Following the suspension of in-person classes on March 13 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, students conducted classwork from home on their own schedule through spring break. Beginning April 14, however, Country Day added synchronous classes via Zoom with different levels of oversight for lower, middle and high school students.

Now, students dial into their classes at specific times each week, but less often than at school, creating a balance of an asynchronous and synchronous schedule, according to head of high school Brooke Wells.

For self-motivated students, the transition to online instruction has been seamless; they’re able to complete assignments and work ahead.

But for students who struggle with motivation or meet often with teachers individually, the transition hasn’t been as smooth.

According to history department chair Chris Kuipers, the transition in his AP classes has been “straightforward” by continuing with the textbook reading and shared lecture notes. But in lab sciences, the curriculum has changed drastically, according to science department chair Kellie Whited.

On April 24, head of school Lee Thomsen announced that Country Day plans to continue with remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Many local schools already had canceled on-campus classes for the rest of the semester.

For juniors and/or aspiring collegiate athletes, the mass cancellation of national testing and sporting competitions has serious implications.

All the AP exams set to take place in May have been reduced to 45-minute open-internet tests taken from home with a five-minute upload window. SAT and ACT exams in the spring have been shifted to the summer and fall, shortening juniors’ window to raise their scores before applying to college as early as October.

The continuing gravity of COVID-19 also forced end-of-year events  such as the auction, prom and high school graduation to be altered.

Seniors had been looking forward to a lighter schedule in their spring semester as they prepare for college in the fall. Now, seniors must make their college decisions without the opportunity to visit campuses and get a sense for the culture of the student body. Yes, there have been a multitude of virtual tours, Q&A’s and admitted-student gatherings online, but ask anyone — it’s not the same.

Whichever way you slice it, COVID-19 has affected people globally in unfathomable ways. While we can complain as high school students about how tough our situation is, we need to understand the bigger picture. It’s important to recognize and be grateful for the people on the front lines who are risking their lives for us every day, including members of the County Day community.

Here are a few quick suggestions for teachers that could assist students and enhance finished work.

If possible, set a clear schedule of the week’s assignments starting on Monday. Many teachers already do this, but if students know what’s coming throughout the week, it’s easier for them to self-govern while retaining valuable time-management skills they can take with them to college.

Also, create more opportunities for self-reflection or feedback to make synchronous classes more effective and enjoyable.

Lastly, for senior seminars, try to create an interactive environment in which this year’s class can learn from Country Day alumni about how they became the people they are today.

For example, Sarah Gaither, ’03, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, spoke at Country Day last year and challenged students’ ideas about race and identity.

Then there’s Morgan Bennett-Smith, ’13, a master’s degree student in Saudi Arabia who focuses on clownfish population structure, connectivity and ecology in the Red Sea. He was honored by CNN for “best science photos of the year” in December for “Fade to White.”

These are just two of the many people within the SCDS community who could inspire the graduating seniors.

Finally, we offer the following messages to end the school year.

Students: Be kind to your teachers who are adjusting just as much as, if not more than, we are. Nevertheless, don’t be afraid to approach your teachers with any questions or challenges you’re facing.

Teachers and administrators: Thank you for continuing to care about our education and being supportive during this unprecedented time. Your actions speak volumes to the caliber of instructors — and people — that you are.

As we wait patiently for the shelter-in-place and social distancing orders to be lifted, it’s important to keep in mind how lucky we are to be connected to Country Day. It is much easier for us to continue our education at our 150-person private high school compared to a 2,000-plus-person public school. Not to mention, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the SCDS community.

Stay safe, and as always, we’ll get through this together.

Originally published in the April 28 edition of the Octagon.

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