In spring of 2020, our natural state of a technology-driven classroom quickly shifted to a classroom that lived entirely online. As COVID-19 cases rose across Washington state and America, Renton Prep quickly adapted to the changing landscape. As our anticipation and excitement mounts ahead of our school reopening on August 17, we want to outline everything that has brought us to this point.
Below, we’ve outlined our communication with student’s families from the day schools closed in March to our announcement for reopening on July 15.
You can also view these communications as a Wakelet.
On March 6, Renton Prep faculty were advised to start preparing in the event of school closure. We wanted all teachers and staff to be prepared to support remote learning; families were notified with transparency regarding recommendations made by King County Public Health. By March 9, we had communicated to families three times to continually update information.
On March 12, faculty met to discuss the potential of closure and their plans for that course of action. By March 13, all guidance was in place in the event of school closure to ease the transition.
By March 16, we were fully remote.
Dr. Michelle Zimmerman addressed how Renton Prep has shifted to remote learning. Though our school has been enabled for remote learning since 2009, we still had to prioritize a streamlined, at-home learning process.
“Where other schools’ systems are feeling fragility, we are ready to proceed with strength,” Zimmerman said in the address.
Teachers and staff already had training in technology and software that enabled remote learning. We use this technology in our classrooms on a daily basis to keep Renton Prep ahead of the curve.
“Our school is committed to providing students unparalleled learning experiences to build positive memories and build morale and stability in a time with so much change to our daily lives,” Dr. Zimmerman said.
There were a lot of questions surrounding grading remotely and what that means for education. We understood several reasons for removing grades during this significant disruption to education.
Our emphasis during remote learning is to assess student process, conversation, and originality over answers that can be easily searched or copied.
The good news is, the same standard that students are familiar with can be transferred and applied to remote learning. Maintaining consistent expectations will support students as they transition between remote and face-to-face learning.
On April 3, Dr. Zimmerman wrote a blog post addressing how remote learning has re-designed the way our students are learning.
“Social distancing has become a creative constraint. It allows us to re-design our learning to simulate what we offer in person. Maintaining human connection and relationship is still among our top priorities. Even with social distancing in place. We value live calls so that we can dynamically respond to our students,” Dr. Zimmerman wrote.
The post discussed Renton Prep’s approach to continually engaging students through digital platforms. This includes various grades using Microsoft Stream, collaborative projects, and activities that kept students thinking critically.
Preparing for future unknowns is not easy. COVID-19 has rapidly changed things in schools, society, and the economy. Dr. Zimmerman wrote a blog post pondering: What are the long-term impacts?
“What is the purpose of education in the U.S., if not preparing young people to live in a democracy, understand and contribute to civic engagement, understand how to contribute to society in a meaningful way, and be prepared for unexpected scenarios in life? If the school does not match that end goal, what needs to change to help prepare young people to enter as adults when the economy changes and jobs that once existed, do not exist anymore — whether it is due to automation or a global pandemic? If the only purpose is to provide students with a diploma and a GPA that says they have a set of content knowledge and that is all, it will provide students only one aspect of the skills they may need in the future.
More than ever, during a global pandemic, we need to continually ask ourselves the purpose of education and what we want young people to be able to do.”
In another post, Dr. Zimmerman outlines what her and Renton Prep have done to prepare for the Fall 2020 semester. She also stated her goal to return to in-person learning for the fall.
At this point, here’s what Renton Prep has done as a school and how they have prepared for Fall 2020.
Though in-person learning was the plan, the normal school setting was not realistic. That meant that educators were leaving in record numbers.
When designing teacher job descriptions, we asked: What do we want young people to be able to do when they leave our school? Then, we looked at the essential characteristics in potential staff who would feel confident leading in this model.
We know that we are not a typical school. Therefore, it truly takes someone who shares our value and vision, and wants to contribute to the mission.
Our first reopening plan started to take shape. The plan was guided by Epidemiologist and medical professionals. This plan slated Renton Prep reopening for a start in early August.
The Renton Prep team spent countless hours studying data, science, and talking to medical professionals, including a microbiologist with a focus on epidemiology who worked for the Obama administration.
“We are looking at academics, the most seamless, continual learning model possible with the known likelihood and potential for mandates that disrupt the original format of education (everything from social distancing, to requiring canceling the Christmas Concert, to shuttering schools with a new wave of virus spreading). We have been preparing for unknowns for a long time, and it is paying off,” Dr. Zimmerman wrote.
Based on our learning from February 28 to now, we created a new iteration of education design to prioritize two things as we return to an optional physical classroom amidst the coronavirus pandemic. We are prioritizing health and a continuous, streamlined, stress-reduced learning process.
This release of our extensive reopening plan included: a plan for rapid transitions between remote and face-to-face learning, options for students (hybrid, face-to-face, remote), a flexible school calendar, physical distancing precautions, our safety measures, contact tracing measures, staggered drop-off and pick up times, updates, and school-wide activities.
In addition to the original reopening plans, our team added resources for parents. This included a form for families to decide whether their student(s) will return to the classroom or stay fully remote. This update also outlined how our reopening plan factored in the challenges during the process.
This also included updates for families on enhanced contact tracing and mitigating risk for each family based on what we know about the virus.
This is a massive moment to examine our educational delivery and improve our practices. Our top priority in reopening our school is to provide a safe environment for learning. As a school, we will do everything in our power to make that happen.
Reminder: you can also view these communications as a Wakelet.
As we near the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, we will continue to update families about the reopening of Renton Prep as needed. If you have any questions or concerns about our return to the classroom, do not hesitate to contact us. Although the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 may not be ideal, we are very excited to see our students in the physical or virtual classroom come August.