Distance Learning Begins

It is hard to put into words what has happened over the last several weeks in New York City and around the world.  The new coronavirus, COVID-19, has wreaked such havoc on our lives, and we seem to be at the tip of the iceberg.  At times like these, it seems wise to focus on things we can control.  And although we are physically apart, the St. Bernard’s community has pulled together in amazing ways over the last several weeks to support our boys.

In early March, the school began to plan for the possibility of ‘distance learning’ in the event St. Bernard’s had to close.  This was unchartered territory for most of the faculty, and the idea of teaching the boys through a computer seemed very strange.  We began to discuss all things Google and adopted the lexicon of this new world with such phrases as asynchronous learning and Zoombombing.
Over a socially distant spring break, the faculty worked tirelessly to transfer their curriculum to a remote model.  Teachers, scattered across the country, met over Google Meet to exchange ideas.  The technology department worked around the clock.  The most tech savvy teachers amongst us helped the rest to get up to speed (thank you Mr. Landesman!).  There was a very collegial aspect to this and when school resumed on March 31, our voyage into teaching and learning remotely began. 
Many families have both parents working full time from home and looking after small children at the same time.  We realize that homeschool for younger boys requires adult participation, and so their learning plan strives to be accommodating to the various challenges families are facing.  The older boys are sticking to the same schedule they have had since September.  Some classes may be a live session over Google Meet or Zoom, while others are individual work.  Boys are spread out across many time zones; one family is in Hong Kong and a boy in Hawaii is waking up at 2:30 a.m. to meet his class.  Below is an example of an Upper School day:
Wake up! Get ready for the day.
Check email. Fill out the Virtual Assembly Form. Check Google Classroom. Check St. Bernard’s homework portal. Create a “To-Do” list for the day.
Academic Time. Watch a science video featuring Ms. Dreux.
Recess! (Or just have snack)
Academic Time: Complete one paragraph of​ Of Mice and Men essay.
Academic Time: Google Meet math class
Advisory on Google Meet
Academic Time: Record video of French poetry recitation and send it to Madame.
Academic Time: Complete reading questions for Critical Reading
P.E.: Online Workout with Coaches
Check assignments and send them to teachers. Set up a one-on-one session with Mr. Clements for Latin help.
In addition to their teachers, there are many other sources of support for a St. Bernard’s boy, and these resources are now more important than ever.   The school counselors, Dr. Kahn and Mr. Rodriguez, are working with boys through virtual sessions.  Nurse Porter has office hours and is holding eight meditation sessions a week over Zoom.  Our learning specialists, Ms. Lee and Mr. Smith, are working one on one with their students and are available to everyone needing an extra hand adjusting to distance learning.  An online library called SORA has become very popular with all ages.  The coaches have created a virtual P.E. curriculum, and there are several after-school LAP classes taking place online. 
The first few days had the expected ups and downs, and we are learning as we go. Highlights of the week included seeing the division heads make their own videos on YouTube.  The enthusiasm of the boys to connect with one another and their teachers over a computer is what was most remarkable.  They are a resilient group and should be commended on their patient perseverance last week.
We know the boys miss seeing their friends, so we are thinking of ways to keep them connected.  We are nostalgic for the little things that complete a St. Bernard’s week.  A trial run of a virtual lunch table will take place Tuesday (who will do scrape and rag?).  And on the 17th, we will try an all school Friday assembly, complete with Mr. Risinger on the piano.  Mr. Clements’s eighth grade class is anxious to hand off the alligator to the class with the neatest bedrooms.
In a letter sent on St. Patrick’s Day, Mr. Johnson ended with this: “We may be scattered for a while, but we'll stay together, thanks to the dedication of our teachers and staff, the wonders of technology, and the support of our families, who help make this community so special.”
On to week two!