As the coronavirus impacted schools across the world, 2e News reached out to 2e-friendly programs to learn how they were continuing to support their students. Below are stories from program leaders who transitioned their school, clinic, or program to a virtual environment. Are you part of a 2e school or program and would like to share its story? Share your experiences here.
Chris Wiebe, Ed.D., High School Director — Bridges Academy, Studio City, CA
The Bridges Academy high school program was already online with Google Classroom (our learning management system) and Alma (our student information system); however, our use of these platforms was not intended to accommodate an exclusively virtual environment. The biggest initial challenge was moving the broad community toward an online mindset. To aid in this process, I built a website that explains the logistics and components of our interim online learning program. The site includes basic information about our schedule, daily routines, and expectations for students, as well as a parent primer about our tech platforms and a framework for how our teachers assess students’ online engagement.
Despite proficiency with online tools, teachers and students at brick-and-mortar schools are not necessarily attuned to the unique opportunities of online learning. Some teachers will use an LMS like a bulletin board, posting materials that students retrieve, complete, and then return to an inbox. Whether that inbox is in the cloud, or a plastic tray at the corner of a desk, the instructional strategy is exactly the same and technology is not being leveraged to enhance the student experience.
That is why I am using the SAMR model to anchor ongoing faculty discussions about high-quality instruction in the virtual space. This model categorizes different levels of technology integration to help teachers make creative and informed instructional choices. For instance, substitution (“S”) occurs when technology acts as only a direct replacement for a learning tool with no functional change (e.g. using a keyboard instead of a pencil). Augmentation (“A”) means that technology is still a replacement for a non-digital tool, but there is also some enhancement (e.g., incorporating audio/video into a verbal presentation). Modification (“M”) occurs when the actual task/assignment changes as a result of the affordances of the chosen technology (e.g., using a cloud doc to enable students to color code a document while the teacher offers real-time feedback.) Finally, redefinition (“R”) occurs when technology affords the creation of a new task, previously inconceivable in a non-virtual environment (see example below).
At an initial planning meeting, one of my faculty members was exploring how to archive a class discussion held via chat to scaffold the writing process. The assignment would go something like this: The archived transcript (“brainstorming”) would provide material for a subsequent assignment that asked students to collectively complete a shared digital graphic organizer (“organizing”), transferring main ideas and details from the text chat onto the document. Then students would draw from the graphic organizer to create outlines for distinct, individual essays on this common topic (“drafting”). Finally, students in pairs would take turns sharing each other’s screens to provide one another with feedback through verbal comments via video conference and written feedback via the comment function on Google Docs (“revision”).
While strategies like this can bolster opportunities for collaboration and deep learning during this difficult time, only a gifted and committed teacher can create supportive and successful learning environments for their 2e students, built on strong relationships. At Bridges we are lucky to have dozens of just those types of teachers.
Melanie Hayes, Ph.D., Founder — Big Minds Unschool, Pinole, CA
Like everyone else, we had to act fast to adapt to this new way of being. We had one short spring break week to convert our entire school and recreate Big Minds online. Thanks to a wonderful faculty and administrative team, we have been able to provide consistency and comfort through offering nearly the same schedule, activities, and teaching that we did in the real world. Our students now can enjoy their morning free time together on a private Big Minds Minecraft server, then they attend their math/literacy coaching and daily classes as an interactive group online. Our site director holds our regular lunchtime conversations via Zoom, where she eats lunch with our students and they enjoy one another’s company.
We are also offering a parent support time for a “virtual drop-off” to give parents a place to chat with the director and each other. Our parent support coordinator offers a homeschooling support session each week to ensure parents are not feeling overwhelmed by this new reality. We are in the early stages, but so far so good. It has been really sweet to connect to our students virtually and to know that our community bond is holding strong!
Jacqueline Byrne, Founder — FlexSchool — Berkeley Heights, NJ & Bronxville, NY
FlexSchool and FlexStudents seem to be adapting quite well to the new normal. Fortunately, FlexSchool already offered an online school in the form of its cloud classroom. Several weeks ago, we began putting a plan in place to move all of our classes to the cloud classroom while the coronavirus outbreak would prevent us from being on our campuses. Teachers spent several hours in training, and on Monday, March 16, online classes began without missing a single school day. In many ways, it has been reassuring for our students to be able to stick to their normal class schedule during the week.
One challenge of working completely online is that it can be difficult for students to spend so much time sitting in front of the screen. Students therefore are encouraged to spend 30 minutes per day doing some form of physical activity, and we have asked them to send in pictures to document how they spent their time. Many of the teachers have also built breaks into the class period. As always, students who need to move around while they are learning are still encouraged to do so.
Providing the students with their regular schedule not only keeps up with the rigor of the curriculum but also allows students to have real-time interaction with their classmates. Class discussions are still the most integral part of learning at Flex. Because the classes are live and online, our students are experiencing human connection and are not receiving packets of rote work. Our teachers are still able to provide academic and emotional support. We realize how important that connection is, especially in this time of isolation. In addition to normal classes, we have created several online after-school clubs. The students really enjoy the opportunity to play and engage in a non-academic setting.
One student said, “I would be going crazy if I didn’t have classes.” Another said that he is grateful to have something interesting to do. This new normal is, of course, a work in progress, and we are constantly reviewing feedback to find areas that could be improved. This has been an adjustment for everyone, and we are very proud of our staff and students who made a smooth transition to this new way of learning.
Callie Turk, co-founder — Resilience and Engagement for Every Learner (REEL), Palo Alto, CA
This past Wednesday marked two weeks since my three children enjoyed communities of learning and friendship in person, which is hard to wrap my head around. The private schools they attend already make use of online systems and their teachers made a nimble transition to distance learning.
At home, it took a few days for us to settle into a routine. No, Mom isn’t the only person who is going to pick up the house. Yes, we are all going to break for lunch at noon. For sure, everyone is going to move their bodies for at least 30 minutes each day. And, definitely, work blocks and schoolwork will happen before video games or episodes of The Office.
I have found that distance learning has some upsides. For instance, one of my eighth-grade daughters is in a self-paced math class. In the past, she received the attention she needed in geometry, but the teacher had limited time in a one-hour class. Now the teacher schedules at least 15 minutes per day of one-on-one time with my twice-exceptional daughter, who noted, “Linda is such a great teacher and person. I’m glad I get to work with her.”
Only a gifted and committed teacher can create supportive and successful learning environments for their 2e students, built on strong relationships.
But there are also downsides. It’s tough on teens to be away from their peers. My most extroverted child quickly learned to navigate Zoom and now spends hours online with her friends, the way I spent hours on the telephone with friends during my teen years. But my more introverted kids, who soak up positive social energy through proximity to others, aren’t having their needs met. I’m uncertain what the long-term social-emotional implications are for all three of them.
All things considered, we’ve been blessed with teachers who are putting their hearts into maintaining valuable learning experiences during this difficult time. But we will be grateful to get our kids back to a face-to-face community of learning and growth. Two weeks have gone by faster and more successfully than I ever thought they would, and I am confident that all of us — parents, teachers, students — will learn new ways of doing things that we might want to carry forward into the future.
Max Melby, School Director — Arete Academy, St. Louis Park, MN
Arete Academy started working with community partners in the first week of March to respond to the potential for school closure and distance learning, but it’s hard to feel adequately prepared when the task is to transform your entire school program. Our teachers, students, and parents have absolutely risen to the occasion and I’ve never been more glad to be a part of the Arete school community.
We started distance learning on March 19 and we are hoping to resume on-campus classes on May 3, barring worsened conditions. We are using our Google Apps for Education as our learning platform and, with what little data we have, Google Classroom and Google Meet hold a lot of promise for sustainable success.
Teachers are keeping their virtual classrooms current with assignments and providing ongoing feedback, as well as holding one-on-one meetings and group classes. Students follow recommended schedules that we put together or work in whatever ways fit into their home routine.
Our program is predominantly asynchronous right now, but we are actively working on ways to shift the balance to provide opportunities for synchronous learning. One of my favorite examples of synchronous learning right now isn’t necessarily academic: Each day, our whole school is invited to a standing Google Meeting to eat lunch together. There’s something really special about the nonsensical hypothetical questions and laughter our students share over lunch and I’m grateful for our teachers who are making that work and the students who consistently sign on for it
I have visited a handful of very special schools (2e schools included, of course) and each school has its own special “lightning in a jar” quality. I think that one of the big challenges that all of us face is how to capture that lightning in a jar and recreate it over the internet. How much work is reasonable from afar? How are we supporting our students’ social connections? How can we support our parents? We all have a lot of learning to do and I look forward to hearing more about how the broader 2e community is responding.
Dan Peters, Ph.D., Executive Director — Summit Center, Walnut Creek & Torrance, CA
At Summit Center we spend lots of time working with parents of gifted and 2e children and adolescents, helping to provide strategies to manage screen time and technology use. During this time of “shelter in place,” we are increasingly grateful for technology and the online platforms that help us stay connected to each other and maintain as many of Summit’s services as possible.
We are using Google Meet for virtual counseling and consultation sessions with parents, adolescents, and children. This tool has also helped us continue to offer our clients educational therapy. While we have temporarily cancelled psychological evaluations, our team is researching options for testing virtually. As telehealth becomes more commonplace, some studies are showing positive results. Providing testing questions through a shared screen as well as audio recordings of test questions are some of the ways that providers are exploring assessment in the digital space.
We are also starting online support groups and offering our library of webinars to our community for free. These resources include Taming the Worry Monster, Psychosocial development of Gifted Children, Time Management, and more. I continue to record podcasts (Parent Footprint with Dr. Dan) and livestream on Facebook to maintain community among our members, urging them to stay present in these uncertain times.
I am hopeful that the creativity and inventiveness required by the current circumstances will provide us with perspectives and information that boost our capacity to provide families with our services over the long term. Times like these require problem solving and thinking outside of the box. Twice-exceptional people are needed now more than ever.
Kim Busi, M.D., Founder — Quad Preparatory School, New York, NY
The Quad Preparatory School, which meets the needs of K-12 2e students in New York City, moved to an online continuous learning environment on March 12. In conversations with other school leaders, the transition to distance learning at Quad Prep seemed easier and less complicated than it was for our peer independent schools in NYC.
Everyone’s staff has worked incredibly hard, but we believe that our shift was eased because our fundamental approach lends itself much more easily to a continuous learning/online environment. Over the past weeks, our 2e pedagogy has guided the opportunities we’ve leveraged — maybe this can exemplify how 2e models of education are models for all education!
Opportunity 1: Strengths are more important than ever. As the novelty of the online classroom recedes, engagement in and through strengths and talents is central. The ingenuity and creativity of our educators and providers has been nothing short of magical to witness. Lead with strengths — and lead early — to prevent disengagement online.
Opportunity 2: Personalized learning is easy to convert. This is a good time to rethink the necessity of group cohorting all day and all the time. Consider a schedule that allows for full group, small (or just-right sized) group, and 1:1 instruction to alleviate screen group burnout and frustrations.
Opportunity 3: Seize the enhanced opportunity (yes, enhanced!) for integrated social, emotional, and executive functioning learning (SEL & EF). Who could have imagined that an online platform could offer such unique SEL and EF skill-development opportunities?! Using breakout groups and leveraging the fact that kids can see themselves and others online, teachers and providers (in our case, psychosocial teachers that already exist in every class) have a unique, visual opportunity for in-the-moment coaching.
Opportunity 4: Take care of your community. Parents are now co-teachers, so have a strength-based approach to parents navigating the needs of a 2e child in the family. Solicit feedback early and often, and provide responsive mechanisms for the range of support they’ll need, including technology assistance, scheduling, and other guidance as they navigate this new landscape. And don’t underestimate the need to support their own community interaction. Virtual “coffees” and “cocktail hours,” workshops, and robust resource lists are excellent ways to take care of your parent community. And, don’t forget the staff; for every place that I wrote parents, please substitute staff.
Opportunity 5: Structure is the monarch, but flexibility rules the day! Start early: The transition is very similar to the excitement and ramp-up during the first weeks of school, and you can’t start planning too early. Set the frame, in writing, to all parties. Outline expectations, structure, remaining work in progress, and note that you anticipate changes. Expectation setting and previewing is more important than ever. If you haven’t done so, create technology protocols and guidelines for staff, families, and students. Just because you’re online doesn’t mean that expectations diminish.
And then, be willing to change! Our Early Childhood program is of course not the same as our Upper School’s, and we have empowered our divisional leadership to adapt and adapt again. Deploy staff as needed, whether it’s in support of additional personalized learning, after-school programming, or additional technology or scheduling support. Listen to your teachers, students, and families, and make changes in real time as needed. At Quad Prep, one of our stated values is “we never give up on each other and are driven by the ethos of “not if, but how.” This has been a tremendous opportunity to put that value into action — while different, our goal is to make this time as rich and supportive a time as possible for our students, families, faculty, and staff.
Danny Boyer, 7th/8th Grade Science Teacher, Helios School, Sunnyvale, CA
As a teacher, one of our main responsibilities is managing our students’ physical and mental well-being during school. Much of this is for the simple reason we want our students to be happy, productive, and focused when we are teaching them. This requires providing diverse modes of learning, frequent movement breaks, and chances to talk with classmates as well as quiet work time. We also recognize the importance of allowing students to blow off steam at recess, to eat healthy snacks and lunch, and to drink water. We need to be vigilant when computers are being used to help students stay on task and avoid the oh-so-tempting distractions available on the web. We know which students need us to look over their shoulder or check in with them regularly to make sure they are staying on task. We know our students and what they need.
When COVID-19 caused schools to close and we had to suddenly shift to remote learning, I realized students and families were going to need to manage their work days themselves. I imagined our students sitting at a computer all day, knowing some of them would have a very difficult time drawing boundaries between work time, social time, and play time. If they did not create good habits from the beginning, this could be a disaster for students without the executive functioning to create structure on their own. It also is difficult for parents to jump into this role and, for many, they are not aware of the schedule management that is built into a school day.
For this reason, I decided to create a study plan as one of our first assignments. I saw it as a teachable moment for both students and parents — an opportunity to have families think about healthy habits when it comes to screen time, social media, school work, exercise, diet, etc. And this is just a starting point. As we all settle in, teachers can meet with individual students or parents to discuss tools, strategies, and solutions for improving how we do this thing we call “remote learning.” Because one thing is always true — there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each student and family is different and will require their own study plan, which will evolve as we adapt to our new learning environments.
Debbie Steinberg Kuntz, LMFT, founder of brightandquirky.com
Bright & Quirky hosted a webinar providing multiple perspectives on supporting 2e kids and their families in this environment. “Bright, Quirky & Coping: Living and learning at home during the pandemic,” focused on how to deal with anxiety, stress, and worry; creating daily family structure; making the most of temporary homeschooling for 2e kids; how to create community; and more.
The panel featured Debbie Steinberg Kuntz, Melanie Hayes, neuropsychologist and author Robin McEvoy, school counselor and 2e specialist Lauren Hutchinson, and Michelle Bronwell, homeschooler of 2e kids.
Lisa Reid, Ed.D., Principal — STEM3 Academy, Irvine, CA
Stem3 Academy has navigated numerous challenging circumstances during these uncertain times. Abrupt departures from routine and the need to support learning from home are challenging for all families, but especially to those within our population. Given that, what has been most important is daily personal communication with our families.
Work obligations, access to technology, family dynamics, and differing learning needs — as well as social-emotional variables — call for us to differentiate our support, as we always do. It has been heartening to see our staff’s unwavering support and every home supporting their children’s continued progress in any way they can. And families are not only thinking of their own situations, but supporting us too.
We do not typically send much work home, so remote learning tools, such as video conferencing, have meant a steep learning curve for our families and teachers. It was initially a bit scary, but everyone stepped up to the challenge. As a result, aspects of the student-teacher-family relationship have evolved in interesting ways: teachers may have their toddlers crawling through learning sessions, and children do live-streamed show-and-tell with their pets while at home with their parents and guardians. Teachers and so many people around the world have shared ideas about making the best of this temporary learning situation, to make it as supportive and effective as possible. This means something different for every child, family, and teacher.
We make sure our families have the technology they need to access curriculum, where instruction and opportunities for social interaction are provided through Google Classroom and Zoom. When needed, we mail home hard copies of assignments and materials. Students are able to access daily, differentiated work based upon their personal situation and ability to engage, given their individual circumstances and accommodations outlined within their Individual Education Programs (IEP).
Work obligations, access to technology, family dynamics, and differing learning needs — as well as social-emotional variables — call for us to differentiate our support, as we always do.
Our service providers are coordinating sessions remotely, and I’ve been pleased to see their continuing support — especially through counseling and social skills groups, which have helped students feel connected.
Our world took a big hit a few weeks ago, and all of the changes that everyone needed to make in response created a huge amount of work, learning, and flexibility. Those three words represent variables that, when seen as obstacles, can make educational progress seem impossible at times for our population. It would have been easy for anyone involved to throw their hands in the air and quit, but they haven’t. Everyone has stepped up in their own way and has shown not only continued dedication to growth, but also to one another as a caring community.
I’m grateful and proud of the way in which our students, families, teachers, organization, and schools have come together. Even physical separation cannot break the commitment to kids that we’ve all made together. Below are the elements of our distance learning model, which is constantly evolving with the changing needs of our students.
• Teachers are using Google Classroom and Google Sites to post class schedules and teacher schedules. Interaction and participation is managed on Zoom, telephone, email, and in the cloud.
• Students check in with each of their teachers during the day and work on assignments individually or collaboratively. Some work is done on Google Docs, which allows for real-time editing. At the end of the day, students have the opportunity to engage with their teachers for questions, clarification, or additional help.
• Related services, such as speech and counseling, are provided on Zoom. In addition, given the reason for the school closures, social and emotional support by way of Zoom chats and Google Meet provide opportunities for students to relate to one another while being moderated by a teacher.
• We have also recently issued a resource newsletter to parents outlining a number of activities across grade levels, which students can engage in at home. These are both plugged and unplugged activities to ensure that students of all levels of sophistication are engaged, whether or not they have access to electronic devices.