Learning in the Time of COVID

Coast Mountain Academy

The past few months have certainly had a big impact on life as we know it. Things that we took for granted like going to our local community center for a spin class and sending our kids to school abruptly became impossible. We all suddenly needed to approach life in a whole new way, we had to re-think our day to day from how we do our jobs to grocery shopping.

At CMA, we have always prided ourselves on being nimble, and flexible but were we ever challenged over the past few months! With the Ministry of Education order to suspend all in-class learning, we had to quickly move all programming online. In some respects, this was fairly straightforward at our school, primarily because each student has a laptop and an established high-level of comfort using online apps like Google Classrooms, Docs, and Slides. Aside from math workbooks, all assignments were generally shared and received through Google Classrooms anyways so the transition online for our students was fairly easy. Only a few had to make the trip up to campus to fetch math workbooks (and a few old lunches) left on campus over March break. The transition for teachers, of course, is a whole other matter. It is impossible for anyone outside of the school staff team to fully appreciate how much work the CMA teachers put into transitioning over to online learning. Most giving up their entire March breaks to prepare, huge thanks to this team of incredible humans.

The family-like feeling of CMA is quite unique, as it allows for a deep level of understanding and compassion for each member of our community. Early on in our planning stages for online learning from home, we decided as a team that first and foremost personal connection was our priority. Teachers can easily distribute and receive student’s assignments through Google classroom but how do we stay connected personally? Google Meet provided us with an established platform to connect face-to-face from home and we dove right in, holding all classes and whole school assemblies on this platform. We learned very early on that a whole school assembly of just under 100 participants does not work on Meet, but classes of 20 work very well. In fact, it worked so well that teachers held 3 – 4 classes a day on Google Meet. This meant classmates could see each other and chat as they learned together with their teachers. Students could also chat with or ask questions of their teachers during daily drop-in office hours. On top of that, most teachers scheduled weekly one-on-one check-in meetings with each student. Again, shout out to these incredible humans for being so generous with their time – in some cases, students had 5-6 hours of face time with their teachers each day!

Supporting our student’s mental health has always been a priority at CMA. In the first week of online learning, we surveyed all of our students to find out how they were feeling about COVID, online learning, and their general well-being. We learned that students were scared about COVID and nervous about learning online. Providing some sense of ‘normal’ became extremely important for our kids. We knew we could help create some ‘normal’ by maintaining a focus on face time with peers and teachers, and a scheduled school day similar to pre-COVID days.

Typical Grade 7 Weekly Schedule

Regular one-on-one wellness check-ins between all students and our school counsellors showed that many of their initial worries subsided, but other concerns like overwhelm crept in. Again, we were reminded that our student’s social and emotional well-being was of the utmost importance and that we were on the right track by making connection a priority.

It is no secret that physical activity has a huge impact on well-being and learning. From day one, CMA has delivered a top-notch outdoor education program and signature daily physical education (PE) classes. The question became, how do we do this from home? Daily PE evolved into a mandatory activity hour first thing in the morning, weekly themes, goal-setting, and prompts to get students thinking critically about their activity, along with workout video submissions and more. Students got to choose the daily activity but had to track it in their PE journal and video submissions were shared with their peers for them to try. Accountability for the win! For outdoor education, students in middle school were tasked with weekly outdoor connections assignments like cold water plunges and wildlife photography. In true CMA style, our families became a big part of these programs and helped our students stay on track with their daily physical activity requirements and weekly hikes. We saw some incredible workout video submissions, including an ’80s themed workout complete with Jane Fonda like spandex that no one on staff will soon forget.

Fun also came in the form of weekly school assemblies (aka Parliament) and student council challenges for House Team points. Big thanks to the Student Council at CMA for injecting an element of fun, competition, and community-building into each week of school. Never did I ever think I would see so many Harlem Shakes, eating contests, cartwheels, or truly hilarious family photo remakes from one school community. Speaking of community, watch those airwaves for CMA FM. If you haven’t heard it well you are in for a treat, DJ’s Logan and Wiles were keeping it real and full of energy during those school assemblies. I think there is now a petition to keep this a mandatory element of Parliament for years to come.

Art can be a powerful medium for expressing our feelings. It can also simply support our well-being by providing a creative outlet. Over the past few years, our creative arts program has been developing and growing. With the onset of online learning, we were worried that our art and woodworking classes would suffer but our teachers and students embraced our new reality and took the new found time at home to explore new artistic pursuits. By the end of the year, students had submitted some incredible art and design pieces that they should be very proud of. Some spoke to the unprecedented times we find ourselves in like the ones below and some are simply fun. If you have a few extra minutes have a look at the full online gallery of student work here: https://sites.google.com/coastmountainacademy.ca/cmaonlinegallery/home

While being heavily invested in our students, we also tried to keep our parents informed and engaged through regular newsletters, and updates directly from the Head of School. A highlight for many was the online parent social that featured different rooms to visit as part of a virtual house party. As with most parties, it quickly became a kitchen party. As many people have realized over the past few months as we all experimented with Zoom and Houseparty, these online social gatherings are a fantastic way to connect with loved ones and friends. Have you found yourself saying “Why have we not done this before?” We did too! This virtual house party for parents is a social concept that is certain to be repeated at CMA, COVD or no COVID.

As we wrap up the last few days of school this week, I am extremely thankful that our students have been able to complete the curriculum and learning for their respective grades.  Our Class of 2020 will walk across the (outdoor) stage this week with a diploma in hand knowing they are ready for university next Fall. That said, students have not been the only ones learning. Our teachers have risen to the challenge of online education and learned a lot about their capacity to keep our students engaged with fun and dynamic activities while supporting their mental health with compassion. Our parents have shared what is working for them and what is making them want to literally pull their hair out (cue the Rube Goldberg Machine assignments). All of us, including students, teachers, staff, and parents have proven to be much more resilient than we likely ever thought we could be! I personally can not wait to be able to high five each and every one of our students and teachers for a job well done under challenging circumstances. 

Yours in education,

Tracy Keeling
Director of Admissions & Communications

Ms. Keeling
Ms. Keeling