Uncertainty for Fall School Re-openings: A Look Into One School’s Approach

Carol Vila is Director of Technology at Belen Jesuit and she has shared her perspective with TextbookHub for this article.

Belen Jesuit, located in Miami-Dade County, Florida, closed the doors to their campus in mid March. They released classes, and then held 2 days of training for faculty, on using tools and techniques for online learning.

Just two days later, teachers were online with their classes, and the school updated and tweaked their Zoom subscription to one styled for education.

What was it like that first week of teaching?

You can imagine that among the faculty there was a range of expertise and interest in tech, but there was a huge need for tech support for all teachers. Carol used their existing ticket system, which helped prioritize and track tech issues for teachers.

And now?

Carol says that after several weeks of online learning, nearly all classes are running smoothly. The teachers have done well, and “some have been fantastic,” she notes. Parents have also been satisfied with how tech is working for their kids.

Strong Tech Focus

One of the strategies at Belen Jesuit Preparatory is state of the art tech that attracts students who want to learn, experiment and work in an academically rich setting with tools and services that support their mission. Belen Jesuit has nearly 1400 students with a 1:1 iPad program.

In addition to increasing their spending on online tools, the school has also purchased additional computers and hardware to meet immediate needs during school closure.

Fall Planning Amid Enrollment Uncertainty

For fall, Belen Jesuit and its peers are already thinking and planning. Many schools, like Belen Jesuit, can count on historically low rates of attrition and a strong commitment to education at their schools.

But some higher tuition schools may be feeling increased competition. Carol noted that there are often high performing and specialized magnate programs at high schools that could easily accept students already performing at high academic levels. Parents may be weighing options like these at public schools, when faced with the uncertainties ahead. While this may work for younger students, those entering the 2020-2021 year as juniors or seniors are less likely to make the switch.

Private schools may also be looking at flexible payment schedules, which often occur with annual, semi-annual or monthly options, and could consider offering parents the opportunity to change their payment schedule to account for layoffs and furloughs experienced by families while still maintaining consistency in attending their school.

Adding students is another possibility. By admitting students currently waitlisted, a school can buffer concerns about attrition or enrollment. The risk of slightly increased class sizes may well be worth it.

Schedules and More

At Belen Jesuit, “I want to be ready for everything,” Carol says. That means full remote, full return, or a hybrid solution. To that end, Carol is preparing schedules for all scenarios.

With their block scheduling, Carol is thinking about using the school colors for teams – Blue and Gold. It’s reassuring to parents that she’s already planning for siblings to be on the same team: regardless of grade level, that means days at school and pick up and drop off times for sibs would be the same.

In a hybrid scenario, this might mean the Blue Team is in school one day and out the next. Carol is working out the details for all the scenarios, including the possibility of delayed start to the school year for in-person teaching.

Ready for Change is an Advantage

Belen Jesuit has focused on a digital first strategy for several years and that may give them some advantage as they plan. As a 1:1 iPad school, they have committed to all digital textbooks and are phasing out all paper workbooks. They’ve standardized the use of tools for all teachers and classrooms and have been consistent for 3 years.

This commitment and focused strategy gives them a leg up when moving to remote teaching, but more than that, they can advocate for features and support, including more flexibility in tech assessment tools for active learning, project-based and inquiry-based learning, and more. Carol notes, “It’s not just the new teachers doing this.”

Experienced teachers are using all sorts of techniques and approaches in their classrooms, and of course, tech can respond with solutions that support them. “We have two English teachers who knock it out of the park with project-based learning,” says Carol.

#1 Thing to Do Now

It’s not just tools or tech that will make a difference. Carol suggests that the most important thing schools can do this summer is to invest in meaningful professional development. Thoughtful preparation and training can really make the difference in teacher confidence in tools and how to envision using them in remote learning.

Carol has experienced professional development as a faculty member and as the Director of Technology. “Within departments, cross department,” this kind of investment will have an immense return over time.

What’s impressed Carol during school closure?

It’s the creativity that teachers are bringing. Belen Jesuit’s Activities Director is also a teacher. Carol has been impressed with his quick move to remote and the colossal efforts he’s made to keep extracurriculars alive, with grade-level activities and online get-togethers. While they can’t meet up for the fencing club in person, these ungraded activities are important for social interaction and for having fun at school.

And in the midst of all that planning for fall?

Carol is working with her colleagues in the Academic Teams to deliver grades for their graduating seniors to colleges and universities, preparing end of year Honors and Awards, and creating – from the ground up – an online and maybe even an in-person graduation in mid-June to properly celebrate their Class of 2020.

Belen Jesuit Preparatory is an all male preparatory school for grades 6-12 in the Miami-Dade area. Belen Jesuit Preparatory envisioned a simpler, single sign-in for student textbooks – all through the Blackbaud LMS – and became one of the earliest adopters of the TextbookHub eTextbook platform. TextbookHub was able to deliver service and support to the school, along with booklist adoption that included the specialized materials for Catholic Faith Formation, a driver in their strategic plan. While integrations are the norm for tech companies like TextbookHub and Blackbaud, it was Belen Jesuit Preparatory whose vision for this deep integration that made the collaboration possible.

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