The school’s campus will be closed from March 16 until at least April 17, and the Distance Learning Plan will be implemented beginning on March 23. Head of School Mrs. Robin Appleby and Chair of the Board of Trustees Mr. David Novak sent an email to the ASL community revealing the decision on March 14.
The decision was made by Mrs. Appleby and Board leadership after consultation with Public Health England, as well as other experts and education leaders. They explained how the past three days have seen a high rate of change in the development of COVID-19, and therefore the priority is to protect the ASL community. The Board of Trustees is responsible for ASL’s strategy, the school mission, financial health, and the Head of School. Referring to the decision, Novak said, “Our top priority is the health and safety of the ASL community, and we will continue to monitor developments within the UK and the community.”
Students and faculty members had a combination of reactions to the closure. Middle school orchestra teacher Ms. Lorraine Davis said, “On one hand I’m trying to stabilize and say ‘I’ve been teaching for 21 years, so I know how to do this.’ Then, on the other hand, I’m trying to be open to how it’s all going to work.”
Eighth-grader Rudi Chamria said, “I was excited at the same time for getting five weeks off, but many assignments won’t work or will be challenging over distance learning, such as oral work and speeches.”
Online classes will not commence until March 23 because “faculty will need time to adapt instructional strategies for distance delivery,” Novak and Appleby wrote in their email to the community.
Families were sent a schedule of staggered times between March 16 and March 18 in which they can briefly return to the school by middle school principal Mr. Pete Lutkoski on March 15. Students can collect items from their lockers and may not be on campus longer than necessary in order to minimize crowds and contact. Middle schoolers may also check out ten books during this time, and there will be no overdue notices.
The Distance Learning Plan is a contingency program to continue learning by using online platforms, primarily Schoology. Middle school drama teacher Mr. Todd Sessoms said, “I’m a little bit excited about the distance learning program. I think it opens some new opportunities and some great ways to engage in learning experiences that are things that we don’t do very often.”
Eighth grade English teacher Mr. Mike Boodey is also looking forward to the prospect of online learning. “I’m seeing it personally as a creative challenge of how we do this in a way. As a professional, I’m quite interested in how we do this,” he said.
Although some are looking forward to new opportunities, others are worried about how effective it will be to learn when students are not in a classroom with their peers and teachers. Eighth-grader Alexandra Braun said, “I don’t really understand how we can get a lot of work done just from Schoology and email because I’m the type of worker that kind of needs to be in that environment. Otherwise, I won’t really be able to focus.”
The email from Appleby and Novak also explained that “it is an opportunity for us to collaborate as partners in learning.” One of the ways Sessoms believes the community can connect is by giving drama students an opportunity to collaborate and perform virtually. “The music teachers, myself and (dance teacher) Ms. Culling are going to be getting together this week… (to think about) how can we maybe give a more thematic focus to grade eight starting this week, connecting with other students to create some fun virtual performance spaces,” he said.
Fifth-grade math teacher Mrs. Julie Spurr will try to help her students through the challenges of distance learning by hosting Zoom video conference sessions for those who need further explanation. She said, “When I do a lesson, I really appreciate being able to see the students’ reactions on their faces, and I can ask them questions, so I get immediate feedback on how they are understanding the material. I think I’ll be frustrated by the fact that I won’t be able to see as easily whether or not they understand, but I’m really counting on those Zoom sessions to be able to help students who need extra help by explaining more thoroughly the concepts that they are having difficulty understanding.”
Davis also explained how the community will be able to stay connected with each other through music. She said, “I think music might have a really important role to play in this weird time where we’re all over the map because music can be something that does reconnect ourselves with ourselves, and also eventually with each other.”