Distance Learning Brings RPCS Community Closer Together
When Maryland schools closed in mid-March to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Roland Park Country School community quickly rose to the challenge of adapting to distance learning and has embraced the new virtual environment. Throughout the spring, teachers, students and their families in grades K-12 have been flexible, resilient and creative, while continuing to engage in rigorous learning from home.
Embracing the New Normal
“Overall, the distance learning program has been great, and our spirited community here at RPCS never fails to make the best out of any situation, “ said ninth grader Sofia Mollica. Instead of feeling confined to the digital realm, students are embracing this learning model and finding new ways to take intellectual risks and grow. “It’s been a profoundly exciting way to see the power of technology and its ability to connect,” said Lindsay Fitzpatrick, Upper School English teacher. This spring, her seniors used their distance learning to experiment and create unique final assessment projects that apply literary devices and critical lenses they studied all year, including a podcast exploring motherhood in literature, an interview series about modern feminism and family constellations, and a video project examining white privilege through poetry. “Distance learning has been going well because, ultimately, I teach such wonderful students,” said Lindsay. “They are deeply dedicated to their work, and while the formatting has changed, that dedication has never wavered.”
In eighth grade history class, the students paused their study of Ancient Rome to document their own history in the making. They researched and reflected on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, identified interview subjects, and learned the technology to create their own podcasts on topics including mental health, small businesses, grocery store shortages, racism, masks, and more. Calculus students made a coloring book by using polar coordinates, which they shared with the Lower and Middle School students, and plenty of learning took place “outside” of the classroom through video lectures, short documentaries and course readings to gain deeper understanding of the material. “As an educator, you’re energized by students who stretch themselves and produce work that reflects commitment, creative thinking, and effort,” said Scott Jackson, Upper School history teacher.
“Without missing a beat, RPCS has provided much needed structure in the girls’ lives and has been flexible and creative with scheduling and content,” said Shena Bachman, parent of an RPCS seventh grader. From classes on Zoom and Google Meets to virtual office hours, group games, and online art galleries, the students and teachers maintained a relatively normal schedule to keep things as consistent as possible. Even clubs, organizations and division-wide meetings have gone online. “While we miss seeing each other every day, the learning that has been happening in our virtual sessions has been rich, rigorous, and supportive,” said Tonette Runde, eighth grade math teacher, Middle School math department coordinator and Math Department co-chair. “I am so impressed with each of my students’ willingness to stick with it and their continued passion for learning in such a stressful and uncertain time in their young lives.”
An Unlimited Reach
An unexpected benefit to distance learning is the accessibility to others. Upper School performing and visual student-artists were able to speak directly with several acclaimed artists and industry professionals via Zoom about pursuing careers in the arts. Other Upper School students met with community members, including Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey, and the program directors at local environmental non-profit organizations, to talk about important issues as equals. In the Lower and Middle School, students have taken virtual field trips, including going on a “ride” at Walt Disney World. “While we are all staying safer at home, our instant reach is unlimited—so our students’ experiences are augmented,” said Peter Metsopoulos, Director of Leadership & Entrepreneurship.
“Growth is rarely comfortable, and at RPCS we know that wonderful things happen when you step outside your comfort zone,” said kindergarten teacher Sidnee Mercer. The RPCS faculty quickly mobilized and stepped up to become proficient in technology integration to do the best work for their students and their dedication has paid off. They have all developed new skills to teach remotely, including using existing tools such as Google Suite, Book Creator, FlipGrid and Explain Everything and creating new resources, such as instructional videos and editing them to have fun effects for the students. This summer, all RPCS faculty will participate in professional development opportunities to continue to improve their ability to deliver their academic programs online. In addition to choosing from an array of offerings specific their content areas and student needs, they will also meet in small professional communities later this summer, led by teacher coaches, to work together to prepare for teaching online in the fall, if necessary.
Social Emotional Wellness
Communication among parents, teachers and students has been an important piece to the success of Roland Park Country School’s virtual learning program, especially when it comes to the students’ social emotional wellness. “If the emotional needs of our students are not addressed, we will not be able to advance them academically,” said Sidnee. “Our school has done everything in our power to make sure that every single student from kindergarten through 12th grade has felt supported, loved, and consistently encouraged to keep learning and growing.”
“At this difficult time, I am especially proud to be a RED, said ninth grader Suzannah Figler. “Roland Park Country School’s ability to acknowledge this difficult experience and maintain a supportive environment is commendable.”
The new virtual format of distance learning has also helped empower many of students by giving them more ownership and accountability in class. “This experience has allowed the girls to further advocate for themselves, which will only benefit them in the long run in their educational pursuit,” said Katie Bittinger, a parent of three daughters who attend RPCS. “It has also been tremendously helpful to have the additional resources, such as grade level coffees, speakers, and wellness check-ins that have been offered for both student and families.”
Adapting and Thriving
The Roland Park Country School community has not only adapted to distance learning, but has also seized the unexpected bright spots to make the most out of a virtual learning experience. Our teachers and students have been fierce in their determination to connect with and empower each other in new ways. At RPCS, we believe that girls and young women who build each other up will thrive – this spirit will always define our community – especially when the ways in which we connect look a little different.
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Summer Programming: RPCS Virtual Academy
This summer, Roland Park County School will offer enriching and engaging online course options through a pilot program called RPCS Virtual Academy. With RPCS instructors teaching many of the courses, the school hopes to give parents some peace of mind this summer, while ensuring its students and the broader Baltimore community has access to both academically challenging and enriching courses to stretch young minds and make this summer meaningful and fun. Learn more and register for summer courses.