photos courtesy of Grace Academy
While all of our schools met many challenges of adapting to new rules of compliance this year, private institutions like Grace Academy found a smaller student body allowed them to create a distance learning environment that was as pragmatic as it was personal.
Grace follows a classical education model, which allowed students to continue working from their textbooks and literature books and receive class instruction via group calls on Zoom. Students had all of their books in hand, completed work at home, converted documents to PDF, and sent back to their teachers.
Tiffany McLendon, Director of Marketing for the school is well integrated into the instructional side of the school and says the transition was fairly seamless on all sides; “The biggest hurdle was training our faculty in such a short amount of time to use Zoom to our best advantage. Fortunately, because our teachers are so committed to serving families well, they adapted quickly and the process went pretty smoothly.” She adds, “as a smaller school, we had just one gateway for sharing information and turning in work so parents didn’t have to jump through multiple technological hoops”.
Teachers held regular office hours, regular classroom times, and all Zoom instruction was recorded so students could stream on flexible schedules as necessary, or even watch again to reinforce learning. “Our teachers used their time to really teach. Some even came to the school and taught lessons on whiteboards like they always have. Everything was as close to normal as we could make it; it was just virtual.”
Head of School, Andy Cantwell, comments on the unforeseen blessings as well; “We found many hidden blessings during our time of separation through distance learning; as our faculty had to fully expend themselves to learn a new online approach to delivering instruction, it drew our faculty team closer together; it forced us to prioritize content, which is always a beneficial exercise; and it reinforced partnerships between parents and school faculty.”
Distance learning also proved to have unforeseen benefits for the graduating students, who are all expected to complete a 15-page senior thesis and present it to a live panel of reviewers. “The seniors continued to meet with their thesis advisors online, completed their work at home and made presentations through an online host. Because of that, we were able to invite and incorporate grandparents, friends and other family members in other states. That element was very special to the students so we may continue to stream that event in the future.”
One thing the private school community shared with other students was the emotional impact of feeling a little out of control of the situation. “As a Christian school, we have a unique dynamic in our relationships. Our community of families and students stayed in touch and checked up on each other. Teachers built in social time at the beginning of Zoom instruction. Kids were able to interact and keep those peer-to-peer relationships intact. We were grateful that although the campus was closed, relationships were still a priority.”
Mr. Cantwell says, “This was a great testament coming into our 20th anniversary year to be able to adhere to our mission which is “To glorify God by serving parents in providing their children a distinctly Christ-centered, academically excellent, classical education as a foundation for life-long learning”, even through adversity. We are so pleased to provide a place where our families have respite. We didn’t lose the closeness and that was the greatest blessing. In a time of isolation and uncertainty, we were able to share this constant”.
One thing the school made sure to adapt was the annual Rock Ceremony (photo above) during which parents present each student with a rock to commemorate the work the Lord did in that child’s life during the school year. Tiffany says, “The rocks display a character trait and accompanying Bible verse to affirm students in how they have grown throughout the year. I think a lot of rocks probably had ‘perseverance’ on them this year.
Grace Academy plans to open, normally, on August 24. Visit them at GraceTX.org to learn about their programs, community, and strength.