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September 30, 2021

How schools and designers can handle crises

  • Remote, Hybrid, or Outdoor: What Style of Training Has Worked Best During the Pandemic?
  • By TRAVIS HAUAN
    Rice Fergus Miller

    Hauan


    The crisis demands quick and effective solutions in an ever-changing playing field. When schools started closing quickly in early 2020, no one could have predicted how they would adjust or how students would fare in the face of unprecedented challenges.

    The three commonly observed teaching methods that surfaced were: full distance distance learning, a hybrid between distance and limited classroom learning and in-person outdoor learning. We interviewed three schools that each approached education differently during the first year of the pandemic: Catalyst Public School in Bremerton, Silverwood School in Poulsbo, and Lincoln Park Elementary School in Douglass Park, Oregon. Every school, regardless of teaching method, has been successful in maintaining safety, fostering student success, and increasing enrollment the following year using timeless management and teaching techniques.

    ENGAGING THE COMMUNITY

    Images courtesy of Rice Fergus Miller

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    Catalyst is a non-profit, tuition-free charter school in Bremerton open to all students regardless of ability, need or zip code. Rice Fergus Miller completed the complete renovation of the 20,000 square foot building in 2019, including 12 classrooms, a cafeteria, meeting rooms and faculty accommodation.

    The cornerstone of the success of each school surveyed was community engagement. Creating early standards of communication and procedures for teachers, families, students, and buy-in from everyone, was critical to success. It included everything from how and when students would return to class, how homework would be transferred back and forth, and even how families applied home safety protocols. As each school approached this differently, the same goal emerged: clear and regular communication between teachers and families allowing for skillful adaptability as needed.

    • From a distance

    In addition to video conferencing platforms, many schools and districts have adopted communication applications to bridge communication delays and develop a network of accountability between teachers, students and parents.

    Catalyst is a community charter school located in Bremerton. He quickly selected an app called EdLight as an educational platform to facilitate communication. This app allows the school to post class-wide or school-wide critical messages to parents over a secure connection. Plus, it connects students and teachers to send and receive homework and feedback immediately.

    • Hybrid

    During the transition to blended learning, Catalyst continued to use EdLight to maintain a collection of homework and as a standard communication platform. The app allows students to take photos of their homework and immediately upload them to the platform. The instructor can digitally review and comment on assignments that are immediately accessible to students. As classes split between face-to-face learning and digital learning, a tool for seamless connection with students became invaluable.

    • In person

    Silverwood School is an independent outdoor school, located in Poulsbo. He was dedicated to maintaining in-person learning throughout the pandemic. Limited by technology, she used a different approach to engage her community. Silverwood hired a 0.5 FTE Liaison Officer who helped every teacher and staff check in with families regularly and make sure students and families had the resources they needed. The Liaison Officer provided much needed support and even delivered or picked up supplies as needed. According to Lisa Heaman, principal of the school at Silverwood, “Hiring the liaison officer from the start was one of the best decisions we made. It made everything much smoother. For the 2021-22 school year, Silverwood has adopted a digital communications platform, much like Catalyst, for teacher engagement with family.

    MODIFY YOUR SPACE

    Classroom windows maximize natural light and add views of Sinclair Inlet.

    Have you ever draped a blanket over a window to reduce glare, or opened a door with your elbow because your hands were full? Changing your physical environment to meet immediate needs provides valuable insight into how a space may not reach its potential. During the pandemic, examining how schools altered their physical space to comply with safety protocol provided essential feedback on how to better design teaching spaces for future use.

    • From a distance

    Digital engagement can have as much of a physical impact on students, families and teachers as a school building. For distance learners, all three schools provided consistent tablets and all connected to the same video conferencing platform. For Catalyst, much of the digital space layout came from the video conferencing platform and working with the students to set up their dedicated space at home. During student orientation, Catalyst and Douglass Park provided each student and their family with a package of manipulatives (depending on the school year) that the student was responsible for and could use during class. from a distance.

    • Hybrid

    When the students returned, each school used the guidelines for social distancing, disinfection, mask wear, and ventilation upgrades, where possible. For Catalyst, it had recently moved to a new building and had enough space to accommodate all of the students in the school, while keeping classes small to maintain a 6-foot separation.

    For Catalyst, it would do two things differently: install windows that open in classrooms for natural ventilation; and provide more covered outdoor space (tents in the parking lot don’t last long in the rain).

    • In person

    With the outdoors as a classroom, air quality is usually not an issue, unless it is during wildfire season. Silverwood students spend most of their time outdoors, but when they were indoors, social distancing and safety precautions were paramount. As Heaman said: “At the beginning our mantra was: ‘Everyone’s health and safety (is) our priority’. From the start, Silverwood installed air filtration systems in every room of the school.

    In addition, it has modified its classroom spaces to offer the greatest flexibility. This meant that much of the furniture had to be removed so that 6 feet of social distancing could be maintained. Some teachers have asked students to use their own yoga mats and work on the floor and on trays, other teachers have used “surfboards,” a desk sitting on the floor that students can pick up and move. easily indoors or outdoors. When they weren’t using either, a soft seat on the grass or tree stumps worked just as well.

    MAINTAIN RESPONSIBILITY

    Accountability has enabled each school to respect its security procedures, ensure academic rigor and promote student success. Creating a culture of accountability among staff, students and families has resulted in zero cases of COVID-19 in every school.

    • From a distance

    For distance learning, the challenge of fostering regular student participation has become one of the biggest challenges. Amanda Gardner of Catalyst said, “I noticed that students who had done a year of college before became much more passive during distance learning. Fortunately, that disappeared when (the students) returned this year and they were very happy to be back in school. During full distance learning, a positive way for schools to ensure they stay on track was to invite other instructors from the school to participate in virtual classes and to share of their comments.

    Teachers used different icebreakers and digital techniques to get students to keep their cameras on and stay engaged during live teaching sessions. The two schools that offered distance learning said that live teaching sessions were much better at engaging the student than homework sent back and forth with limited or no teaching sessions.

    For distance learners, success depended heavily on the instructor and families to stay on top of communication to ensure that students remained engaged.

    • Hybrid

    Hybrid, split-class learning has brought the benefit of smaller class sizes, but with the challenge of contact tracing and distance learning. The blended learning responsibility combined the physical challenges of security and sanitation with the pedagogical responsibility of distance learning.

    • In person

    Heaman described how creating a culture of accountability within the faculty helped maintain the rigor of the school even when everyone was feeling tired. For Silverwood, creating a culture of accountability early on for the facility, families and students is what has sustained them throughout the year without any COVID-19 cases on campus.

    In developing the safety plan for Silverwood, Heaman thought in detail about every step a student would take during their day at school. From there, they limited the amount of material that would pass from teacher to student, making it easier to track who touched what.

    Valuable information

    Three different learning methods provide valuable insight into how schools have adapted to maintain safety and academic success in the first year of the pandemic. Each school has been successful in mobilizing families, students and faculty to create a united community to keep everyone safe and help students succeed. Each school has changed its physical and digital space in various ways, adapting quickly to new scientific research and emerging data.

    Fostering a culture of accountability was essential to maintain academic rigor and health security. As we move into more uncharted territory for education, the lessons learned over this past year of school will help plan the future of education for years to come.

    Travis Hauan is an architectural designer and partner at Rice Fergus Miller. He works in the company’s housing, community and education studios.

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