As COVID-19 continues to spread worldwide at an unprecedented rate, Head of School Tom Dillow made the extremely difficult decision for KO to permanently move to virtual learning for the remainder of the semester.
In a letter penned to Wyvern families and students on April 17, Mr. Dillow stated that this decision was not taken lightly, but it was necessary for the safety and welfare of everyone in the KO community. Though expected, both teachers and students alike couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss and devastation.
With careful thought and time leading up to this conclusion, Mr. Dillow consulted with all of the Connecticut Association of Heads of Independent Day Schools as part of a weekly Zoom conference call. “Some of them had already made the call to not return to school,” Mr. Dillow said, “but pretty much everyone was in a place where they were about to make that call.”
Governor Ned Lamont’s announcement of the earliest back to school date as May 20 was the catalyst for KO’s closing. It soon became evident to the administration that it didn’t make sense to finish the last two weeks of school on campus, even if the coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions were lifted.
Dean of Students William Gilyard agreed. “The writing was on the wall for [KO] to shut down entirely because we end so much earlier than most other schools,” he said. “Maybe if we had another month and a half of school left, [Mr. Dillow] probably wouldn’t have made that call this early, but having two weeks left after returning, it didn’t make sense to dive right back into academics and get ready for [final] exams.”
There were many components and factors that led to this decision, but for Mr. Dillow, it was logically the way to go. “It was not so difficult [to make the call] from a scientific or medical standpoint because the facts were the facts,” he said. “But it was very difficult from an emotional perspective, recognizing that we wouldn’t get to see each other again in person this semester.”
Above all else, Mr. Dillow took into account the effects this decision would have on this year’s senior class. They would potentially be missing their graduation ceremony, prom, last spring sports season, and many other cherished senior traditions. Under these unfortunate circumstances, a firm conclusion had to be made with little time left in the year.
In a virtual town hall conducted on April 23, Mr. Dillow shared his thoughts about the beloved seniors. “Our hearts go out to the senior class,” he said. “[There is a] sense of loss, but we are committed to celebrate, recognize, and honor the great class of 2020.”
Senior Esha Kataria was heartbroken when she found out that school on campus would be canceled for the remainder of her last year of high school. “It’s hard thinking that March 6 was my last day of high school,” she said. “I miss physically being in an environment conducive to my learning as well as my social life. It’s hard to connect at that same level virtually. It’s made me realize, though, how much I take school for granted.”
As five weeks of online virtual learning has passed by, teachers have been asked to juggle tremendous workloads from home. Whether preparing for classes, teaching, and grading, many faculty members at KO also have families that they need to take care of and provide for every day. This is exceptionally difficult for faculty members who have young kids at home.
Upper School Form Dean and history teacher David Baker can relate to these circumstances with a newborn baby and a three-year-old son at home. “Some days are really good and some days are really hard,” he said, “but for the most part, we are managing well, making sure to still be very active in students’ lives and keep our kids engaged and occupied.”
The reality of continuing virtual learning for the rest of the year is both daunting and an opportunity for the school to enhance students’ academic experiences. During the virtual town hall, Head of the Upper School Dan Gleason talked about this being a chance for KO to create different models of learning. Instead of final exams, teachers are encouraged to design projects where students can “deep dive” into their subjects. Dr. Gleason is determined and optimistic that KO will be able to take advantage of this situation, rather than simply reacting to it.
The big question on everyone’s mind now is whether KO’s campus will reopen in the fall. Mr. Dillow believes that we could be on campus but in a modified setting, using social distancing methods, and smaller class sizes. Either way, Mr. Dillow had optimistic words to share with families participating in the virtual town hall. “Learning, engagement, and personal connection will continue whether online or in school,” he said, “and kids will continue to be learning and prepared [for the future].”
Right about now, KO’s campus is usually full of activity and energy as the school year takes a sharp turn into the final homestretch. But this year, classes will continue to run at home by the touch of our keyboard keys through the end of this year’s spring semester.