The Eastern Mennonite School community cancelled classes on March 13 as the seriousness of the Corona Virus grew. With news changing by the hour, that initial closure turned into cancellation of classes through the previously scheduled spring break till April 14, 2020.
On March 16 and 17, faculty prepared for online teaching, with the first scheduled day of home-based learning beginning on March 17. “Our goals for the distance learning are to continue a strong and positive learning experience for each student, and, two, to focus on essential knowledge and skills,” wrote Justin King, high school principal to parents. The primary purpose of the first day of online instruction or each class was simply “to establish contact and communicate with students in order to ease them into instruction,” he communicated.
Online learning is not the ideal format for many students, King readily acknowledges. “But, like most schools in the country right now, we are doing the best we can with the well-being of ours students first and foremost in our minds.”
Part of that includes efforts to stay strong as a community throughout the closure,” notes Paul Leaman, head of school. The school’s two full-time counselors will remain continue in their roles, connecting with students one-on-one and in groups through a variety of tools.
“Right now, I’m especially thinking about our seniors,” said Debbie Katz, high school counselor, “and eager to get on board with them as a group to talk about disappointments, support each other and think about looking forward, even though we don’t know what is in store.”
Heidi Byler, third grade teacher, told her students’ parents that “I want students to come away with a feeling of warmth and closeness during this time, not a feeling of stress or anxiety.” The goal, she noted is to “keep moving, not to keep up.”
“My biggest goal,” she continued “is for your kids is a feeling of safety, comfort, and connection during this strange time. All else matters much less.”
Community resources online
The school’s COVID-19s website provides space for announcements and informative links, as well as some lighter fare, such as sharing favorite memes and recommended reading lists for each division.
“We’ll post photos of the ways EMS families are building community and getting creative to stay healthy physically and emotionally during this time,” says Andrea Wenger, director of advancement and content manager for the website, encouraging people to post with the hashtag #FlamesStrong.