The COVID-19 pandemic has had a drastic impact on all of our lives.
The mandated closure of schools by Governor Wolf due to COVID-19 on March 12 has had a significant impact on the education of students throughout the state. Center School understood that the closure would have an even greater impact on students with learning disabilities in many ways, as it would have an effect not only on academics but also on social-emotional stability. Center School prides itself in finding different ways to teach its students, and in doing so, to address social-emotional needs that are often ignored by other schools.
To minimize the effect of the closure on its students, Center School set out to develop an Online Learning Program, Center School at Home, that would support its students and families in a personalized and thoughtful way, bringing the classroom and Center School’s teachings right into the homes of our students. A primary goal of the Center School at Home program was to make sure that students would continue to receive social-emotional support, the cornerstone of Center School’s curriculum. Many of the social-emotional supports offered to students and parents would be missing as a result of the closure. In order to retain that crucial piece of Center School’s curriculum, Center School has fully engaged the expertise of the school’s guidance counselor and psychologist to ensure that students get all of the support they need to continue their educational experience.
Center School’s Head of School, Mindy Wawrzyniak, knew that this abrupt and new way of life could overwhelm parents who were quickly thrust into an expanded role as teacher, while at the same time managing their own worries and struggles. “We wanted to support our students and families and provide them with opportunities to talk with the guidance counselor or school psychologist to discuss their feelings about supporting their child in virtual learning, adjusting to a new schedule, and generally voicing concerns about navigating this new type of learning.” Students, too, would need time to adjust to their “new normal” way of life. Personalized support in the form of individual or group virtual counseling meetings serve as an avenue for students to express their feelings and connect with a part of Center School that is so integral to their social, emotional, and academic growth.
Academically, during the first week of closure, students continued their academic classes in Google Classroom, a standard practice at Center School, under the direction and supervision of their teachers , so as to not overwhelm students and parents. Middle school teacher Colleen Chapman stated, “We wanted to keep our instruction as close as possible to a regular day in school to minimize the change that our students would be experiencing. We didn’t want to implement too much new technology all at once, knowing that change is a big challenge for our students.” Within a week following the closure, however, video lessons were introduced into the Center School at Home Program, and both teachers and students greeted that opportunity enthusiastically, continuing the student-teacher relationship and support that is so important to supporting students with learning differences. Center School’s multi-modal approach to teaching is a big part of the success of its programming, and teachers creatively and successfully have been able to implement this approach to maximize learning during many of their virtual lessons.
As students’ and parents’ comfort and confidence level grew, more activities were added to the schedule. Students are now participating in every class that is offered at Center School including art, gym, music, and STEM lessons, providing an opportunity to leverage their strengths and provide a bit of respite from this new, and often challenging, way of learning. At this point, Center School has effectively moved the teaching of its students from the walls of the Center School building to the walls of the students’ homes.
Center School is a small community, and families and students have come to rely upon the time spent together to grow and develop relationships, an important part of learning. One of the ways they accomplished this prior to the closure was through Monday Morning Meeting. The entire faculty and student body are now meeting virtually each Monday as a way to gather as a community and reflect upon obstacles, challenges, and struggles, while learning about strategies and tools to overcome them. Center School’s guidance counselor Linda Jarrett-Armiger, who is the brains behind the program, said, “At the first gathering, we had overwhelming participation, and it was so good to see the students together and so engaged. We recognize how important is it for our students to not feel isolated and to be able to see and communicate with their classmates on a regular basis.”
As further support for the parents of its students, Center School is ready to launch a virtual parent support group that will allow parents to come together in an open forum to connect and share thoughts and ideas about how they have been coping with this changing school environment. While individualized support has been offered for parents through the school’s psychologist, the school felt that it would be beneficial for parents to be able to talk to each other and share their experiences during these troubling times. Center School recognizes that parents are struggling to make the transition, just as the students are, and they want to provide every support possible for parents to succeed and feel comfortable with the new learning environment.
The faculty and administration are continually evaluating the Center School at Home Program to continue to build upon a program that reflects the excellence of Center School’s programming, even when doing so in a virtual environment. Parent feedback has been very positive. They are genuinely appreciative of the school’s efforts and their commitment to continuing the personal connection that is the essence of Center School. One family visited the school not long ago and took this picture, titling it Missing School. The picture could not have captured the feelings of the Center School community any better.
Center School, located in Abington, PA, is a non-profit school with a successful 30-year history of serving students in grades 1-8 who have learning disabilities including dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ADD/ADHD, auditory processing disorder, executive function disorder, and high functioning autism.
Even though we are not at school, we’re open for admissions and receiving inquiries and applications virtually. Learn more about how your child can benefit from our personalized approach to literacy! For virtual admissions and information, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org