Private schools adapt to COVID-19 world

Like public schools, local private schools have closed campuses and moved classes online.

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  • | 11:15 a.m. April 1, 2020
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Schools and universities around the world have shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19 — and local private schools are no exception. 

As businesses began closing,  private schools also initiated precautions and took steps to move classes online. 

Since then, like Orange County Public Schools, local private schools have implemented distance learning measures to keep classes going while students stay home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The First Academy

The First Academy began preparations for an online learning environment before dismissing students for spring break in mid-March. The school has followed the lead of its accrediting body, the Association of Christian Schools International, as well as the recommendations given by national and state leaders as it moves forward, said Christina Richart, the director of development and communications at TFA.

The school also has taken steps to address the mental and spiritual aspects of its families.

“We have established a Family Ministry Team to support and connect with our families during this time,” Richart said. “We feel it is so important that we support students and families educationally, but also socially, emotionally and spiritually.”

The First Academy launched its Remote Learning program Wednesday, March 25. Principals start each school day with a Facebook Live session. Additionally, each student has a daily virtual morning meeting with his or her teachers and fellow classmates. Upper School students check in virtually at the start of each class period, which allows the school to keep attendance. The school will continue implementing its Remote Learning environment as long as deemed necessary by the state and federal government.

“While our school buildings may be closed, The First Academy teachers and students will be actively engaged in remote learning,” said Head of School Steve D. Whitaker. “We are working together to flatten the curve and serve one another as a community of devoted Christ-followers.”

Foundation Academy

Foundation Academy also began taking precautions related to COVID-19 prior to beginning its spring break. School administrators began coming up with a draft of what an online program would look like the week before spring break. Before students left, the administrators already had completed the program. The school calls its distance learning program, FACE, which stands for, “Foundation Academy Classrooms Everywhere.” The FACE program launched March 25.

 “What’s been amazing to see on social media is teachers with pictures (of them) communicating to their kids,” Foundation Academy President Dave Buckles said. 

FACE is being implemented for all Foundation students — from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. Teachers and students are using online tools such as Google Meets to hold classes and stay in touch. Buckles also said that, although the program is temporary, the school is prepared to continue for the rest of the year if needed.

“(FACE) will be to allow us to finish the school year at a normal time,” Buckles said. “We are testing students. We are taking grades. We are taking attendance. We are trying to make (everything) as normal as possible.”

Buckles added that the school is following the lead of local, state and national governmental bodies to determine how to continue moving forward. 

“The teachers are missing their students already,” Buckles said. “They love their students. Going back to our family atmosphere, that face-to-face communication is so important — hence why we named our virtual program, FACE.”

Windermere Preparatory School

Following recommendations from the Florida Department of Education, Windermere Prep closed its campus March 16 and it will remain closed until further notice in an effort to help keep staff, students and the community safe and healthy. The school has been working with its parent organization, Nord Anglia Education, to help prepare its distance learning program. Windermere Prep calls that program the WPS-NAE Virtual School Experience. Launched March 23, the program connects students to a global network of the 9,000 expert educators within Nord Anglia.

“While the NAE campuses are closed, our school is still very much open and colleagues across Nord Anglia are working tirelessly to deliver an outstanding educational experience for our students,” Head of School Dr. Steven Lyng said. “Our teachers are going the extra mile to provide a seamless, personalized experience that keeps students engaged by leveraging technology, innovation, creativity and humanity. This allows our students to connect to their teachers, peers, clubs and more through various web meeting, applications such as Zoom meetings, Google Classrooms and many other online tools to allow our students to continue to learn.”

Lyng said several of Windermere Prep’s boarding students returned home with their parents. The remaining boarding students are restricted to the Windermere Prep dorms. 

“Travel restrictions permitting, if families of any remaining boarding students wish for their child to come home, they can work closely with the school on the logistics,” Lyng said. “As of now, about half of our Residential Life students have opted to stay in the dorms with their peers.

“Our students’, families’ and our community’s response has been outstanding,” Lyng later added. “We’re one team and we are working together every step of the way.” 


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