School shutdown and new schedules: how students feel about the online learning situation

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On Thursday, March 12, Head of School Tom Dillow announced through a letter to families that Kingswood Oxford school would be closed until April 6. He said that the faculty would have March 23 to prepare for online teaching, and classes would resume online the next day.

However, on Friday, March 27, Mr. Dillow announced in a video that the school will stay closed until April 20, following guidelines from the CDC, World Health Organization, and the Connecticut governor’s office.

Mr. Dillow said that March break gave him time to make a decision on when school would open, if at all. The decision to extend the school closure became clearer as the virus was spreading quicker during March break. “The timing kind of worked well for us because all of this really developed quickly while we were on spring break,” he said. “We had the luxury of having those days when we weren’t here at school to figure out when we could be coming back or not.”

Despite school being closed, Mr. Dillow says that he expects increasing opportunities for student life, clubs, and even athletics to continue online.  “Our goal in the next coming weeks is that we are not just moving classes online, but we’re moving school online,” he said. “I think one of the great hallmarks of Kingswood Oxford is the intimacy of the community, and we want to move the community online too.” 

Head of the Upper School Daniel Gleason thinks that moving the community online temporarily can grant students the opportunity to become more independent. “There are some nice things about online learning like learning at your own pace, learning in your own way, doing research on your own, sharing your information with others,” he said. “There’s a lot of self-pacing and self-mastery that is really great about online learning.”

Teachers are using video conferencing programs such as Zoom and Google Meet to conduct their online classes.

The online school schedule is quite different from the regular school schedule. There are no flex periods, and there are 30-minute breaks between each class. There are no classes on Wednesday as the day is opened for office hours and student work time. 

Dr. Gleason helped with the creation of the online schedule. KO administrators and faculty asked schools all over the world for suggestions as they created an online schedule. “They suggested the real importance of breaks to have some informal time, get outside, get away from your computer, catch up with a student, have an individual conference,” Dr. Gleason said, “so we tried to look at some best practices and build a schedule that followed what we had learned.” 

One of the most notable features of the online schedule is the 9:00 a.m. start time. Dr. Gleason acknowledged the necessity of a later start for the health of students. “There’s a lot of research about teenagers and sleep, and the research is pretty clear that later start times are better for teenagers and their diurnal rhythms,” he said.

Sophomore Dan Raymond thinks that the 9:00 start time is very helpful. “Even though it’s only one hour of sleep it helps a lot,” he said.

Dr. Gleason is gathering feedback from faculty, students, and parents in order to see what changes can be made. “We gathered some information from faculty, and we are going to be gathering information from students and their parents in the next week,” he said. “We are going to be weighing all that information and deciding whether or not we want to make any changes in the schedule.” 

Junior Felix Fei feels that the time between classes can be shorter. “I think the schedule is fine, but it just doesn’t feel like real school because of all the time we have between periods,” he said. Sophomore Ben Baby agrees. “I think that school ends a bit too late,” he said.

Although members of the KO community are socially distancing, Mr. Dillow believes that the community will emerge from this crisis stronger and closer than before. “During times of crisis, we come together because we focus on what is most essential, which oftentimes are those relationships we have, things that tie us together,” he said. “School is one of those things. I think that in times of crisis, communities come together and we support each other. We rely on each other.”

Dr. Gleason agrees that people’s connections will grow stronger as a result of this challenge. “I think that when we do come back together in the real world we will appreciate that connection we have so much more,” he said. “We won’t take interpersonal connections for granted because now we realize how much we miss them.”

If the epidemic continues to escalate, it is a possibility that the governor’s office will extend school closures in Connecticut until the fall of 2020, meaning that KO may be closed until September. “We’ve hoped that we still can gather and come together,” Mr. Dillow said. “Unfortunately that hope is getting dimmer as the pandemic increases and the need to practice social distancing becomes more imperative.”

Senior Marwynn Somridhivej thinks that many seniors would be disappointed if the campus were to open in the fall. “I would definitely be disappointed if we couldn’t return to campus or have Commencement,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate for the seniors that have been working hard to get to this point.” 

Marwynn and all of the seniors hope to be able to return to campus as soon as possible.