Distance Learning: The Mount St. Joseph Academy Model
Like most of the nation, Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland was not spared in the effects of COVID-19. In March it was obvious that drastic measures were about to take effect, and we needed to adjust and adapt to some very difficult and different times. We met as a faculty and staff to discuss the potential of having to change the way we teach and educate, taking into consideration the whole student as well as their families.
During this discussion the subject of distance learning and remote access came to the forefront. There were several challenges that needed to be addressed; first there was the structure we were going to operate within, next there was the issue of sourcing — do all students have a device that will sustain them over a long period of isolation from school — and lastly, is there infrastructure available to support all our students? These were the problems and challenges we had to overcome in less than a week.
The first problem, the structure to operate within, was ready-made and simple in its design. The traditional eight-period day, where students transition from one period to the next during a normal school day, was actually perfect to support distance learning for multiple reasons. The two primary reasons for choosing this model were structure and consistency. Structure is important because it gives purpose to the day; adolescents and even lots of adults need purpose — they need to know what is in store for them during their day. Students are also comfortable knowing that they do not have to learn a new schedule on top of trying to learn in a totally different environment. Using the existing schedule was one less thing to worry about.
Consistency is also vital to success in this environment. A sense of routine provides a level of comfort that makes accessing a student’s education that much easier. Students that know they have a schedule they are used to, know when class is scheduled and know what the expectations are for class will be more open to learning new ideas.
The second problem of ensuring every student had a device to sustain them through this period of uncertainty was less of a problem because all MSJ students have a device and are familiar with incorporating it into their everyday lives.
The last concern was access to the Internet. This is difficult to control because it depends on where the student lives and the socioeconomic state of the family. Not every student has the same capability of accessing the Internet. But luckily the local internet provider made access equitable during this time of crisis.
—Mike Alexander is principal at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland.