Hybrid, ho! School launches new era of learning

Ava Levinson, Editor-in-Chief

The school’s summer-long effort to plan its reopening has culminated in the hybrid model, a design that aims at maximizing education time while making health and safety the priority, Chief Learning Officer Jed Lippard said.

“There is going to be a lot about our lives that is permanently changed because of COVID, and I do think that the notion that school and geography have to be aligned is really going to be challenged across the educational landscape,” Dr. Lippard said.

In the hybrid model, underclassmen will report to school on Monday and Tuesday while upperclassmen learn at home. On Thursday and Friday, the reverse will be true, with Wednesday as a flex day for indoor cleaning and outdoor meetings and activities. 

On in-person days at the Upper School (US), either grade 10 or 11 will attend classes in the Nicholas Athletic Center, while their counterpart grade will claim large-capacity spaces in the main building. 

In keeping with the social-distance mandate, many rooms had to be repurposed to allow for more space between learners. The gym, tennis courts, and orchestra room, for example, have transformed into classrooms, while some of the walls, particularly in the Middle School, have come down to combine small rooms into a larger one. Additionally, tents were ordered to provide coverage for lunch and outdoor activities in the rain. 

Mathematics and Computer Science Department Head Chip Rollinson said that while he feels comfortable with the setup, there are still things to get used to.

“Just as we had to do last spring, I think there will be a lot of learning and adjusting on the fly in order to improve what we do,” he said. “The sharing of ideas and strategies among teachers in my department has been great.”

English Department Head Ariel Duddy, who was on site last week to test the new classroom spaces and technology, said faculty and students will have to be patient as they figure out how to navigate this new way of learning.

“I have never taught students sitting in rows, let alone students with masks on who are spaced out by six feet in all directions!” she said. “This new configuration will push me to get creative with my discussions to ensure that I can maintain all the best parts of English classes—thoughtful discussions, close analysis of the text, time for humor.”

Meanwhile, 28 US students and 23 US faculty are beginning the school year fully remote. How will they participate in their in-person classes from home?

The answer is new technology: specifically, AV units, microphone and speaker units, iPads for all teachers, and 55-inch flat-panel TVs. Students at home will Zoom into their classes, their faces prominently displayed on the big screen in the classroom, Dr. Lippard said. Their teachers will wear a lapel microphone, and boom mics will amplify their classmates’ voices. Remote students will also have in-class buddies who will notify the teacher if they want to say or ask anything.

In the case of the teacher being home, one of two setups will be implemented. The teacher will either lead the class from the big screen and use another camera to see into the classroom, or the teacher will host a Zoom call, with students in the classroom engaging on their computers as if they were in their own homes.

In both scenarios, either an on-site teacher or a Knight Corps member will help monitor the class from campus.

Ceramics Teacher Christian Tonsgard, who asked to teach from home in order to protect his family, said he is thankful the school accommodated his request.

“Working remotely is the most effective way I can serve my students this year,” Mr. Tonsgard said. “Because of the technology that we have available, I am able to do my job effectively.”

Spanish Teacher Margot Caso said she will also be off campus this fall so that she can manage her anxiety and continue visiting her parents. She’ll try her best to mimic her usual energy and enthusiasm through the screen, she added.

“My favorite part of teaching is connecting with my students and getting to know them, so I hope I can still build genuine connections with them even though I won’t be there physically,” she said.

Among the online tools Ms. Caso said she plans to master this fall are EdPuzzle, Padlet, Google Classroom, Quizlet, and Kahoot. Although so many new teaching methods can be overwhelming, she said, she is trying to stay positive and keep in touch with fellow teachers.

“I am not taking my BB&N community for granted even for a second,” Ms. Caso said. “Many of my colleagues have been so warm and honest with their own worries and concerns; I am making a very intentional effort to stay connected to them, too. It feels like it could be a lonely fall for some of us. We need each other.”

Science Teacher Melissa Courtemanche, who will also work remotely, said that while she has mixed feelings about how school will go this fall, she is eager to begin.

“I’m looking forward to connecting with students and colleagues after a long time apart as we take on teaching, learning, and working to build a more inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist school community in this uncertain landscape.”

One precautionary step that came together late last month was a COVID testing plan. On August 26 Head of School Jen Price emailed the community with news that the school had partnered with PhysicianOne and the Broad Institute to provide faculty, staff, and students polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that would need to come back negative for anyone planning to enter campus after Monday, September 7.

Faculty and staff can continue testing on a weekly basis through mid-October, when the school will reassess circumstances, the letter said.

Director of Student Support Services Kim Gold, who co-chairs the school’s health and safety team alongside Chief Operating & Financial Officer Tara Gohlmann, said that while these initial measures may help prevent COVID from infiltrating the school on the first day, there is no way a day school can regulate community members’ actions outside of school as the fall continues.

“This is a community commitment. We are relying on our families to be committed to the daily process of monitoring their families in order to make sure students are well enough and meet the criteria to come to school,” Ms. Gold said. “We’re also relying on families, students, faculty, and staff to make sure they’re following the general safety rules that Governor Baker has given to follow on a day-to-day basis. There is a trust in our community that lies in this process.”

Dr. Gohlmann reiterated that there are some aspects of returning to school that can’t be pre-planned.

“This is the first time we’ve operated a school in a global pandemic, so there are things that we’ve planned for, and there are things that we could’ve never thought about,” she said. “It’s a little bit of messy work, but the most important thing is to get everyone back safely so that we can get back to our work of educating students. The whole reopening process is going to provide learning opportunities for all of us—opportunities to adjust and innovate and make the school even better than it was before.”

Going into the Labor Day weekend, none of the 896 community members who had undergone COVID-19 testing had tested positive.

Knight Corps members learn about their new roles in an orientation session at the Lower School’s outdoor classroom. (Photo courtesy of Tara Gohlmann)