When it comes to remote learning, Yorkville Christian High School principal Aaron Sovern said all schools are facing the same challenges, whether they’re private or public.
He did, however, pinpoint one advantage his school and other private schools like it might have when it comes to remote learning – smaller class and school sizes.
Gov. JB Pritzker ordered public and private schools closed effective March 16. After five Act of God days public and private schools won’t have to make up, learning from home became the standard. And Sovern said small class sizes give Yorkville Christian flexibility when it comes to assignments.
He said members of his support staff are checking up on students and families regularly, something he said is made possible due to the smaller school size.
“We don’t have 1,500 kids we’re monitoring and trying to engage with,” Sovern said. “We can check in with families and see how the e-learning process is going. Not only that but to see if there is anything their family needs as far as groceries or prayer requests.”
Montini principal Kevin Beirne also pointed to smaller class sizes as an advantage private schools have in the current educational climate.
Beirne also said that a private school like Montini can have a hyperlocal focus and not have to answer to a school board that governs over multiple schools with different needs, giving the school more flexibility to provide needs to students.
“I think we can make decisions as close to the students as possible,” Beirne said. “We’re not part of a larger district. We can make the decisions we feel like are best for our student group as possible.”
Beirne said the staff at Montini focus on students’ needs beyond academics.
“One of the things I think we’re able to do well as private, particularly Catholic, schools is we can work with our students on social-emotional and faith pieces a little bit differently,” Beirne said. “That’s given us the opportunity to continue developing or creating that sense of community, bringing people together even though we’re sitting at home.”
Like a lot, if not most, northern Illinois public and private schools, Montini is a one-to-one school, with each student having a school-issued iPad. They’ve had this technology for six years, Beirne said.
That left them somewhat prepared for the situation, he said. They’ve done remote learning from home before.
“We were ready to go, but we really hadn’t done it for an extended period of time like this,” Beirne said. “The plan we had worked well for a couple days off for snow days or cold days or things like that. In terms of doing that over a long period of time, we listened to our stakeholders, our students and our teachers and they made clear the level of work they were doing was well beyond what they were doing in the regular classroom.”
Vito DeFrisco, interim superintendent at Marian Central Catholic in Woodstock, said he’s been a strong proponent of remote learning. He’s also the Assistant Superintendent of School for Curriculum, Assessment and School Recognition for the Diocese of Rockford.
He said his interest in remote learning goes back to his days in the Chicago archdiocese. He was principal at St. Hubert, a school in Hoffman Estates serving pre-kindergartners to eighth graders. He said he’s in his third year in Rockford.
“I think we’ve done a great job delivering instruction to students,” DeFrisco said. “We implemented remote learning on snow days previously. It’s not new to us. It may be new to us in terms of length, but we have experienced this before over shorter terms.”
A lot of hard numbers weren’t available regarding participation rates. Beirne provided some information, including that students and teachers, through the first two weeks, logged more than 400 whole-class video sessions. More than 4,000 assignments were submitted and returned with feedback. Teachers recorded 600 videos and are utilizing an average of three online tools such as Google Classroom or Zoom.
In all, Beirne said, teaches spent 940 hours prepping for the transition to e-learning.
At. St. Mary, an elementary and middle school in DeKalb, principal Ashley Davis said about 75% of students on any given day are participating in remote learning.
But she added that many students are participating on nights and weekends around family schedules.
“The average has been 75% on a daily basis, but we’ve also seen over the weekend parents are working with their kids that were maybe not able to keep up during the week,” Davis said. “The teachers see emails or comments on Google classroom after hours because that’s just how it’s working for them right now.”
Davis, Sovern, DeFrisco and Beirne all expressed how proud they were of their students, families and faculty adjusting to the difficult circumstances.
Sovern went back to the small school size and independence to say how flexible it has allowed his staff to be in figuring out the best way to educate the students given the numerous options available.
“We don’t have a cookie-cutter vision of how we want them to instruct at this time,” Sovern said. “We have teachers that are doing Google hangouts, we have some that are doing Zoom meetings. We have some that are recording lessons from home and posting them to the Google classroom. There are so many different learning tools out there and so many ways to supplement the learning.”
Davis said when it came down to it, private school or public school, everybody is facing the same challenges with the same tools.
“I think in general this whole e-learning is a disadvantage for everybody,” Davis said. “Every student, every educator. We’re trained to teach in person. So it’s a disadvantage for everybody, public or private.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle