School is more than just classwork. It’s an opportunity for students to connect with peers and teachers, explore interests and more. David Feldman, Head of School at The Roeper School— with campuses in Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham — understands this. So when it came time to transition to virtual learning in response to the coronavirus crisis, Feldman and the faculty knew they had to honor those connections and experiences.
“We know that school is more than just book learning. School is social. School is celebratory,” Feldman says.
While academics are important, task forces have been put together to focus on the non-academic things that students find fulfilling, such as performances, presentations, concerts and even graduation. They are determined to find a way to do these things virtually.
It’s just one way The Roeper School has stayed true to its mission to engage as a community during this unprecedented time. That isn’t without challenges.
“When we came to Roeper as students or teachers, none of us signed up for the Roeper experience to be virtual. Truly, the strength of the Roeper experience is the relationships between teacher and student, between student and student. It’s about the community that we build together,” Feldman says. “That said, the transition, I think has been fast because of the strength of our community.”
Read on for more about how The Roeper School has successfully transitioned to virtual learning.
A focus on the mission
“The most important part of our mission, at this point in time, that I think is so critical,” Feldman says — “is that we focus on acting with compassion for each other and for this world – this crisis requires compassion.”
Everyone is going to try their best during this time, he explains, but it’s important for people to be understanding and compassionate.
“How are you? How are you feeling?” These are some of the questions Roeper teachers ask students prior to getting into academics. It’s an important step, Feldman notes.
“You can’t do enough of that, because things change every day. Our situation is fluid, so the call you made yesterday when things were fine and OK — well, today they are not.”
Three weekly formal school communications, in addition to daily communications from teachers, help raise spirits and build a sense of hope and support for everyone.
Feldman also does a video every week on a variety of topics, he says, mainly just to build community, lift morale and build a sense of hope and support for everyone.
“I think it’s the most essential piece,” he says. “When everyone feels fear and anxiety and needs hope, community gives you stability, it gives you comfort, it gives you connection and routine.”
There was no roadmap for virtual learning, especially in a time of crisis, he adds, so it’s OK if things need to evolve.
“It’s not going to be home schooling. It’s not going to be online teaching. This is COVID-19 teaching. This is a moment of crisis, and each one of us is going to try our best to make adjustments and know that we’re going to get better at this as we do it. We’re going to fine tune it. We’re going to refine it. We’re going to listen to your feedback,” Feldman says.
Roeper teachers are creative and professional, he notes, and they’re getting better at distance learning the more they do it. They work every day to uphold the Roeper mission, Feldman says, and they do their best for families.
A new way of learning
In the Lower School, students have a combination of asynchronous (online) and synchronous (real time) activities. They have four pieces of content daily, Feldman says; some is delivered by the teacher and some is on Seesaw.
In the Middle and Upper School, faculty pace the week in a way that has academic programming on four days. On Wednesdays, they offer office hours and small group meetings, in addition to tutorials, guidance, check-ins, meetings for teams, groups and clubs. Even Roeper athletic teams meet virtually weekly to conduct conditioning exercises, drills, and to simply connect with teammates.
The focus always goes back to maintaining community, Feldman says — which is integral.
“What really matters isn’t acres of land or really nice facilities,” he says. “What matters are the people. What matters are the relationships within the community.”
Content brought to you by The Roeper School. For more information, visit roeper.org.