It’s been just two weeks since Governor Gina Raimondo held a press conference about the novel COVID-19 outbreak, announcing a one-week school closure followed by distance learning for every student in Rhode Island. From that moment on, the clock started ticking toward “The First Day of School.” They only had 235.5 hours to come up with a plan, but the incredible team of education experts at The Compass School was ready for the challenge.
Building a school is no easy feat (the Compass community happens to know a thing or two about the process; they are three years into a multi million dollar barn renovation) and creating a virtual environment is no different. As the staff brainstormed ways to bring teachers into the homes of students though, they realized that the classrooms were just the tip of the ice burg. In order to care for the social, emotional and educational needs of all students, it was critical that families had virtual access to the support resources normally available on campus. Now was the time to create a holistic plan for learning together while we are apart. And just like that…The Virtual Learning Path at The Compass School was born.
Our Daily Path
The first order of business was to decide what a normal school day would look like. On-campus life at Compass has a particular rhythm with a cadence of whole-school activities, whole-step (multi-age learning group) activities, whole-class activities and independent learning time. During this new age of uncertainty when everything else might feel out of control for children everywhere, it was important to Brandee Lapisky, Director of The Compass School, that her team was able to provide consistency wherever they could.
With the knowledge that the physical building would have to close its doors for a potentially long stretch of time, Ms Brandee also knew that predictable, measured attendance requirements would prevent students from “getting lost in the virtual halls” of this school without walls. A schedule was created, shared with teachers, revised, shared with teachers and revised again. Then, “Our Daily Path” was released to students and parents and the foundation.
In order to prepare for the changes ahead, a list of new vocabulary words was authored, each one describing a different “place” on our virtual campus or role in the learning path. Custom-branded graphics were created and distributed to families for reference. Now, it was time to build a school.
Virtual Compass Classrooms
With a playbook for daily life recorded, it was time to address the elephant in the virtual corner of the room…how would this actually work? Independent work can be assigned online using a variety of different platform options, but how can a school ensure that its students and their teachers really were learning together while they are apart?
Luckily, on March 3, Google announced that G Suite for Education customers would be automatically upgraded to the Enterprise edition until July 1, 2020 at no cost. This was a huge gift and just the launchpad that the Compass team needed to begin adapting their campus learning model for the virtual world.
In the following days, a collaborative effort between the teachers, staff, school director and Colleen Russell, the school’s technology consultant, yielded a working virtual school model. A quick demo with a test group of students revealed that not only was it going to work, it was going to work well. The student toolkit effectively used Google Calendar, Google Classroom, Google Meet, Google Hangouts Chat and Google Meet Livestream to connect students to their peers, their teachers, services and support staff and to their community as a whole.
- “Morning Gathering” – A static Google Meet Livestream link was created for the purpose of live streaming large community gatherings.
- “Virtual Classrooms” – Static Google Meet links were created for each teacher and each step.
- “Virtual Schedules” – Google calendars were populated for each student, giving them direction for where their work would be taking place for that class period-from morning gathering as a whole school to advisory groups and independent work environments.
- “Learning Commons” – Google Hangouts Chat rooms were created for each step and populated with students and education experts to be available as resources during independent learning time.
With the school environment provisioned and the G Suite for Education populated to manage student activities, the school website was ready for a re-fit. Keeping in mind that student information needed to remain private, password-protected pages were created for each of the five multi-age “step” levels. These pages contained Compass-branded graphics and used now-familiar vocabulary to reference support resources, linked apps and communication tools.
On Monday morning at 6:40, less than two hours before The Virtual Learning Path at The Compass School was slated to open its doors, the final edits were made. It was time to welcome students to their first day of school.
Virtual Farmhouse: Integrating Support Staff and Services
While many students were eagerly learning, connecting and thriving in their virtual classrooms, it was clear that others were struggling. Social distancing was new and frustrating, some parents were being affected by layoffs and financial and food insecurity was an acute risk. Students who were accustomed to the resources provided in our campus’ farmhouse had been abruptly separated from vital lifelines: the school’s social worker, speech and language pathologist, behavior specialist, school nurse, occupational therapist and academic interventionist. Now more than ever, it was especially important that students had unfettered access to these education professionals.
- Google meet classrooms were created.
- Web pages were designed.
- Contact information and engagement protocol was shared.
Finally, each of these professionals created materials to send to families, even those who did not generally utilize their services on campus.
Presenting: Our Virtual Campus!
The very last step in sharing our virtual campus with families was the creation of a click-able, embedded graphic for the school homepage. Each of the school steps was linked to their “launchpad” and each of the support resources in the farmhouse was linked to their own page. We are so proud to celebrate this collaborative effort as a community and to continue supporting all of our students as we navigate the months ahead.