Education takes students wherever they want to go in life.
And during the COVID-19 pandemic, education for Stuart Hall School students is taking them into the world of virtual learning.
“We just completed our third week of remote learning, which we are officially calling ‘The World Is Our Campus,’” said Tanya Farrell, Stuart Hall School’s director of parent engagement in an email statement.
Stuart Hall has international students.
“We can report that students across the world are able to connect and communicate with their friends and engage in class. Students in quarantine camp in Vietnam, at home in Texas, and in remote areas of the Valley, are all finding ways to join their classmates and advisories in Zoom meetings,” Farrell said.
For middle and upper school students who are not able to join live because of time zone differences or Internet access challenges, Farrell said they are continuing to learn by accessing assignments posted on the school’s Renweb Learning Management System.
Farrell said that lower school students connect in Google Hangout Meets, and each homeroom class has daily face-to-face check-ins.
Teachers record the meetings so that parents and students can access information later at their convenience.
“We realize that many parents are working from home and it’s not always convenient to stop and help your child with school work in the middle of the day. These meetings are also staggered to accommodate families who may have multiple children in different grades at the Lower School,” Farrell said.
She added that many lower school teachers are extending virtual class time to allow students to catch up with their friends after class.
“It’s great fun to see the kids connecting in this way,” Farrell said.
At Stuart Hall, education goes beyond academics, so virtual physical education and Mindfulness classes are available to all students.
Jenn Bartley is a fifth-grade teacher at Stuart Hall and also a Stuart Hall parent. Her daughter, Lorelei, is a kindergartener at the private school in Staunton.
Bartley, who lives in Staunton, previously taught in public school in Rockingham County for nine years before coming to Stuart Hall three years ago.
“We actually were in a pretty good position, because we knew this was coming before spring break,” said Bartley of Gov. Ralph Northam closing schools for two weeks on March 13.
School staff had a meeting on March 11 and discussed preparing students to learn virtually for two or three weeks.
“Anything that would get us through until we got back to school,” Bartley said of the governor’s first order to close schools.
March 16 and 17 were development days for Stuart Hall teachers and staff.
“We put our heads together,” Bartley said and figured out what technology would enable teachers to teach their students online.
Google Classroom was an option that became a tool for teachers on March 18 when students virtually returned to learning.
“We went into it knowing that our Stuart Hall education is about the whole child,” Bartley said.
Virtual learning would focus on the whole child just as learning in the classroom at Stuart Hall.
Academics are not all that encompass a Stuart Hall education, however, teachers wanted to keep their students strong in academics.
For her daughter, Bartley said that Lorelei participates in 30 minutes a day of academics as a kindergarten student at Stuart Hall.
With her students, Bartley holds 45-minute meetings which focus on math and reading “to kind of make sure we maintain some normalcy for the kids.”
Some grade levels meet one-on-one with their students, Bartley said, but she is able to meet with her 18 fifth graders via Google Classroom.
Assignments for the day are posted by 9 a.m.
Bartley said she has heard a quote that applies perfectly to the situation: “We provide, you decide.”
“We’re giving them the essential skills they need,” she said. Each student can decide what to do with the skills.
Occasionally, an art teacher, physical education teacher, music teacher or librarian will join the class’s Google session.
“So it feels like we’re still a community, and that was really important to us,” Bartley said.
Teachers also keep regular office hours and are accessible to their students virtually.
Bartley said that virtual teaching is giving her and other teachers at Stuart Hall the opportunity to have more one-on-one time with students.
The situation is strengthening the Stuart Hall community.
“We’re actually getting in the kids’ homes,’ she said.
Bartley’s students already had Chromebooks in her classroom, but going virtual did present a few challenges in the beginning.
“We had to work out some [technology] kinks at first,” she said.
Stuart Hall administration has told teachers and students, according to Bartley, not to stress about virtual teaching and learning.
“It’s like things never stopped — [learning is] just coming from home,” Bartley said.
Stuart Hall’s academic year began on August 22, and will end on May 22.
Bartley said that teachers and staff are considering a four-day school week. New material would not be presented on Wednesdays, so that students would have that day each week for projects and virtual field trips.
Upper School teacher Robert Schuster, who lives in Charlottesville, taught remotely as a part-time teacher before coming to Stuart Hall in fall 2016.
“So I’m kind of used to doing this sort of,” said Schuster.
He said the transition to digital teaching has been relatively smooth for himself and his 52 students who are freshmen, juniors and seniors.
Schuster teachers AP Literature and Senior Composition classes, and conducts classes with Zoom, sometimes with students as a class, sometimes one-on-one, depending on his students’ needs.
“The big one is just that every student has a different learning style,” Schuster said of the challenges of digital teaching.
Some of his students have made the transition to digital learning easily, but for some learning digitally is not so easy.
Schuster said for students who struggled in the classroom setting, they may be more successful with digital learning, and vice versa.
“Everybody’s putting in a lot of effort to make it work,” he said.
Digital teaching has a benefit of more one-on-one time with his students, Schuster said.
“You can customize and tailor the class to one student,” but customizing in the classroom setting to one student is difficult.
Another benefit that digital teaching and learning has brought Stuart Hall students, according to Schuster, is that they are able to have school at all.
Continuing their education is providing the students and parents structure they would normally have during the academic year and tasks to occupy their time.
“In an ideal world, we’d be in school,” Schuster said, but Stuart Hall must consider the importance of safety right now.
Schuster said he is “glad our school and other schools have put the systems in place” for students to learn from home during the pandemic.