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Overview

South Kent School is committed to delivering an enriching and supportive academic, athletic, and student life experience for all students. To be prepared for occasions when external circumstances impede the School’s ability to have an open campus for instruction, the School has developed the distance learning plan detailed in this document. The plan prioritizes the student experience and is modeled after the best of what an in-person South Kent School education provides for students. In addition to providing frequent supportive small group interactions with students, this plan ensures the continuity of the classroom experience and intellectual engagement even as students and faculty interface virtually. 


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Distance Learning Plan

In the event that campus is closed for an extended period of time, the School will implement the distance learning plan. We believe that with flexibility and creativity, we can provide students with meaningful opportunities to continue their learning. The distance learning program detailed below aims to support each individual student’s learning and well-being, while continuing to promote a sense of community and a fellowship of learning. Following the announcement of a campus closure from the Head of School, students and families should expect additional information and instructions from academic administrators and faculty.

Depending on the cause for campus closure, the School may be required to delay the initiation of the distance learning plan. If there is little to no advance warning for campus closure, the School will communicate with families on the timing of the start of distance learning as early as possible. Detailed communication with students, parents/guardians, and employees through email and the South Kent School website will include the exact date for the beginning of distance learning for students.

We recognize that a shift to distance learning requires our faculty, students, and families to make adjustments and that the new approaches may feel unfamiliar and challenging for all of us, at times. Therefore, all are encouraged to approach the transition with patience and flexibility. In a distance learning environment, interruptions to learning may occur for a number of foreseeable and unforeseeable reasons. Our faculty and administrators appreciate this reality and will be, first and foremost, supportive and flexible when working with students and families throughout the implementation of this plan.


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Navigating the Online Tools

By utilizing familiar tools, our students can adapt easily and smoothly to a remote learning approach. Therefore, Google Classroom will host all asynchronous content, which comprises most of the curriculum, assignments, feedback, and communication provided to our students.  RingCentral Meetings will host all synchronous courses.

MyBackPack will continue to display students’ grades in each course.

Google Classroom will be utilized to provide assignment specific written feedback for students, where appropriate.

Weekly Effort will continue to be utilized to communicate personalized, narrative feedback to individual students.

Gmail will be utilized for group communication regarding notifications or changes to asynchronous content or scheduled live class sessions.

Daily Schedule will continue to reflect the students’ daily schedule, advisory sessions, required live class sessions, and optional live office hours that are scheduled each day.

RingCentral Meetings, which is based on the Zoom platform and has many of the same features, will be utilized to host all live portions of the distance learning environment. Students will be issued detailed instructions for accessing their live meeting invitations. Google Chat/Meet will be utilized to host Office Hours.


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Curriculum and Instruction

Asynchronous Course Content

Asynchronous is the term used for course materials that faculty have prepared for students ahead of time, and that students complete at their own pace between scheduled live class meetings.

Students will spend a large portion of their time with asynchronous course content. This content will include the introduction to and explanation of new material, review material, individual student tasks and activities, and responses to classmates. The asynchronous content is designed around learning activities, which include opportunities for students to self-assess and make progress toward mastery.

Since students have access to this content 24/7, they can view and complete the material when it fits in their schedule in between live class meetings. They will need Internet access and an Internet-enabled device to access the asynchronous content. It will be organized and posted through Google Classroom.

Although courses vary, the strategy is to have students engage with content through asynchronous coursework that will form the basis for discussion, synthesis, or further interactive learning during the live class meetings.

Synchronous Course Content (Live Meetings)

Synchronous coursework requires students to be simultaneously logged into the virtual classroom at the same time as their teacher and classmates. Synchronous sessions are also referred to as live meetings. During these meetings, students will need to have Internet access and an Internet-enabled device with a camera, a microphone, and earbuds or a headset. Most laptops will suffice. The live meeting app that will be used is called RingCentral Meetings.

When students log in to a live class, they are expected to be on camera and able to participate through audio for the duration of the class meeting. When they log in, students will automatically be muted by the app. Students can unmute and mute themselves throughout the class to make contributions, according to the teacher’s expectations. If for any reason a student’s video or audio is not working during a live session, teachers will be flexible and work with students to ensure that they have been able to engage with the necessary content from the meeting. 

For their academic coursework, there are three types of live meetings that students will attend:

Live Class Meetings. (RingCentral Meetings) For a given class, these are held one time each week. All classmates and the teacher will log in simultaneously, with video and audio enabled. Students must have completed the required asynchronous material prior to each live class meeting, as posted on Google Classroom.

Live Office Hours. (Google Chat) For a given class, the faculty will be logged in at least two scheduled times each week.  Students can log in as needed to get extra help, ask questions or simply to touch base.

Partner or Group Meetings. When necessary for coursework, students will be shown how to meet virtually with each other in pairs or small groups using Google Meet.


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Weekly Academic Schedule

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Student Support

Attendance

Faculty will continue to track attendance in MyBackPack at required live class meetings, as they do when on-campus school is in session. Similarly, advisors will take attendance at each required advisory session.

If a student needs to miss a required live meeting for any reason, parental permission will be needed to excuse the absence. Absences can continue to be reported to the Office of Student Life via phone or email.

Advisory

Advisees will schedule times to connect with their advisors every Saturday.  Advisees and their parents should feel comfortable reaching out to their advisors regularly.

Office Hours

Each week there are two office hours scheduled for each class.  Students should use the scheduled office hours to work directly with their teachers.  While office hours are NOT mandatory for all students, they are strongly encouraged.  Some students may be required to attend office hours.  Teachers are available outside of office hours on a limited basis.

Math and Humanities Study Hall 

Each night there will be four members of the faculty available by Chat for virtual study hall.  Links to the Chats will be posted in Google Classroom.

College Counseling

College Counseling meetings with individual fifth formers and sixth formers will continue throughout the Spring Term, using virtual meeting options (RingCentral Meetings or Meet). Students will need to be responsive to meeting requests from Ms. Worthington and Mr. Moore, letting them know if proposed times are not possible. Students should always reach out to schedule their own meetings, when questions arise. There may need to be a series of group meetings with the Fifth Form to prepare them on topics, such as writing the college essay and NCAA eligibility.

Academic Resource Center/ ASAP

The Academic Resource Center will maintain support of all students including students in the ASAP program.  Parents should contact Nicole Ruschmeyer ([email protected]) for more details.


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Technology Requirements

Technology Suggestions for Distance Learning

The online learning experience is optimized with a laptop computer with 8GB of RAM connected to the Internet at 200 Mbps speeds or higher.  That being said, students can connect with other devices and slower Internet speeds.   Students are REQUIRED to use headsets with microphones for their online learning.  Students can use their iPad for their distance learning, but typing can be a challenge so we recommend an external keyboard.  Connection via cellular device should be avoided if possible.

Students with access issues (no/slow internet, device challenges, etc.) should contact Phil Darrin immediately.

Live Meeting Logistics

Faculty will continually help students navigate the world of virtual meetings, and students are likely to teach their teachers a few things as well. None of us will be experts at this overnight, but expertise will come with experience.

Audio Troubleshooting
  • Students should use a wired headset or earbud style headphone for live meetings. They should not use their computer speakers without a headset as this can cause feedback or an echo for other people in the meeting.
  • Faculty will show students how to mute and unmute themselves to make contributions to the discussion. When not speaking, students should remain muted so as not to create feedback or an echo.
Video Troubleshooting
  • Students need a reliable Internet connection, which may need to be wired if the strength of a WiFi signal cannot be relied upon.  Eliminating other devices from the WiFi by simply turning them off or turning off their access to WiFi can help improve connection speed.
  • If the video is not working, students should make sure that any other programs using the camera are closed or try restarting their computer and logging back into the meeting.
  • For video best practice, students should set up the camera so that light is in front of them and their device is angled to show their face.
  • Maintaining an up-to-date browser and checking for software updates on a regular basis is recommended. It is also recommended that students reboot their computer or device on a regular basis to minimize issues.  Be sure to close any apps and/or browser tabs that are not required during your lesson to assure that the maximum computing resources are available.
Expectations for Live Meeting Etiquette
  • Students should try to be in a quiet place for class, as best as they can.
  • Students should not eat or drink anything other than water on camera. This can be distracting for classmates.
  • Students should remove distractions like social media and texting during live meetings.
Technical Support

Technical inquiries should be sent via email to Derek Porter at [email protected] or (860) 927-3539, x238. These will be handled as quickly as possible, but as in all components of this plan, we encourage patience and faculty will be flexible with students experiencing technical difficulties.


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Guidelines for Parents/Guardians

We recognize that a shift to distance learning will require our students and families to make adjustments. A partnership with parents and guardians is essential for the success of the remote learning plan. The academic leadership, faculty, and advisors are available to guide students as much as possible, but there are things that parents/guardians can do to help students be successful as well.

Help your child establish a regular schedule and stay engaged with their learning.
  • Help your child establish and maintain a routine, including a regular bedtime and wake-up time each day.
  • Familiarize yourself with the weekly schedule and encourage your child to use their breaks during the school day to stand up and move around.
  • Begin and close each “school day” with a brief check-in.
  • If you check on your child throughout the day, remind them to consult Google Classroom for each course. Even when they are not in live class, there will always be meaningful learning tasks to complete. 
Create a dedicated learning space.
  • Help your child identify a place at home that can serve as a dedicated workspace for distance learning, where they can “go to school” each day.
  • A space that is clean, neat, and free of distractions (e.g. cell phones, TV’s, video games), with a strong internet connection and outlet access, is ideal.
  • Remove unessential devices from your home WiFi network.  This can be as simple as turning them off.
  • If an open, central location in the home will be sufficiently quiet, this will help your child avoid feeling isolated and will allow you to monitor their screen activity if you are nearby.
  • Consider telling your child that couches and beds are off-limits for distance learning.
Encourage independence and allow for productive struggle.
  • Distance learning creates the perfect opportunity for students to develop self-monitoring skills, independence, self-reliance, and confidence.
  • Stay engaged with your child’s learning but allow them to grapple with problems and come up with ideas for tackling them.
  • Refer your child back to their teachers for Office Hours (scheduled twice per week) if they seem stuck or discouraged, and our faculty will help your child reframe their questions and approaches.  Study Hall will happen every night - look for links to the Study Halls in Google Classroom.
Enable your child to maintain social contact with peers.
  • It is important for your child to stay in social contact with their friends and classmates during a campus closure, virtually or in-person, as permitted.
  • Classes can foster study groups and advisory and clubs can offer extracurricular interaction, but purely social interactions that are student-driven will help your child stay connected and feel a part of the community.
Encourage physical activity and monitor student stress and wellbeing.
  • Physical movement and exercise are vital to maintaining health, reducing stress and anxiety, and improving concentration and focus. Try to ensure that your child is getting the same amount of physical exercise during distance learning periods as they are used to getting.
  • Remind your child to eat healthy foods and drink water throughout the day.
  • We ask that parents also monitor student stress levels and reach out to their child’s advisor or the School Health Services team for advice as needed.


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Academic Frequently Asked Questions

Through well-researched templates, digital learning tools, frequent communication, and professional development, teachers have worked closely with the academic leadership to develop distance learning plans that ensure continuity of learning for our students. Approaches to distance teaching and learning are often not the same as approaches to in-person teaching and learning. During distance learning, both asynchronous and synchronous lessons are carefully designed to prioritize (1) active student engagements with content and (2) frequent feedback on progress toward learning objectives.
Grades, including effort scores, will still be entered into MyBackPack.  Teachers will be very flexible for students during this period.  It will be possible to improve a grade but very hard to do worse.  Students will still earn academic credit for all courses they have passed.  Students will still be graduating from South Kent School.
By modeling our distance learning plan on our existing daily academic schedule, a student’s required live sessions, optional live sessions, and free periods will be staggered at different times throughout the day and week. During their free periods and optional Office Hours periods, students may choose to continue working on their computer, or may work with physical materials, get up and move around, or take a break.  The Athletic Office will publish a workout routine for the boys to follow at home.
Courses that have significant hands-on or in-person elements (e.g. art, music) will receive careful consideration and creative planning on the part of the teachers to ensure continuity of learning. Teachers will provide appropriate alternative assignments related to the subject matter during the period of distance learning.
Your child’s teacher is the first resource; teachers will make themselves available to speak with students directly during scheduled Office Hours. South Kent School teachers are prepared to be flexible and accommodate student learning needs to ensure progress for each student. In addition to your child’s teachers, advisors are available to provide one-on-one support. If your child begins to struggle with learning, please reach out to your child’s advisor and the Academic Resource Center so we can put additional support in place. 
Children who experience heightened anxiety should consult with their pediatricians and/or psychologists. Our Health Services Team, including our nurses and school counselors, can offer referrals to parents and can coordinate with outside providers. During a campus closure, parents/guardians should monitor students’ mental health and seek outside support as needed.
We will continue to work with faculty in honoring all student accommodation plans and providing additional support for students with ADHD and/or other learning challenges. Distance learning does allow for an increase in personalized support and attention with added Office Hours, and not all remote learning is dependent on extended periods of screen time. Students will continue to be assigned work that will need to be completed without screens, including reading, writing, solving math problems, and hands-on projects, and additional accommodations can be made to increase off-screen work as needed. Please reach out to the Academic Resource Center or your child’s advisor if you observe your child having difficulties focusing due to increased screen time.
If your child becomes ill while the School is in a distance learning period or needs to miss a required live meeting for any other reason, use the established protocols for reporting your child’s “absence” from school with the Student Life Office (Cathy Boyle). Faculty will be flexible in working with your child to ensure that they are able to make up any missed work with extended deadlines.
The April 4 ACT and the May 2 SAT have been canceled but the later test dates in June are still to be determined. The organizations are communicating directly with those previously registered. If a student is unable to take a standardized exam at the originally scheduled time, due to cancellation on the part of the test administration, we will assist in communicating news about options for future testing. The AP program will offer their exams online and students may take them from home.
SEVP has allowed great flexibility for teaching online to include allowing international students to maintain their F1 status for the duration of the emergency situation.


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Sources

With permission, this guide is heavily adapted from the "Flexible Plan for Instructional Continuity" from Sacred Heart Preparatory, Atherton, CA. The lead writers are Diana Neebe (@dneebe, [email protected]) and Joy Lopez (@technomaven, [email protected]).