I hope this finds you and your family healthy. In normal times, all of your Putney children would be returning to campus on Monday. These are far from normal times. We are all adapting on the fly, and then adapting again as we learn more. Life is forcing us to look at what is essential, and our connections with each other will prove to be lifelines. As a creative and caring community, we want to be in partnership with your family in more than just curricular ways. We hope you will find ways to be in touch with each other as well as those of us on Putney’s campus.
Teachers will be meeting, virtually, next week to redesign courses to migrate to distance learning. Expect to hear directly from teachers near the end of the week. For now, I want to give you a general idea of how the spring term program will proceed. We will use a schedule that asks both students and teachers to be online and available to one another at set times throughout the week. Teachers are being trained in how to use all portions of the Google for Education suite as tools to facilitate the distance learning we are about to begin. All class information, assignments, and materials will be made available through Google Classroom; Putney students are exceedingly familiar with this format for managing their academic lives. Please let Kevin Feal-Staub (firstname.lastname@example.org) know right away if you know that your student will not have dependable access to a computer and to the internet. If there are class materials that students have left on campus, it’s likely we can reproduce them electronically or improvise.
Some classes, particularly art classes, that depend on specialized spaces, materials, and equipment may be canceled. Senior exhibitions are being evaluated, first with the sponsors, and then with the students to see which ones can continue and which must either be altered or canceled. Students whose exhibitions cannot proceed will be contacted directly by the Academic Dean to add different classes in their place.
We will also be trying hard to maintain a sense of community and keep some of the non-academic pieces of the school engaged and building community. We will be doing student leadership elections and selections remotely, with speeches by video and voting electronically. We’ll test a variety of ways to assemble and expect we will be learning from one another about optimal ways to do this.
We will have about 20 students on campus who will be living under a strict regime of social distancing. They will join everyone else in distance learning despite the fact that they are living here; we’ll all be together as much as we can — on our screens. We have done a mammoth job of cleaning and disinfecting every space on the main campus, have altered the KDU systems considerably, and are asking all day students and visitors to stay away, for now.
Most of you will have your students at home with you, and this will present a new set of challenges for all. Having your student home as we move back to some sort of school and learning routine will be both delightful for its sense of purpose and challenging to manage within your home. Each family will find its own way to navigate this new territory, but here is some advice, which you can take or leave as you like. Create some daily structures, and set up a “workplace,” other than your child’s bed or even bedroom. Our class schedule won’t start until 10:00 East Coast time, so, for many, there is time for exercise or chores before getting down to schoolwork. The schedule will include some set times at which everyone must be “in class” and some times at which students will know they can meet independently with their teachers. If your student lacks strong executive functioning skills, we’ll want your help to be sure they are making good use of the time that teachers will be available to answer questions and guide students individually.
Advisors will set up a weekly call to check in with both you and your student. We want to review and reflect on how teaching and learning is progressing, and that dedicated time will offer a chance to compare notes and make adjustments as we can. We are pretty sure that the learning curve will be steep, and that there will be some frustrations as we get underway. We want the students to be communicating about what is and is not working for them, but if you think this isn’t happening effectively, please do let us know. Putney has always prided itself on being pioneering educationally, and although coronavirus is not the incentive we would have wished for, it will be fascinating to develop ways in which progressive pedagogy can be done through distance learning. I have confidence in our faculty being able to do this well – they are already flexible and imaginative teachers who see each student as an individual learner.
And lastly, I would like us all to reflect on how we can put into action one of Putney’s Fundamental Beliefs, which says “To want to lend a hand to the community at large, not to live in an ivory tower.” As they grow towards adulthood, I hope they will all be able to see themselves as people who step up to help in a crisis, rather than waiting for others to solve all the problems. Of course, we are all going to be living in isolation, even if our walls are not made of ivory, but it would be wonderful if our students could find some way to be useful to others. We are hoping to set up a way for students to be online tutors for our local elementary and middle school students whose parents are not able to be in-home teachers, and it may be possible for your students at home to offer the same to local schools. They could offer to do shopping for shut-ins, or to be child-minders for first responders. There are many other opportunities for service popping up online.
Please don’t hesitate to send questions and thoughts, or to give me a call. This is going to be a team effort, for sure.
Best to all of you.