Like most of the nation Mount St Joseph Academy was not spared in the effects of COVID-19. In March it was obvious that drastic measures were about to take effect and we needed to adjust and adapt to some very difficult and different times. We met as a faculty and staff to discuss the potential of having to change the way we teach and educate taking into consideration the whole student as well as their families.
During this discussion the subject of distance learning and remote access came to the forefront. There were several challenges that needed to be addressed; first there was the structure we were going to operate within, next there was the issue of sourcing- does every student have a device that will sustain them over a long period of isolation from school, and lastly is there infrastructure available to support all our students? These were the problems and challenges we had to overcome all within a very short period of time (inside a week's time).
The first problem, the structure to operate within, was ready made and simple in it’s design. The traditional eight period day, where students transition from one period to the next during a normal school day, was actually perfect to support distance learning for multiple reasons. The two primary reasons for choosing this model were structure and consistency. Structure is important because it gives purpose to the day, adolescents and even lots of adults need purpose, they need to know what is in store for them during their day. Students are also very comfortable knowing that they do not have to learn a new schedule on top of trying to learn in a totally different environment. Using the existing schedule was one less thing to worry about.
Consistency is also vital to success in this environment. A sense of routine provides a level of comfort that makes accessing a student’s education that much easier. A student that knows they have a schedule they are used to, knows when class is scheduled, and knows what the expectations are for class will be more open to learning new ideas, a concept than a student that is trying to learn a new structure, on top of trying to learn new material.
The second problem of ensuring every student had a device to sustain them through this period of uncertainty was less of a problem because Mount St. Joseph is already a one to one school; meaning every student has a device and is very familiar with incorporating it into their everyday lives.
The last concern was access to the internet. This is difficult to control because depending on where the student lives and the socioeconomic state of the family; not every student has the same capability to access the internet. Luckily (sometimes it's good to be lucky) the local internet provider saw the issue and made access to the internet equitable during this time of crisis.
Thus, the “MSJ Model” was born. I say this because as we started rolling out our plan to students, surrounding public schools had not even come up with a delivery plan for their students. They were struggling with many other issues that we were not burdened with. So, as surrounding schools were looking for exemplars to follow, word got out that they should be looking at our model as a working example of what they could do.
None of this would have been possible if not for the hard work and dedication of the faculty and staff of Mount St. Joseph Academy. It is the mark of a great organization that when presented with adversity they dig in, work together, and figure out a plan rather than complain and try to wish it away. Our Mount St. Joseph Family did not complain or worry, they just lowered their shoulders and pushed forward, faithfully knowing that what they were doing would yield good results in time.
So here we are three weeks into this new normal. Virtual classes are the new normal, students, families, faculty, and staff have fully embraced the concept. It has been an absolute honor to watch the transition and I could be happier with the results thus far. We are looking toward the future, we will return to some semblance of normal, life will go on but we have a system and structure in place that will sustain us until that time.