Q&A: Remote Learning Updates


Photo illustration purchased from BigStock.com.

Karly Hamilton

In the third part of this ongoing question-and-answer series about the School’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic, Managing Editor Karly Hamilton ’21 interviews Upper School Head Joshua Neudel.

Read Neudel’s remarks about the official cancellation of spring sports, even if campus is reopened, as an effort to keep students safe. Neudel also details larger School efforts to keep students healthy, physically and mentally, via an assortment of initiatives.

Neudel also speaks about how distance learning could impact teaching once the campus reopens, whenever that might occur. Check out his responses below.

What were some of the high points of the first week of remote learning? Were there any unexpected complications?

I think morning meeting on the second day was one of the high points of the week for me. I thought it was fun and exciting to see everyone gathered together and the way in which we were trying to recreate some types of normalcy that we have for morning meeting. That was really nice. I know for me seeing my advisees on those mornings was also nice. I thought overall people seemed happy to be back, I don’t know what week two will bring and if the excitement over it will have drifted a bit, but those were some of the highs.

I expected this, I don’t know if other people necessarily did, but the tiredness of being on Zoom classes throughout the day, all day long. I knew that was coming up because I have some friends that teach at other schools that talked about how tired they were after the end of their school day, so I had a sense that that was going to happen, which is why going into it, we tried to limit the amount of time and not just to have a regular schedule like some places are doing—and try to meet five days a week or four days a week. So that part I think is definitely going to involve some adjustments.

I have a few tips that I’m going to send out this week to people just as some things to think about, like try not to sit in the same chair all day long looking in the same direction. Even if you can’t move out of your room and have to stay in that room because everyone’s been placed in different rooms to do their work, moving from a chair to a bed if you have one or another chair, or even sitting on one side of the table and moving a few inches, will give you a different perspective and maybe it’ll keep you a little bit fresher. I think there were a couple of times where people maybe turned their video off and went to the bathroom and took an extended bathroom break without letting their teacher know, and there was kind of a “Ferris Bueller” moment I think where the teacher kept looking for them but couldn’t find them and there was no way to find them because they were at their house. Those were the pieces that I think were the challenging parts. I’d be curious to hear the students’ perspectives.

What health and wellness resources have been made available virtually? 

Upper School Head Joshua Neudel.

Over break, we started having conversations with Mrs. Dolan, Mr. Nelson, Max in the fitness center, and some other people, Ms. Luckett and Ms. Escobar, to figure out how do we keep everyone connected and what type of resources can we provide. I was excited to get it all up and launched a little earlier than we even thought we would. We thought it would be more along this week, but really mid-last week we were able to get some of the videos up and Mrs. Dolan has already put some stuff together. I noticed she had a little mini yoga session in morning meeting for the Middle School, so that could be something we think about for the Upper Schoolers.

Then there’s the meditation pieces and the workouts with Max, and so I think those are good. I think Mr. Vallely has said that he’s potentially going to lead a spin class of some type on the bike that he has, so for people that have an exercise bike at home, they might be able to do that. So those were some good things, and then Ms. Luckett and Ms. Escobar are set up now so that they can talk with people a little bit more easily and putting that information up in that Wellness Center.

Do you think elements of remote learning will transfer back to campus?

I think so, I absolutely do. I can speak for myself, when I was still teaching regularly, I had transitioned my chemistry class to be self-paced and self-guided. We would come to class and I would work with students in small groups or individually, and that would’ve been something that would’ve transferred easily to this environment. I think this is forcing teachers around the world, and certainly around the country, to think about what are the core components for their class, how can the kids interact with material and what ways can they coach students, and think about new ways of approaching material.

So, I think there will be a lot of really interesting things that come out of it. Mr. Cutler’s obviously brought in some people from the outside; he’s done that in the past, it certainly makes it easier right now when other people can’t be off everywhere and everyone’s schedules are a little bit easier to handle. What I’ve found is once you develop some of those resources where you understand, here’s a week worth of materials that someone can understand, and do it asynchronously and you understand how that can free you up to work with people more individually. Then those are things you can continue to use and tweak just like you would do with any of your classroom resources. I would imagine whenever we come back, that teachers are now going to have new tools in their toolboxes that they will be able to utilize.

What updates have there been regarding the 12th-graders?

The College Board just came out with their adjusted timeline and basically they pushed everything back a week, so the testing isn’t going to start the week it was originally scheduled for. So that means that a lot of the 12th-graders, if they’re taking APs during that second week, will actually have one week between that and graduation in a few cases.

The Senior Project timing even got shrunk down a bit in that way, so we’re going to have to go back and figure out all the hours adjusting for them. We do have some new guidelines that we’re putting together for the Senior Project, and we’re trying to see if we have the bandwidth to do a couple of other things with it. Some [seniors] have expressed a desire to do a bit more together instead of independently, because they’re feeling detached already and aren’t looking to get more detached from each other. One thing that we’ve thought about was doing some seminar type of work with them where they take almost like mini-workshops where they go to three or four seminars over the course of the week, maybe they’re an hour or so long, and they have to do some work outside of it.

We’re just trying to get a sense of what those could be, who might be available to do that, who would coordinate that, so we may be able to utilize flexibility in some people’s schedules outside of Brimmer to be able to potential teach a once or twice a week hour-long seminar on a specific topic because they have more flexibility in their schedules. I’m hoping over the next week or so to figure out if that’s an option we can give the seniors, which would allow them to occupy the same space, even if it’s a virtual space, to do some project-type work together as opposed to being just pulled apart.

The 12th-graders mentioned that they’ve been having lunch together over Zoom. Do you see things like that happening with other grades?

I think so. I know that Stephen was talking about doing a Netflix Party gathering on Friday night. I’m not sure if they ended up doing it because we talked about doing that for the school or for other grades as well, but he wasn’t sure how many people you could put on it and what happens when you get too many people on it. So, they were going to test it as a grade before we tried to do that with the rest of the school.

We’re going to see over the next week more school-wide or grade events. If there are other ideas, we’re definitely open to them and want to figure them out. I know that we’ve talked about putting on some type of talent show maybe during an open block, maybe at night. It’s hard to know if people are looking for things to do during the school day or more of like a late afternoon, nighttime thing. That’s the type of feedback I think would be helpful from kids.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the community?

We officially decided that the spring sports season is not going to happen. If we were to end up being back at school in any portion of May, the idea of having everyone on the field running into each other and things like that, and even if we’re allowed to come back together, we’re not going to want to do that. We won’t know what population of people will be able to come on campus or not come on campus if that point were to come as well. We’re a couple of weeks away from having more around graduation and what that could look like. We’ve looked at a couple of different options about moving the date later, having an outside graduation, potentially limiting the participants, all those are things that we’ve been having conversations about. We just want to be prepared so we can have everything ready.