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Learning from Home is Becoming Second Nature to SRA Students

March 30, 2020

Saint Raphael Academy students are beginning their fifth week of instruction online. While the Academy has used “virtual days” before, there has never been a sustained use for such a long period of time, and both students and teachers are rising to the occasion.

In the absence of the traditional classroom setting, many teachers have been holding class with Zoom or Skype at their regularly scheduled class time, with all students signing in to participate in the lesson. (Teachers have even taken time to check in on a more personal level with students, allowing time for them to talk about their feelings and worries.) Some teachers have encouraged student feedback about their teaching methods and adjusted accordingly. Music classes are using more unique programs like SmartMusic to assess instrumental and chorus classes, and physical education classes are partaking in a yoga challenge for physical and mental well-being.

Those students in Saint Raphael Academy’s Benilde program and those who have some learning challenges have been most affected by the lack of real face-to-face contact. Alie Lawrence, director of the program, reaches out to each of them individually at least weekly to assist with executive functioning tasks and checks in with those students’ teachers to make sure they stay on track. The guidance office is another valuable resource for all students who are feeling stressed by current events and the shift to virtual weeks and welcomes students and families to contact them.

“Communication has been the key to our success,” said Judy Baxter, vice principal of academics. “The more informed we all are, the more we feel connected.”

As part of the Academy’s long-term strategic plan, the administration decided five years ago that the school needed to embrace technology in the classroom to meet the needs of students in the 21st century. To roll out the 1:1 program, teachers received laptops and began with a year of training and professional development on how to incorporate this technology in their curriculum, referred to as blended learning. Equity for all students was important, so in the second year, the academy purchased laptops for every student and issued them for the first time in the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year. Since then, they have become a staple in the classroom. Two years ago, with the blessing of the Diocese superintendent of schools, “virtual days” began as a way to continue student learning during professional days and snow days. The professional development for teaching and learning strategies to incorporate into the curriculum is ongoing, as new technologies and methods develop.

“We continue working on this goal as it’s ever-changing, plus we never anticipated the duration of this virtual learning experience. We have a school-wide community making the very best of the tools at their disposal during an extremely challenging time,” said Mrs. Baxter.

But it is a challenge that students and teachers have embraced with grace. All students have been regularly using Plus Portals and Microsoft One Note to receive and complete assignments since the 1:1 program began at SRA, but the lack of daily social contact is something that cannot be helped, and many students have expressed that they actually want to go to school! “Teenagers are especially social beings and the challenge of being apart has been the most difficult. All stakeholders are working extremely hard to make sure our students are receiving a quality education,” said Mrs. Baxter.

This includes not only regular assignments and learning assessments, but also extra help with virtual “office hours” through web conferencing and chat programs like Zoom, Backchannel, and Microsoft Teams. In turn, Mrs. Baxter is also in close contact with both teachers and students, offering support and assistance, as needed. “This [virtual] social interaction has been so important to narrow that gap of isolation and social distancing,” she continued.

Proving that the partnership between students and teachers has never been so important as it is now, and as Saints, they continue to march on.

Mrs. Baxter’s Tips for Success!
  • Students and parents need to know that the teachers are always accessible (as am I), and if they are experiencing issues to reach out immediately.
  • Check Plus Portals frequently along with emails for “meeting times” as well as assignments.
  • Establish a routine and try to stick to it.
  • Don’t forget to take breaks, exercise, Instagram with your friends, and breathe! Mental and emotional health are as important during this unprecedented time as making sure you have completed your assignments.