a traditional approach with not as much internet, but had packets of work to complete along with learning links provided from the teacher's websites.”

While extracurricular activities at Cardinal Pacelli School are on hold, they’ve found a way to keep the students engaged, Cento explained, “Unfortunately, extracurricular activities have ceased with the social distancing invoked to keep the [virus] spread low. However, our students are social beings with access to devices. They have found numerous ways to interact with each other without being together.”

These plans included a Virtual Spirit Week, where students posted photos on the school’s facebook page. They celebrated, shared and stayed in touch by wearing the Panther Pride items, crazy hair/hat/sock day, Wacky Wednesday, favorite sports team day and pajama day.

Nancy Berlier, Communications Director at The Summit Country Day School, shared how the school’s team prepared for online classes. “Before the governor closed schools, the school’s Senior Leadership Team had anticipated this might happen and was already discussing a remote learning strategy. Dr. Kirstin McEachern Ph.D., Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs, thoroughly researched remote learning models and wrote a comprehensive plan for training teachers how to carry out remote learning in a way that is effective and practical.

Dr. Kirstin McEachern Ph.D., Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs at The Summit Country Day School presents an overview of a detailed remote learning model to faculty on March 13, the last day The Summit held classes before the school closed.
“Technology Director Holly Northern developed a remote learning technology infrastructure, so faculty could access extensive online learning tools and meet virtually with each other and with students. The remote learning plan was presented on Friday, March 13, to all faculty and staff before school closed, and the basic technology infrastructure was in place by Monday, March 16. We asked our students to spend the week of March 16 getting caught up on previously assigned work while teachers spent that time training and preparing on-line lesson plans and videos.”

On how fast the teachers were able to pull this together, Berlier says, “Our faculty is extremely experienced and had been updating and revising curriculum for the past four years to include new standards for diversity, equity and inclusion; character-based leadership and creative problem-solving in mapping software that assures the fine points of the curriculum are being taught and assessed.

“So the faculty has already been deeply involved in innovative curricular improvements and working in new technologies. In a meeting with all faculty and staff on Friday, March 13 - the last day we had classes on campus - we presented an overview of the remote learning plan and how we would continue the business operations of the school.

“Teachers spent the week of March 16 training in technology, developing remote learning lesson plans and working virtually in teams. Many of them came to school to collect materials and have small group meetings, while carefully observing social distancing practices.

“Dr. McEachern leads the Education Team, which includes Montessori Director Kathy Scott, Lower and Middle School Director Mike Johnson and Upper School Director Kelly Cronin. While teachers were training, the Education Team met daily to focus on teaching and ensure we cover the basic education standards for each grade during the remainder of the year. Academic Directors continue to be in touch with their teachers daily to assess what is working and what is not so adjustments can be made.”

“We are very particular about who we hire,” said Head of School, Rich Wilson. “They must be highly skilled and committed to helping the children we serve. Those high standards are clearly paying off in a crisis like this. Our parents have been pleased at how quickly, smoothly, and expertly we were able to move to remote learning. It’s critical that student learning keep pace, despite these challenging circumstances, so our students are prepared for the work coming their way in the fall at the next grade level.”

Regarding challenges with the sudden changes, Berlier says, “We are concerned about the challenges of maintaining relationships with our children and each other while learning and working remotely. All of our faculty are virtually holding at least two office hours daily for student and parent help and support. Our three dedicated counselors are available to talk to parents and students. Various faculty and administrators are meeting weekly using virtual communication methods.

“We are also sensitive to households with multiple children and households which do not have enough computers for multiple children to use at home, so we are making efforts to meet the needs at home. Teachers, academic specialists and intervention specialists are in close contact with children with learning challenges.”

Saint Ursula Academy’s Vice President of Communications, Jill Cahill, shared how their school prepared. “Saint Ursula is already a well-established One-to-One Laptop school, so all of the structure was already in place to take things offline. Our leadership team, faculty and staff all worked together to make it a smooth transition to Distance Learning. This has given Saint Ursula students an edge.

Caroline and Kathryn Schulte, sophomores at Saint Ursula Academy study hard from their Mt. Lookout home.

“While we are not together physically, SUA is holding live online classes, and our one-to-one program has put us at the front of the pack on Distance Learning. Daily, there are recorded ‘announcements’ and our daily opening prayer before class check-in. Students are checking in to their first class each day at 10 a.m. online.

“After taking attendance, many SUA educators are teaching their classes live, and students are able to ask questions about the material during the lesson. Teachers are also available after class time for students to get help through a virtual ‘face-to-face’ meeting. SUA worked to secure dependable wi-fi for every student who did not already have a good connection, with the help of Spectrum Free Student Wi-Fi and digital hotspots.

The SUA concert choir class as seen on Google Hangouts. The SUA chapel is superimposed behind them as they work from home. 

“Our teachers have stepped up to the challenge to keep their lessons engaging and learning moving forward, despite the challenges of not being on campus. During her live lesson, one of our teachers, Ms. Jennings, actually superimposed the girls' faces over a photo of the Saint Ursula Chapel, where their choir class would normally meet. We are so proud to be part of a community that is creatively working to give the students the best academic experience possible during this time.”

The schools Hyde Park Living spoke to represent only a small portion of the schools in our community and throughout the world that are changing the way students learn for everyone’s health, and we are grateful for the time they gave us in March to share their experiences.

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