In Garfield County, Christian schools adapt to online learning with faith-based support for students, families
When the call was made by state health officials to close both public and private schools — ultimately for the remainder of the school year due to the COVID-19 outbreak — Christian schools in the area embraced the challenge from a uniquely prepared perspective.
They also took it as a call to provide faith-based support to students and families they knew would soon be struggling just to get by during the crisis.
“As an administrator, my leadership team and I approached this distance learning challenge knowing that getting a routine established for our students was critical,” said Glenda Oliver, head of St. Stephen Catholic School in Glenwood Springs.
“Each morning, our students and teachers have a virtual homeroom where they come together to meet, much like they would during in-person learning, and we pray together,” she said. “This seemingly small thing has helped our students to feel connected, dispelled their fears and provided hope that it is all going to be OK.”
Likewise, Nicole Wenger, head of Ambleside at Skylark School, based out of Mountain View Church in Glenwood, said it was an opportunity for the school to emphasize its mission statement: to intentionally aid parents in the upbringing of their children with the knowledge of Christian truth and understanding of God’s ways, in the hope of lifelong, faithful and thoughtful service to God’s decrees.
“However, while the school has a distinct role to play in this endeavor, we believe parents have the ultimate authority and responsibility to help their children navigate the world around them,” Wenger said.
The school’s partnership with Ambleside Schools International also brings with it Christian counseling and parent and family support services to help with any food and housing needs, she said.
St. Stephen’s and Ambleside at Skylark, as well as the Liberty Classical Academy, a New Castle-based Christian school serving students all the way through 12th grade, said they were able to make a fairly quick switch to remote online learning for their students and teachers.
Part of the reason is the relatively small size of the schools compared to their public school district counterparts, which took several weeks to ramp up to online learning.
But the instructional methods already used by the schools also eased the transition, they said.
“We took on the COVID19 challenge as an opportunity for our parents to have a front-row seat to the education and teaching that we do here,” Oliver said of St. Stephen’s. “We are an academically top performing school … and we have high expectations for our students. We have not compromised the rigor of our instruction this fourth quarter of school, regardless of the method of delivery.
“Additionally, students are still meeting and getting personalized, one-on-one instruction or counseling via Zoom calls with their intervention teachers and counselors.”
At Skylark School and Liberty Classical, the transition from in-person instruction to remote learning was fairly seamless, the schools’ leaders said.
“Ambleside hasn’t missed a day of school and school leaders say that 100% of students are taking part in daily lessons and that the school is on track with its curriculum,” Wenger said. “We are working hard as a school and teaching team to make sure we are keeping up with the curriculum and giving enough work, but not too much.”
Each day, students have at least one Zoom meeting with their teachers and classmates before finishing the “school day” with some independent work, she explained.
Older students have an hour and half Zoom meeting for their course work and scheduled math instruction, followed by independent writing, reading and illustration assignments, she said.
“When you create an atmosphere where students actively participate in class discussions and enjoy learning as a whole, teachers are more excited about teaching,” Wenger said. “With Zoom calls, it’s a lot of discussion. If you want to have student engagement, you’ve got to have students talking and interacting.”
A crucial factor in achieving 100% participation were parents working with their children at home, she added.
Renee Miller, head of Liberty Classical Academy, agrees that parent support has been crucial during this time.
Liberty Classical already utilizes a university model for its schooling, where students come to the school two or three days a week, and work from home on the other days, Miller explained when recently asked by Garfield County commissioners while making a grant proposal to support the school’s theater arts program.
“We were already set up on Google Classroom, so students are used to working from home,” Miller said.
“It would be very hard to continue this way next year, so we are hoping that things will change and look up,” she said. “But our parents are invested because of the community and the personal connection with the teachers.”
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