Amid the growing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19’s presence in the United States, Eagle Rock School administrators have called for “all hands on deck” to prepare and deliver virtual learning experiences for staff and students through the remainder of the Spring 2020 trimester (known as ER 80 — the 80th trimester since our founding in the early-1990s).
Our connection to the virus named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes — named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — began in February, when we began closely watching the news and developments around the virus. On March 10, the decision was made have all Eagle Rock School students return to their homes, supported by a plan for remote learning and ongoing student support.
We immediately knew that communication would be important as our students spread out to their homes across the country. Beth Ellis, Associate Director of Students, spearheaded a virtual hub to centralize communication, learning options, instructions for virtual communication, staff contact info, and other resources students may use throughout this now-virtual trimester.
Staff identified ways to make distance learning a reality for our students while maintaining an approach that is engaging, reflective of our experiential learning approach, and accessible across students’ various situations. Our school team began this undertaking by committing to students that they would indeed be able to earn the credits for which they were enrolled when they were on campus. We created new credit-bearing opportunities that we named learning experiences.
Beth Ellis, along with other staff members, fleshed out a website, after which Sarah Bertucci, Director of Professional Development and former Director of Curriculum, facilitated building the learning opportunities alongside our instructional specialists and Public Allies Fellows.
The learning opportunities for the rest of the trimester include two Power Standard classes, which are high-yield credits that take place over a period of 10 weeks, as well as several shorter learning experiences that will change each week. Students who have already enrolled in Power Standard classes will continue to earn these significant credits.
Here are the offerings:
- Fitness: Anytime & Anywhere, led by Chris Iafrati, Chelsea Ehret, and Eliza Kate Wicks-Arshack. This is a continuation of Sports Conditioning — a Power Standard for Creating Healthy Life Choices. Here, students are posting data and videos of their workouts.
- Music and Social Movements led by Josán Perales and Cedric Josey has students who were enrolled in this Power Standard course for Engaged Global Citizen are sharing music and inspiration with their class online.
- But Then You Read, led by Brett Youngerman and Mary Loomis. This is a continuation of an on-campus literary analysis class focused on coming-of-age texts, and is an Expanding Knowledge Base Power Standard.
- What’s a Virus, Anyways? led by Sara Benge. This option explores the science behind viruses, how they spread, and the effect they have on all forms of life.
- 1:1 Personal Growth Conversations, led by Jesse Tovar, Diana Rusin, and Cilly Geranios. These three make up the Health, Wellness, & Counseling team, which is making itself as accessible as possible for students who want to talk with staff about challenges they are facing during the time of remote learning.
- Pit and the Pendulum, led by Steph Subdiaz. This math option focuses on the mathematics behind the Edgar Allen Poe story, Pit and the Pendulum, which includes statistics and displaying data graphically.
- Live ‘n’ Learn, led by Annie Kelston and Nia Dawson. This flexible course creates space for students to make meaning of their experiences during the COVID-19 outbreak, whether they are taking care of young siblings, working, or trying to understand the news.
- Artful Cards, led by Cindy Elkins and Michelle Franco. is an art learning option focusing on creating handmade stationery and cards to foster artistic expression and human connection during a time of physical distancing.
- Independent Study, led by Sara Benge. This offering supports those students who, individually, would like to explore topics outside of the weekly offerings ranging from cosmetology to the intersection of math and art.
- Meditation Station — led by Eliza Kate Wicks-Arshack — provides resources and support for students who would like to pursue meditation practices. Eliza’s approach is to find general resources as well as practices that can support specific experiences people have. For example, she has identified meditation resources by and for people of color, practices that combine Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices, and others.
Other Offerings and Support:
- Mentor Program is led by Annie Kelston. Annie has transitioned the mentoring program — where veteran students individually support new students — to a virtual space so the veterans can continue supporting new students while fulfilling their mentorship graduation requirement.
- Graduate Support, led by Chris Lamar and Laila Hosseinzadeh of the Life After Eagle Rock team, which remains fully committed to supporting ER 80 graduates in their plans, whether they would like to move forward with their April 2020 graduation or study for another trimester and have a more traditional graduation experience once campus reopens.
Through all this, Eagle Rock staff members continue to pick up tips about virtual learning and are committed to continuously improving practices as students engage in their learning online. For example, Josán Perales helped the community by enrolling staff in Global Online Academy’s Designing for Online Learning modules and is facilitating professional development as staff members learn about best practices for this time. Additionally, the staff in our licensure program is heavily focusing on the essential question of, “How can we best support students through distance learning?”
In the midst of their first year of teaching, this has been a major challenge for our Public Allies Fellows, but one to which they are adapting:
- Michelle Franco, the Visual Arts Instructional Fellow, described it as overwhelming at first, adding it “becomes simpler once you know what direction you want to take your class.”
- Language & Literacy Instructional Fellow Mary Loomis has had key takeaways in understanding how to adapt and respond to students’ social, emotional, and physical needs, explaining “[you] need to be aware of what their realities are when designing courses.”
- Lastly, Chelsea Ehret, the Science & Math Instructional Fellow, is learning about the importance of students having choices in their learning options, because it may keep them engaged on a platform that feels less engaging than in-person learning.
Needless to say, staff is learning right alongside students during this.
Although we are undergoing a major period of transition, the school has much gratitude to express: for the staff, which has worked tirelessly to transition all learning online; for the support Eagle Rock’s national community is showing; and most importantly, for all our students who are fully investing in their high school experience through these challenges.