CHESHIRE — Cheshire Academy has recently joined the ranks of remote teaching.
The private boarding school, which has 344 students from 31 different countries, made the determination to close its campus for the rest of the semester and conduct all classes and instruction utilizing online resources.
Cheshire Academy Head of School Julie Anderson explained that, during the school’s extended spring break, which ended Monday, March 30, faculty and staff worked to put in place “the most robust program possible” for remote learning.
“We wanted to offer as much as we could (remotely) that we normally offer on campus,” said Anderson, who explained that, in addition to regular class instruction, students will have access to a virtual student center, participate in club activities, and take advantage of a virtual writing center.
“We wanted the students to jump right in and understand that this is the rest of the semester,” she said. “I think for the kids, they can settle down and feel like this is going to be OK.”
Cheshire Academy did not rush to cancel its on-campus class instruction, instead waiting to see how the state’s reaction to the COVID-19 crisis would play out. However, several factors played into Anderson and the school making the decision.
First, Gov. Ned Lamont’s announced last week that all public schools would remain closed until at least April 20, with the possibility that the date could be extended even longer.
That “pushed us towards making our decision,” Anderson said.
Part of the calculus was the fact that, when preliminary discussions were held in February with Chesprocott Health District officials and the Town of Cheshire, it was recommended that, if one school were to close, all should do the same.
“It wasn’t demanded that we do so,” said Anderson, “but that was the hope.”
Also, Anderson explained how many of her students returning to Cheshire would be coming from different parts of the world, and would thus be subject to a quarantine of 14 days.
“We have limited facilities to use in case we had to quarantine students,” said Anderson. “We were also thinking of the impact on local hospitals if we did have students who tested positive.”
Then there was the issue of timing. Unlike Cheshire Public Schools where classes aren’t scheduled to end until sometime in June, Cheshire Academy’s students would be preparing to leave campus in May. If the campus were to be opened at the beginning of next month, it would likely mean only a limited number of students would return.
“We want the whole school to return,” she said. “We don’t want just day-students to return, or (students who live on campus) to return. We want to be together as a community.”
After the announcement was made, Anderson held a virtual town hall meeting with 65 families participating. One of the main areas of concern revolved around Commencement, which was scheduled for May 30.
The ceremony will not take place on that date, but Anderson promised that the school will hold the event at a later time this year.
“We don’t know when right now,” she said. “Maybe we’ll do it in August, before students head off (to college). Maybe we’ll do it during the Thanksgiving break. But we wanted everyone to know, we are (committed) to doing a ceremony like we do every year.”
The late-summer or fall dates, Anderson explained, are being considered to maximize the number of students who could attend. Since many do not live in the U.S. or in close proximity to campus, scheduling commencement for earlier in the summer would likely limit the number of students and families who could participate in the full ceremony.
“Watching your child graduate from high school, it’s as big for the families as it is for the students,” said Anderson. “We also wanted the school community to know how important this is for us as well. We are a small school, so we know these kids well. (Commencement) provides us the chance to celebrate how (the students) have grown, and that’s really important for us.”
Like all schools, going from in-class instruction to online learning — “transforming our entire semester,” as Anderson described — has involved a lot of planning and creativity. Anderson credited her leadership team and entire faculty for working tirelessly to get things up and running as quickly as possible.
“It’s not a surprise that we came together and cooperated (to solve a problem),” she said.
Anderson also credited several of her fellow boarding schools from around the state for helping with advice, as well as the Town of Cheshire for working with and involving the Academy in much of the decision-making process.
“It’s at times like this that you have an even greater appreciation for the entire community, and for our community here (at Cheshire Academy),” she said. “We know each other. We know each other as colleagues. It’s been very reaffirming to me as the leader of the school.
“We have a fantastic faculty … we have fantastic students,” she added.