Like kids across the state and the nation, students at The Westminister Schools are now learning through online classes. This photo from a pep rally recalls a time when they were together. COURTESY OF THE WESTMINSTER SCHOOLS

How one Georgia private school puts its teaching online

With just about every student receiving lessons remotely, much of the focus has been on public school districts. But private and parochial schools are also facing uncertain times. They are scrambling to educate students through online learning while schools are closed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contacted officials at The Westminister Schools, a a coeducational Christian, independent day school in Buckhead for grades pre-K through 12.

“As the closure of school campuses became a likely possibility, we launched our remote learning program with a special teacher workday followed by a beta test day for “Virtual Westminster,” said Liz Ball, a spokeswoman for the institution.

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That let students, faculty, and staff learn to use the video conference technology and schedule adjustments, and navigate other aspects of virtual learning — like identifying a comfortable work zone with minimal distractions. From day one, the school has held classes live via Zoom that provide daily faculty-student interactions.

“During this time of physical distance, we are committed to keeping our community as connected as possible and providing our students with an engaging and student-driven learning experience,” said Ball.

Cynthia Flournoy’s son Christian attends The Westminister Schools and she, like many parents, was nervous about how distance learning would affect her child.

“I’m amazed at how resilient children can be,” she said. “My son has adapted well to this ‘new normal’ without skipping a beat.”

Flournoy said classes last from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and with track season in full swing, Christian runs and does pushups, situps, etc. after class.

“He still has homework and finds time to decompress in the evening.”

Ball isn’t surprised that students are finding their flow.

“Our teachers and students have shown great curiosity and creativity as they navigate the best ways to teach and learn in this new environment. Moments like these spur innovation in unexpected ways. We imagine that we will discover new ways of teaching and learning and of deepening community that will last well past these uncertain times.”

Ball said the school has a student support team of counselors, learning strategists, nurses, and chaplains that has been working with students individually to continue existing support services and respond to new needs. The team has also provided resources for the entire community, including check-ins and weekly updates for parents.

“The three pillars our student support team is using are acknowledging the emotional burden of this time, encouraging social connections despite physical distancing, and grounding our community in the research on growth and resilience,” said Ball.

The school also began a #CommunityCats initiative on social media, which consists of videos from athletics staff, performing arts faculty, students, the student support team, chaplains, and others. The videos—geared toward students, parents, and alumni—aim to connect the community with messages of support, wellness activities, and musical performances.

“We’re looking at the positives,” Flournoy said. “This is an opportunity to add new skills and new ways to do things. The world of the future will probably have more teleworking and similar processes.”

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