The public conversation around schools returning to campus continues to frame current education options as a simple choice: on-campus or remote, with the further suggestion that on-campus is good and remote learning is not. The reality, of course, is much more nuanced and since March 2020, every school has been challenged to find the best educational model that meets the needs of their school community. Would we all like to return to pre-pandemic times when schools were open and social distancing wasn’t part of our vocabulary? Of course, yes! But since that is an unrealistic option now, it is important for every school to find the best way for them to bring forward an educational program for their students.
At WSG, our decision making over the past several months has been clearly driven by our school mission, recognizing that meeting our students’ needs would require flexibility and a shift in resource strategy. Through ongoing surveys with our families beginning last Spring and continuing through the end of 2020, we heard our families’ concerns about students being in-person on campus. Most notably, families have felt the disproportionate impact that COVID has placed on the Black community and in particular, the high rate of unfavorable COVID metrics in Ward 8 in DC, where we are located. Families wanted to ensure a strong educational program for their daughters, while also recognizing the very real concern of keeping their families and communities healthy and safe.
As a result, we established a robust distance learning program for our students, ensuring that every girl had access to technology, reliable wifi (providing hotspots when needed), and a quiet space to work (with noise cancelling devices if needed). Our teachers have live instructional classes each day with our students, offering office hours for individual and small group support in the afternoons. The weekly schedule was rearranged to allow for social-emotional and organization skills learning and extracurricular activities on Mondays to start the week. Daily morning prayer led by students, a critically important part of our faith based school, continues virtually, allowing students and staff to come together in quiet meditation and prayer to start the school day. If students need additional support, they can meet with academic coaches individually throughout the week. The student supports available on campus have been replicated online, and our students take advantage of those opportunities. Finally, we recognize that many of our families have been particularly impacted during the pandemic, through loss of employment, food insecurity, economic vulnerabilities and so much more. With the generous support of our benefactors we’ve provided some emergency crisis funding to our families to help. We know that partnership with our families is critical to having our students show up ready to learn each day.
It is this intensive and comprehensive program that comprises WSG now - and we are proud of our results!
Daily attendance by students in our distance learning program averages 98% each day
Fall and Winter MAP testing results of students returning to WSG for this current school year indicate academic progress and growth in both reading and math, when compared to testing done in Winter 2020, testing completed pre-pandemic
Extracurricular activities continue, with students virtually exploring robotics, entrepreneurship, leadership, newspaper writing and more
Family support is strong, with continued participation in recent virtual parent teacher conferences and our Family Engagement meetings and parent education webinars, focusing on topics of interest, such as Financial Literacy
Anecdotal evidence suggests that our students feel engaged with their teachers (dropping by office hours just to chat) and continue to experience the joy of learning remotely, while also still desiring to be back on campus with their peers and teachers in person. And we agree! You can both miss being in person AND reap the benefits of a well organized virtual program.
In February, we initiated a very limited return to campus with small groups of girls, specifically focusing on those students identified who could benefit the most from the structured environment of on campus learning. We hope to continue to increase the number of students and time on campus over the next few months. Meanwhile, our primary method of education remains a robust online learning program. With both options our school families continue to be supportive and active participants in making sure our students show up for learning each day. Our teachers continue to find new ways to make learning engaging and relevant for our students and keep the connections going.
As our country continues to navigate through pandemic life, it could be that a full return to pre-pandemic operations is not likely to come for quite some time. The vaccine is promising news, but as with other COVID news, the positive indicators do not seem as widely relevant to the Black community (where the vaccination rate is lower at this early stage) - and thus our school planning acknowledges that fact. We will continue to make decisions that reflect and honor our school community - and navigate the combination of online and in-person learning that serves our students and families well. When the time is right, we look forward to a full return on campus, joyfully celebrating with our students.