#SocialSolidarity: What Students Need Most During the COVID-19 School Closure

Posted by Admin on March 31, 2020 at 12:13 PM

Reaching out

On the very first day of our distance learning program last week, Linden faculty and staff reached out to parents and students using a variety of communication methods including telephone, email, social media, Zoom conference call, and Google Classroom. Some of our teachers created and shared motivational videos to inspire and engage our entire community.

Within a few hours, our inboxes were flooded with comments, questions, and emails expressing appreciation for the wonderful ways faculty and staff were ensuring distance learning was going to be an engaging and valuable experience for our students. 

Linden parent Jeremy McEachern tweets his appreciation.

Indeed, it has been truly inspiring to see our faculty and staff’s swift response as they pivot to remote instruction with little lead time and preparation. It was just Monday, March 23rd that we spent time in pedagogical consultations and technical workshops to ensure distance learning would commence as smoothly as possible, while recognizing that we are all on a learning curve as we adapt to a new working environment.

Nurturing relationships

As always, we remain focused on sustaining our students’ academic progress and overall development as critical thinkers, leaders, and makers. But more importantly, we are also focusing on nurturing relationships with our students, because we know that relationships are foundational to the overall success and emotional well-being of girls. Thanks to a variety of communication tools available to us, distance learning can allow us to still interact in real-time, foster immediate personal engagement, sustain learning continuity, and mitigate feelings of isolation.

“The social-emotional health of my students has been on my mind,” says STEM and Curriculum Leader Beth Alexander. “It’s important for us to maintain our connections with students and offer them reassurance and support during this hugely disruptive time in our lives. Students need to know and hear that we are there for them,” she says. During her initial meeting with students via Zoom, Beth invited students to check-in and discuss how they were doing. She talked about what she had been up to, and let students discuss how they were feeling and doing.

“Kids are also helping each other with tech questions by using group texts. They're really looking out for each other without us really needing to tell them to! It's heart-warming,” Beth also tells us. Her students have been learning how to balance schoolwork with play and family time, and looking for ways to use the things already in their houses to continue hands-on learning. For example, junior students replicated our CERES Lab Makerspace by building structures out of delivery boxes. 

Checking-in with students and parents

Linden’s Principal Janice Gladstone agrees with Beth. “Physical distancing makes it all the more important for young people to remain emotionally and socially connected with their teachers and schoolmates during these uncertain times,” she says. Janice has been “popping” into different Zoom classes to check-in with students and faculty, similar to her morning routine at Linden when she would visit classrooms throughout the school.  

In addition to observing student meetings, Janice has also been connecting with parents by moving her regular Java with Janice meet-ups online. At “press time,” the first event had taken place with elementary parents who expressed interest in having more frequent opportunities for conversation during this period. Some actually preferred the virtual format to in-person as it allowed more parents to take part! Once we have met with other parent groups, we will share a schedule for regular meetings. Another idea that emerged from the elementary parents’ discussion was the need to create a Self-Care for Parents Resource List; watch for an opportunity to contribute. 

Adapting to new challenges

English and humanities teacher Elizabeth “Eliza” Ward McCarthy has been learning with — and from — her students as they adjust to the new way of learning. “On Friday morning, my Grade 7 students shared their thoughts and agreed that the new way of learning was “weird” and involved a lot of adjustment,” she tells us. “Routines have changed, and girls are being called on not only to do more independent work, but also to adjust to new schedules, new technology, and to track their work more independently. On a positive note, most of them think e-learning is fun,” she adds.

“Although it’s a big change for everyone, I’m impressed by how quickly the girls are adapting. I’ve been letting them know how great it’s been to see them establishing routines, and helping keep each other on track,” says Eliza.  

“I actually like video calling, and I enjoy taking lots of breaks during the day, even though I’m working during the breaks. I also like being at home,” one of Elizabeth’s students shared with us. 

“I was overjoyed just to see everyone’s faces!” another student told us.

Engaging students

Our approach to STEM has always been to inspire students to become changemakers and leaders who can take on the world’s most pressing problems. And what could be more pressing than the current Covid-19 crisis? Keeping Linden’s social justice mission top of mind, Beth is planning to engage her senior students in a Craft Your Own PPE Project, with the goal of donating much-needed PPE to vulnerable communities. Our City Councillor Josh Matlow is helping us distribute these in the best possible way. 

City Councillor Josh Matlow tweets his support.

Emphasizing student voices

“It’s also important to continue enabling our student voices in a virtual setting,” says Grade 6 teacher Savannah Barker, who has been seeking input from the girls as they adapt to distance learning. Prompts such as “What would your perfect distance learning experience look like?” have elicited valuable feedback, allowing her to adjust her program accordingly. Many students suggested a combination of school work, getting outdoors or moving, playing with their pets, and playing video games. Her students have also been recording video responses and posting them on Flipgrid, a new discussion app that inspires student engagement.  

Coping strategies

“it’s important to keep to a schedule as it helps children (and adults) feel safe and maintain a sense of purpose. Including activities such as exercise and adding in creative activities helps us feel balanced,” says Linden Guidance Counselor Elana Moscovitch. “Finding ways to connect to each other despite physical distancing, such as online learning in community, is very important. Other coping strategies such as mindfulness can be helpful in calming down our nervous systems, and helping us process the emotions we feel in relation to all of the changes in the world right now,” she adds.   

Daily physical activities, movement and overall health and wellness will continue to play an important role in our approach to distance learning. Our HPE department will continue to motivate, inspire and challenge Linden Nation through our online learning wellness assignments and fitness journals, the weekly @Linden_Sports Twitter challenges starting Monday, March 30th, and our upcoming video workouts with Athletics Director Deidre Macpherson and Athletics teacher Elizabeth Forbes.

“Kids thrive when their teachers create exciting and fun activities for them,” says Linden coach Ellen Fowler. She created a physical activity teaser video to invite the entire community to participate in a daily community-wide virtual dance party at 3:45 pm, ensuring each member of our community ends the day on a high note with a morale-boosting activity.

Here’s a glimpse of our very first Daily Dance Party posted on a private YouTube channel which cannot be found by searching YouTube.

Co-curricular activities

Students can also look forward to Senior Drama Club, which will continue to run "online rehearsals" using Zoom. “We are continuing to work on this year's play, 'Romeo and (her) Juliet,' with a strong focus on line work and expression. Drama Club is a source of joy and motivation for many students (and for me!) and keeping up that connection with the club has felt very important to me,” says French teacher Coco Lee.  

Senior Drama Club's virtual rehearsal last week with director Mieko Y.

According to specialist music teacher Molly Tucci, girls are working together using online resources and video chat to tune their instruments. They are also getting set up with resources to help them practice, such as recordings and the SmartMusic online platform. Linden’s Music Night was slated for April 15th, however given the unforeseen circumstances, we have decided to postpone the event, but not indefinitely. Molly is brainstorming ways to virtually celebrate Linden’s music program. Watch for more detail in the coming days!  

Our thanks to the generosity and adaptability of our faculty, staff, students and families in helping us accomplish this transition. Stay tuned for more stories in the coming weeks!