At an emergency morning meeting on March 13, head of high school Brooke Wells announces that due to the spread of COVID-19, all classes will go online at least through Friday, April 3, when spring break begins. (Photo by Larkin Barnard-Bahn)

Country Day suspends in-person classes as precaution

On March 13 at 10 a.m., head of school Lee Thomsen and head of high school Brooke Wells announced Country Day will suspend in-person classes beginning Monday, March 16, as a precautionary measure against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

In an email on March 13, Thomsen stated remote learning will commence on Wednesday, March 18, and end Friday, April 3, followed by spring break. After the three-week period, the school will consult health professionals again and determine what to do next, he said. 

All school events, Thomsen said, should be considered canceled or postponed through spring break, which ends April 13. 

In addition, all sports events through spring break have been postponed indefinitely, according to athletic director Matt Vargo.  

Thomsen said the school’s decision was influenced by the 17 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sacramento County and 198 in California, as well as consultation with the Sacramento County Health Department. 

“The advice from health professionals suggested that if the virus hasn’t already hit someone in our community yet, it will soon,” Thomsen said. 

Thomsen added the school originally planned to close only if a member of the community was confirmed to be infected, but after Thomsen talked to other heads of school, his opinion changed. 

“I felt like the morally right thing to do was for us to follow what appears to be the best medical advice: isolation in order to flatten the curve,” he said. 

According to Thomsen, flattening the curve of infection means fewer people are getting hit at the same time, so adequate treatment is available for all. 

“We might still have a lot of people who are affected, but they’ll be affected over a longer period of time, so it’s easier to treat them,” he said. 

Wells agreed.

“We ultimately felt it was time for us to make our own decision and not wait for someone else,” Wells said.

On March 13, Country Day faculty met to prepare for remote learning in the next several weeks.

Many teachers said they plan to utilize CavNet or other websites to facilitate their teaching.

English teacher Jason Hinojosa said he will use CavNet’s discussion board to mimic class discussions, but he added discussions will still be impacted by the transition to remote learning. 

“The in-person nature of classes is pretty essential to a discussion of literature,” he said. “Online discussions are, in my view, less vibrant, less vast and a little bit less engaging.”

However, Hinojosa also said discussions via a CavNet discussion board may benefit students who process information more slowly. 

“It can be easier for students to process at their own pace,” he said. 

Furthermore, Hinojosa said online discussions leave a permanent record of everything that was discussed, so he can reference them during class. 

Hinojosa normally requires paper copies of students’ essays along with a copy submitted on Turnitin, an online plagiarism detection service, but will now solely utilize Turnitin. 

“I’m sad that some of the cool things about being in-person will be lost, but I’m also looking forward to some of the pluses of doing this online,” he said.

Latin teacher Brian Billings said that his class likely will not be greatly affected, as his schedule for March consists largely of review.  

Thus, he’ll send out incremental lessons via email or post them on CavNet, starting at the beginning of the year and ending with the last lessons. 

“It’s a good opportunity to review and see stuff in a different way,” Billings said. 

Computer science teacher Fred Jaravata said he has studied remote learning and is not worried about its implementation in his classes.

“I personally probably can do it really well,” he said. “Remote learning is a great tool, but you need to keep it simple, make sure the learning continues and not get caught up in the technology,” he said.

Jaravata said his classes will continue using the Google Suite, especially Google Classroom and Docs, as well as the coding website He said he will also introduce CavNet for assignments. 

Jaravata’s high school students are working on creating an app as part of their AP Computer Science Principles Create Task. Since Jaravata cannot give his students information beyond the instructions and advice as part of the College Board requirements, he said he is not concerned.

“There are guidelines, and I can show them examples,” he said.

Jaravata also said he plans to utilize Zoom or Google Hangouts for video conferencing. 

He’s not the only teacher using video software: Hinojosa said video software such as Google Hangout or Zoom may work well for one-on-one conferences with students, though he wouldn’t use it for an entire class. 

History teacher Bill Crabb agreed. 

“I’m thinking about videos, but I’ve never seen that work in terms of having everyone participate,” he said. 

Instead, Crabb said he may organize smaller video chats, between two or three students, to still facilitate discussion. 

“Hanging out with each other and sharing perspectives and ideas — I want that,” he said. “I’m not concerned, but it’s hard to beat classroom discussions and the dynamic that we will miss out on.” 

To complement discussions, Hinojosa added he may utilize YouTube, iMovie, QuickTime Player or a voice recording over a PowerPoint presentation to create short videos for his students and post them on CavNet.

Crabb also said his teaching will be facilitated by access to documentaries, videos and articles to supplement a digital textbook.  

Chemistry teacher Victoria Conner said she can still conduct experiments.

“There are a lot of good simulations and videos online that could definitely be helpful, so I’ll be letting students know where those are and how to use them,” she said. 

Furthermore, her worksheets and quizzes can be done online.

Billings said his past experience with remote learning gives him faith in his plan.

“I’ve done this with people when I used to teach summer school,” he said. “I would send them packets through the mail and correspond via email to answer questions, so I know in a basic sense it will work.”

However, some teachers said they anticipate problems. 

Crabb said many high school students will adapt well to the transition, but he fears procrastination may become an issue.

“I wish we had time to prepare students more,” he said. “Being late on a couple homework assignments is no big deal, but (class) is all homework now, so if you don’t do it that day, it snowballs into something really big.”

“A lot of it will have to do with being really clear in communication about expectations and making sure students are not falling through the cracks.” 

“We’re all going to have to be flexible,” Conner said. “Communication is going to be key, and we’re going to take it one day at a time.” 

Vargo said he is uncertain about the spring season. 

“It’s had an impact on sports across the world,” he said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the future. It’s happening at such a rapid pace that it’s hard to keep up with.”

Check back on March 17 for stories detailing the effects of COVID-19’s spread on students and alumni.

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