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The George School Response to COVID-19

Like the rest of the world, George School in spring  2020 looks very different from seasons past. Although campus is closed and classes are being conducted remotely, faculty, staff, students, and families have been working hard to preserve the essentials of both a George School education and our community. Here is what has happened so far:

Because of its international outlook (and student body), George School addressed the COVID-19 threat proactively, forming a response team in January. As the pandemic spread globally, the school’s efforts to address the needs of some students (e.g., international student travel over spring break) transitioned to a response for all. On March 12, the school announced the difficult decision to go virtual for the spring term.

Today all students are learning from home, except for 32 mostly international and a few domestic students who could not return home. They remain on campus, socially distanced.

The speed and scope of the crisis posed many logistical hurdles, some temporary (like the return of essential belongings, such as medications, to students who had left them on campus), and some ongoing. Because students are spread across sixteen time zones, maintaining the full traditional academic day was impractical.

The school’s solution is a combination of synchronous (classes meeting together at the same time) and asynchronous (independent) learning, combined with one-on-one consultations with faculty. Students can also get remote assistance from the Learning Center and library.

Teachers, many of whom spent spring break taking courses in online education, worked quickly to implement a virtual George School. As Scott Spence put it, “Our faculty members are approaching this endeavor with what I would characterize as open and learning minds.” They adapted their curricula and tools to distance learning, to new assessment realities (the IB Program suspended its spring exams, while AP tests will continue), and to new life realities.

Colette Weber and her students in IB Higher Level English have lively and thoughtful discussions about “The Quiet American” by Graham Greene. Polly Lodge had her biology classes build models of the DNA double helix with materials on hand. Faculty and students alike are approaching the virtual classroom earnestly, patiently, and creatively.

Other aspects of student life have also moved online. “Gatherings” expand on the collection model to bring small groups together for daily check-ins, while the new electronic Daily Bulletin keeps the community informed. The Meetinghouse is open (virtually) for those seeking spiritual solace outside of two weekly online Meeting for Worships plus one especially for seniors.

Counseling services remain available to students through both drop-in hours and by appointment. Athletics department staff are creating videos of workouts that do not require special equipment and are available to consult on training regimens.

In this time of social distancing, many are finding ways to maintain and strengthen the spirit of community that is quintessentially George School. Individuals have stepped up too, from the staff of the Curious George, who chose to take the newspaper online, to the residents of Orton now scattered across the globe who gather via Zoom on Mondays to keep in touch, and to award-winning musician Matt Check ’00, who held a concert in honor of his 20th reunion on Facebook Live for more than 800 George School students, alumni, and fans on April 2.

Responding to the crisis has been and will continue to be a learning process. As Head of School Sam Houser put it in his April 15 address to the Parents Association, “We’re trying to do the best we can to be responsive to the situation we are all in together” with the prime directive, as always, being “to create a good experience for the students.”

As he said in a reassuring message to students, “I know that you’ll have a chance to build a better world, so please don’t feel helpless at this time. Your intelligence, your caring for one another, and your ingenuity are going to make this world better than it has been. It will be different, but because you built it, it will be better.”

Connecting Across Time Zones

“With students coming from 47 countries, they’re getting a real education in how the coronavirus is affecting the world.” Read more.