As we wrap up the third week of distance learning and head into a well-deserved April break, one thing is clear: the Rowland Hall community is strong, resourceful, and resilient.
From gathering online via Zoom to posting words of encouragement on a new gratitude wall, Winged Lions have come together in the early days of this new normal to learn from, lean on, and support one another. And even in the midst of uncertainty, the best of Rowland Hall is on display. With each passing day, the community finds new ways to support others, like our youngest learners and the elderly, as part of an ongoing goal to help students thrive.
“All this leads back to what we as a school value: relationships matter and learn for life,” said Associate Head of School Jennifer Blake. “Those are still the tenets of the way in which we're operating now.”
All this leads back to what we as a school value: relationships matter and learn for life. Those are still the tenets of the way in which we're operating now.—Associate Head of School Jennifer Blake
In fact, the school’s commitment to relationships seems to be strengthening through distance learning. For parent Ben Lieberman, who has two daughters at Rowland Hall, this focus has had a positive impact on his family during the COVID-19 crisis. He explained that our investment in building relationships has helped his daughters still feel connected to teachers and classmates, as well as kept consistency in their daily routines so they can focus on learning.
“My concern was that the kids were just going to be running amok, and that has not been the case,” he said. “Our kids have been focused and attentive to school matters.”
Ben has also found that distance learning provides ready-made opportunities for his children to discover their own abilities. “I think this has been a really positive exercise in independence,” he said. Speaking specifically of his seventh grader, Ashlyn, he noted, “She has really appreciated the time to do work independently, and she has actually thrived. I think she’s really enjoying that.”
Launching distance learning—and maintaining connections and engagement already in place—was the result of the significant commitment of all members of the Rowland Hall team. Preparations began as early as February, when Rowland Hall started learning how COVID-19 was impacting peer schools in Seattle, Washington.
“We realized, ‘OK, this is going to come to Utah and we need to be prepared,’” Jennifer remembered.
Wanting to give faculty and staff as much time as possible to plan, the administrative team made the decision to shift the focus of a March 9 in-service day—one of three professional-development days scheduled each year—to distance-learning preparation. Jennifer believes the work done that day was critical in ironing out many of the early challenges posed by distance learning.
“The fact that we have a whole day set aside three times a year to do this kind of work makes it possible for us to pivot when we need to,” she said.
Looking back, the benefits of that day are apparent: while many other schools were building in time for necessary planning as social distancing measures were announced across the country, Rowland Hall was fortunate to have in place a framework of what would become a distance-learning plan. And by the time remote classes began on March 17, there was a basic structure in place to support families.
“It felt like immediately there was a plan and I thought it was very well communicated to everybody,” said Ben. “That doesn’t mean that there aren’t hiccups along the way, but from day one I thought it was well organized and well communicated.”
In addition to preparing for regular communication with families, Rowland Hall also devoted these early weeks to ensuring that our technology—crucial to distance-learning success—was able to support students, faculty, and staff. The school began in a favorable position, as we had in place many of the items students would need to learn fully from home.
“The benefit of our technology program is that we’re a one-to-one school from first grade up, meaning each student has a device assigned to them,” said Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey. Devices were already going home with students in fifth grade and above each night, and those that usually remained at school were set up to be taken home by remaining lower schoolers.
I’ve been really impressed with our parents’ willingness to say, 'OK, this is a new environment—let’s embrace it and see what we can do to support our kids. No one knows what the future will bring, but we’re going to make the best of the situation.'—Chief Information Officer Patrick Godfrey
Rowland Hall’s Technology Team has also been available over extended hours to give students and families support, both during the transition to distance learning and as issues continue to come up. From joining iPads to home networks, to arranging special screentime privileges, to providing cellular access points for students without internet connectivity at home, “we’ve done everything we can possibly do to make it easy for parents,” said Patrick. Additionally, his staff is staying agile and responding to ongoing student needs: the team is continuously keeping track of the best tools that support learning and using the management tool Jamf to push apps, web clips, and other items to students remotely.
From the Technology Team’s perspective, Patrick credits all rollout successes, large and small, to relationships and support across our community.
“I’ve been really impressed with our parents’ willingness to say, ‘OK, this is a new environment—let’s embrace it and see what we can do to support our kids. No one knows what the future will bring, but we’re going to make the best of the situation,’” he said.
And whatever that future holds, Rowland Hall will continue to support students and families, remain flexible, and approach challenges in ways that will keep us nimble and responsive to their needs. No matter what lies ahead, we believe this is an opportunity to become stronger—as a school and as a community.