MICDS charged ahead with learning even while the global COVID-19 pandemic began prompting major public health concerns and wreaking havoc on so much of our daily routines. Teachers in every division and every department embraced the challenge of delivering the best possible experience for students given the unique circumstances. The expertise, passion, and adaptability they poured into their online lessons and learning experiences were widely appreciated by both students and parents during times of uncertainty and stress. And students stepped up to the challenge too, as they engaged with their classmates and teachers in labs and concert performances, online discussions, and social activities.
MICDS Magazine is proud to share just a sampling of stories from our community’s initial adventures in distance learning. From anatomy and physiology labs to a history unit on ancient Greece and Spanish storytime to sixty minutes of physical activity each day, examples abound of how teachers and students successfully adapted traditional classroom lessons to the distance learning environment. Teachers continued to engage their students’ minds through virtual lessons and engaging activities, while also, perhaps more importantly, fostering a strong sense of community, encouraging student involvement and discourse, and focusing lessons on social and emotional well being.
Sixth grade math students tried their hands as architects to design their dream homes while practicing their geometry skills. Middle School Math Teacher Dustin Delfin explained, “The constraints of this real-world scenario asked students to include at least eight basic shapes in their designs. Using an online home design software, students explored both the 2-D and 3-D world as they drafted floor plans and digital models of their proposed structures.” Once designs were finalized with materials and furniture, students were then asked to calculate the total square footage of their composite figure dream home using appropriate formulas.
Students went the distance in their STEM courses, although finding virtual workarounds for hands-on laboratory work was no easy task. Anatomy and Physiology students completed a “cardiovascular diagnostic lab,” interacting with patients virtually and reading their medical charts. They collaborated in small groups to diagnose and treat the patient. Estephanie Estrada ’21 said, “I have enjoyed these labs during this new normal! I love how they are super engaging, and I am learning at the same time.”
Meanwhile, in virtual humanities classrooms, 12th grade English Global Action Project (GAP) students collaborated over Zoom and Loom, creating and sharing their social enterprise projects designed to address a variety of issues ranging from food deserts to mobile health. Each team worked together—in person for most of the project, and then virtually during distance learning—to research issues and explore the problem from multiple perspectives before building a business plan. Jessica Brooks ’20 shared, “Through GAP, I learned a lot about myself and what I truly believed in. I redefined my values and used these values to fuel the way my group wanted to change the world. We brainstormed a lot and used the design thinking process to manage all of the ideas we had.”
“Through GAP, I learned a lot about myself and what I truly believed in. I redefined my values and used these values to fuel the way my group wanted to change the world.”
Jessica Brooks ’20
Over in the virtual World Languages “hallway,” students young and old had fun practicing their language skills during distance learning. Our Junior Kindergartners participated in weekly Spanish storytimes with Lower School Spanish Teacher Soledad Villagomez. “I always try to find a book that is not only connected with the vocabulary that the children are learning, but also has a connection and a message for their lives,” she said. For example, she read a book called Choco Encuentra Una Mamá (Choco Finds a Mom) to help students build their vocabulary about animals, colors, and numbers. They also learned that, even though the animals in the story were different, love was expressed in similar ways.
Fifth grade historians studied ancient Greece and the Olympics by engaging in an online competition with their classmates. For example, in one event, students created a timeline in Google Slides to display the first five days of the ancient Olympic Games, explaining each day’s events with words, pictures, and graphics. Tara Sadasivam ’27 reported, “Something that we had to work through was not being right next to each other. We had to find a way to collaborate, even though we were in a virtual classroom.” Students also completed a research project exploring the impact of the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games. Middle School History Teacher Robyn Williams was able to secure a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her students: Zoom interviews with two Olympic athletes affected by the postponement: Victoria Hayward and Jenna Caira, the co-captains of the Canadian Olympic softball team. The athletes shared with the class that they are maintaining their physical, mental, and emotional health during quarantine by eating healthy, practicing visualizations, adjusting their workouts to the home setting, and connecting with their teammates regularly on Zoom.
“Something that we had to work through was not being right next to each other. We had to find a way to collaborate, even though we were in a virtual classroom.”
Tara Sadasivam ’27
Students continued to thrive and perform on the “virtual stage” in performing arts. Be sure to check out the Arts section, particularly on the Magazine website, to experience several amazing virtual musical and theatrical performances from our Upper and Middle School students. Second grade drama students explored character development and scriptwriting, and Lower and Middle School Drama Teacher Missy Heinemann incorporated a “kindness-from-afar” project into the unit. Before spring break, students acted out scenes from the graphic novel Owly and Wormy, Friends All Aflutter! written by Andy Runton. During distance learning, students created a poem and a sign for a friend from school whom they dearly missed. Heinemann explained, “Throughout the story, the main characters—Owly and Wormy—are working to ‘find’ their butterfly friends and welcome them home by making signs and posting them outside. These moments in the book served as my inspiration for developing this lesson. I thought given our circumstances, it would be nice to celebrate the book while also giving the students a creative outlet for celebrating their friendships.”
“Although the transition to distance learning was certainly a challenge, I really appreciated the continued effort by all our teachers and staff to come up with creative ways to continue our courses. My teachers made it a priority to keep us engaged and active.”
Ava Mandoli ’21
The virtual studio was also ablaze with artistic energy, and students got creative with materials typically found at home! Middle School artists created a project of their choice or a themed sketchbook during distance learning. First, they constructed a planning sheet, which included research on an inspirational artist and an outline of their planned artistic approach. After each online class, students logged their work and process as they journeyed toward their finished masterpieces. Middle School Fine Arts Chair and Visual Art Teacher JoAnne Vogel said, “Many students chose to visually express their experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am impressed with their thoughtfulness and personal interest in documenting their new ‘normal.’ Using the arts to communicate how they are feeling is a healthy outlet and helps all of us understand that we are not alone in this experience.”
Physical education remained as important as ever in the distance learning environment. Thanks to Lower School Physical Education Teachers Sue Orlando and Jim Lohr, students, teachers, and even family members stayed active. Orlando shared, “Our remote learning program focused on getting the kids moving at least 60 minutes each day. We provided many opportunities—such as kid-friendly workout videos, dance videos, a monthly calendar with daily activities—and students and their families chose what worked best for them.” Many students’ favorite video series featured Beasley 4th graders demonstrating gross motor activities, animal walks, and other movement skills and exercises. Younger students enjoyed the familiar faces and role models for their daily warm-up!
Of course, teachers included some virtual fun and community-building activities during their online sessions as well! So much of school life is centered on relationships. All of those small moments—the hallway interaction with your teacher before class, games on the Beasley playground, the morning hunt for your best friend to share some good news, lunchtime conversations—add up to create a vibrant school community. While it is impossible to recreate all of these experiences in a distance learning environment, students and teachers shared different and new experiences together that, at times, brought them closer in unexpected ways. “We’ve done some informal show-and-tells that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise,” shared Krystal White, Middle School Math Teacher and Advisor. During the first day of distance learning, students in Ms. White’s advisory had the opportunity to show off their pets. Fourth Grade Homeroom Teacher Chris Brennan created a graphic to help facilitate Morning Meeting via Zoom with some familiarity. The graphic had a picture of each student arranged in a circle. During the Zoom session, the students, in order of the graphic, greeted each other with a virtual “good morning” to the two people virtually next to them. Upper School Math Teacher Al Begrowicz sent his students a cookie recipe where they had to solve calculus equations to determine the amount of each ingredient. The student who successfully baked the cookies reported that they were delicious!
MICDS families, especially parents and caregivers of our youngest learners, supported their students’ learning at home. School leaders collected feedback from the community and made logistical and curricular adjustments as needed. Jennifer Charles, parent of Walker ’28 and Sumner ’26, remarked, “MICDS was constantly listening to feedback and made every effort to adapt and improve as we all adjusted to the challenges of COVID-19. My neighborhood represents many different schools ranging from public to private to Catholic. I felt MICDS stood out as the leader in adapting and adjusting to virtual learning. The dedication of the teachers and community of MICDS during this time was incredible.” Her son, Walker, chimed in, “Distance learning was challenging and overall fun. I enjoyed Zoom and seeing my friends, doing specials, and participating in Book Club.”
The School received many similar notes of appreciation. Donna Carruthers, parent of Devon Catsavis ’24, said, “During such unsettling times, MICDS distance learning for 8th grade exceeded our expectations with every class actively engaging Devon with consistent, challenging curriculum, teacher-led instruction and discussions, online collaboration with peers, and thorough assessments. Our family couldn’t have asked for a more positive experience!”
Ava Mandoli ’21 expressed similar feelings. “Although the transition to distance learning was certainly a challenge, I really appreciated the continued effort by all our teachers and staff to come up with creative ways to continue our courses. It can be so easy to get distracted while trying to learn at home, whether it’s siblings, pets, or your phone, but my teachers made it a priority to keep us engaged and active.” She also appreciated the continued sense of community, even in the online setting. “Our advisory joked around just like we do in person; we virtually continued our tai chi routines in Mandarin class; and we even had a guest speaker in my History of Environmental Conflict class.”
Learn more about MICDS’ distance learning program:
Synchronous learning is online or distance education that happens in real-time, whereas asynchronous learning occurs through online channels without real-time interaction. At MICDS this spring, the distance learning program was mostly synchronous in the Middle and Upper Schools, and mostly asynchronous in the Lower School.
Teachers and students employed Zoom for online classroom sessions, 1-on-1 meetings, small group meetings in breakout rooms, and more.
The MICDS technology department shared the following Zoom stats:
- 1,258 Zoom accounts were established to accommodate distance learning.
- From March 23 to May 22, a total of 22,232 Zoom classes or meetings were held
- for a total of 56,538 hours.