Distance Learning & COVID-19 Time Period Q&A for Families

Last updated: 5/14/2020 @ 10:20am


What is GDS’s distance learning philosophy? How does GDS plan to evolve the distance learning program over time?
Georgetown Day School’s expertise and vast experience is in in-person educational settings. When we observed a need to develop, articulate, and implement our distance learning program in light of the global pandemic, our goal was—and continues to be—to prioritize connection, student learning, and balance for our students, families, faculty, and staff. 

We turned to outside experts (e.g., NAIS, Global Online Academy, One Schoolhouse, etc.) and schools across the country to inform and guide our approach and development of our distance learning program. We have learned from the experts to “start minimally and then build complexity over time as students and teachers adjust to the routine.” We have learned that we cannot and should not recreate the entirety of our academic program online and that we need to find a balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning. We have learned that schools who were required to start distance learning several weeks before GDS have dramatically pulled back from synchronous instruction, as both students and teachers were quickly burning out and the instruction became ineffective. 

We determined that taking an intentional, balanced, and incremental approach would set students and teachers up for success as we transition from in-person to online teaching and learning. 

Our incremental design has gradually increased to one-on-one, small group, and whole group synchronous connection opportunities. As with all aspects of our distance learning program, we will continue to collect feedback on our weekly structures to gauge the extent to which these opportunities need to adjust. 

I don’t have a lot of time in my schedule to help my kids with this work. What should I do?
We recognize that each family is faced with different circumstances at home. As such, teachers will design learning experiences that can be completed as independently as possible. If challenges arise, please have your child communicate directly with the teacher for support.

If this schoolwork doesn’t fill up all of my child’s day, what else should I be doing with them?
If school remains closed, we will provide you with learning experiences, resources and activities, but the volume of work will not keep students busy for the number of hours they're usually in school. The goal is to create continuity in skill development while providing a sense of connectedness to teachers, peers, and the GDS community. We do not expect—nor do we desire—that students engage in coursework for all hours of a typical school day. During emergency closure, health and wellness remain paramount to us; please allow time for your child to connect with you and engage in regular physical activity.
Will the nurses be available to help families during Distance Learning?
Nurses Connie Crowley (HS) and Elizabeth McDermott (LMS) will be available on school days from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They will receive incoming communication by email (linked above), and will respond by email or phone within 24 hours.

What are the instructional goals for the balance of the school year, and how do they differ (if at all) from the original plans?
Teachers in all divisions of the school have identified the most essential areas for learning for the rest of the year and have adapted plans accordingly. Since we cannot “cover” all the content we planned to teach, we are focusing on key concepts and skills in each discipline that are necessary for student preparation for next year. 

What instructional deficits are anticipated going into a new school year?
Because families have had a range of access to distance learning—mostly due to family circumstances (parent/guardian working from home, unable to support student; family health; loss of employment, other stressors)—we know that despite families’ and our best efforts, there is also a range of learning occurring. We are planning to assess each students’ level of understanding and skills more intentionally this fall so we can support each student appropriately in their learning and ensure that adequate progress is made over the course of the year.

What lessons have been learned over the past month, and how will they inform the next school year?
We’ve learned that despite our best distance learning planning, we cannot control at-home circumstances and that these circumstances vary widely—therefore, students’ experiences generally and in relation to distance learning are varied widely now, too. Fortunately, we have dedicated faculty and staff who have remained flexible and have done their best to prioritize the student experience during this crisis.   

We’ve also experienced first-hand what we always knew was true: nothing can replace in-person connection and interaction. In order to preserve and nurture relationships within our community, we’ve designed and continue to plan for a variety of opportunities for students to connect—StudentConnect (HS), Advisories, 1:1 check-ins, lunches, the recent appalachian trail challenge, etc. What we’ve learned is that even for scheduled opportunities, not all students can attend these sessions due to their availability, again, mostly due to family circumstances. 

How will students be graded through the end of the year?
Please see the High School Grading Update email from Katie Gibson on Apr. 24, which includes additional frequently asked questions. 

Please see the Middle School Grading Update email from Debby Previna & Mayra Diaz on May 6, which also includes frequently asked questions.


How has the Lower School distance learning program evolved?
We know that transitioning to an online learning environment, particularly during these unusual circumstances, requires us to essentially reboot the school year—creating norms, establishing expected behavior, and onboarding students, families, and faculty. We are prioritizing connection and balance as we respond to different family circumstances—both for our students and for faculty. We know that taking an incremental approach sets students and teachers up for success as we transition from in-person to online teaching and learning, and so we have purposefully planned our rollout in that fashion, revising the schedule over time. Lower School students meet with their homeroom classes and teachers daily; students in grades PK-3 also have 1:1 points of connection with their homeroom teachers and 4th graders now have their GDS emails so they can email their teachers directly. We rolled out the platform Seesaw, providing students with a single software to share their work and receive direct feedback. Students also participate in synchronous learning for all major subjects from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., depending on the grade level.


How are students meeting with their college counselors?
The College Counseling office communicated with students in the class of 2020 and 2021 about scheduling virtual meetings. The College Counseling office has shared additional information and resources with families of Juniors & Seniors in emails sent April 9. As the College Counseling office has done in the past, they are also offering optional meetings for sophomore families (virtually) this spring.
Will the GDS Policy & Advocacy Institute continue in June even if online? 
Yes! The Policy Institute will continue in June, regardless of whether we are still self-isolating. A virtual Policy Institute will explore the same five tracks of inquiry along with a final presentation of students’ action projects. Please stay tuned for more details.
What is the thinking behind “no classes” on Wednesdays?
While the High School schedule is iterative and remains subject to change, currently Wednesday is for advisory and for asynchronous work (it is not a day off). The current schedule allows for a consistent 5-day schedule during our distance learning period.
How are coaches of spring athletics supporting athletes during this time?
Spring coaches will provide three core supports to our student athletes: 1) Fitness Activities, 2) Skill Work, 3) Opportunities to Connect with teammates and coaches (Virtual Huddle Zoom meetings). Coaches will reach out to their respective teams with the workout information and to arrange the virtual huddles via zoom. Parents and Student athletes can also contact the coaches directly through MyGDS with any questions.

Have more seniors expressed interest in gap years and, if so, if GDS is offering guidance on gap year options?
At this point, our College Counseling office has seen a very small increase in the number of students considering gap years, but no increase yet in those actually pursuing gap year requests. The College Counseling office works individually with students to think about how they could spend a year away from school and point them toward different resources for planning that time.

What does the Class of 2021 college application process will look like (not just testing, but their personal experience of this time in their lives)
For juniors, the main part of the process that is different is that the process of researching and learning about colleges will be virtual at first. The College Counseling office still starts with self-reflection and helps students identify characteristics of colleges that they find most appealing, and then directs them toward resources online to help them do the next stage of research. The office is also using connections with alumni and current students at colleges around the world to help students learn about the day-to-day experience at different colleges. The College Counseling office is helping juniors consider how their summer plans may change given access to programs and internships (please see an email from the College Counseling office to high school parents on 5/13 for more information)


What steps are we taking to ensure students are active in addressing the safety, security, and privacy vulnerabilities and responsibilities of digital and on-line daily life?

  • We are being highly attentive and responsive to the information we (and the nation) are learning about Zoom. Our Tech team has been incredible in staying on top of security and privacy as our students engage in distance learning  through this platform. They  send real-time support such as creating a Best Practices for Meeting Security document for all faculty to creating real-time updates via video—like when Zoom released updated security functions in response to the issues users encountered. 
  • We’ve reminded students about digital citizenship and their responsible use of technology. This infographic was included in the 4/5 email to families. Over the last couple weeks, MS and HS advisors reminded students of our acceptable use policy (which was also included in Sunday’s (4/5) email from the school to families). 
  • Finally, we are a CommonSense Media School, which means we have great support for educators and parents in the area of developing safe, responsible, informed and engaged digital citizenships. While we’ve offered parent sessions in the past, we can certainly increase this support during this period of distance learning. 


What is the plan for graduation for the Class of 2020?
(This information was shared via email on Friday, April 10.) We WILL have a graduation. We are looking into dates to reschedule our graduation and our prom for the end of July/early August (actual dates are TBD). We are hopeful that the stay-at-home orders will have been lifted by then and that these two special events can happen at this time. If we are not able to gather in large groups by that point, we are also looking at November dates (during the Thanksgiving Holiday) to hold a graduation for the Class of 2020. As we know more, we will communicate accordingly. 


What is GDS’s plan for the rest of the school year? 
At the time of the Town Hall, we had announced that our school buildings would be closed through April. As of April 19, we have announced buildings closed and continued distance learning through May 29. Realistically, we recognize and are planning for the possibility that the school buildings will not reopen for the rest of this school year. At the same time, we would love to return before the school year ends, if conditions permit and public health experts recommend this as appropriate. We recognize that this may be impossible and of course, we will prioritize safety. We will continue to update you on this.

Will we open school early in August?
GDS has no plans on opening school prior to our September 8 & 9 start date. Our principals and teachers, supported by Laura Yee, our Assistant Head for Curriculum and Instruction, are working to make sure that all students are fully prepared to advance to the next grade and meet next year’s  academic challenges. We recognize that come September, we will need to be even more diligent in assessing student readiness and provide any remedial support that is needed. Any decision to begin school early would depend on a number of factors, including whether the new building will be ready for us any earlier than originally planned. 

Will GDS still open in the Fall?
GDS’s decision to reopen our doors will rely on conditions that are beyond our control. We will, however, begin school on September 8 & 9.


Is 360 (GDS’s extended day program) still running? Can participants receive a refund?
Most enrichment classes will continue meeting through asynchronous classes, and we'll also be offering daily fun synchronous activities ranging from a dance party to a workout to an art activity. We encourage you to try out our extended day virtual classes, enabling students to stay engaged. While we hope that you will consider trying out our distance learning program, we understand that you might prefer a refund. You have several options:

  • We can provide you a refund at the prorated amount of $22 per day (less any financial aid) for any classes missed during the months of April and May.
  • You could convert the refund into a donation to the GDS Hopper Fund, which, among other activities, will enable us to continue paying our extended day staff and support financial aid at the school. In this case, GDS would provide you with a tax-exempt letter within 1-2 weeks to confirm your donation.
  • We can provide a credit towards programs for Fall 2020.

Will Summer @ GDS (GDS’s Summer Camp) be held this summer?
We continue to refine plans for summer, with the goal of providing a range of options for students and families. While these plans are still being developed, here is where they currently stand:

  • GDS has cancelled all on-campus camps.
  • We are offering a robust range of virtual programs. All of these will be offered at a special discounted rate for GDS students. Enrichment programs will cost $150/week and academic classes (writing & math) will cost $75/week.
  • To view our full offerings please visit our website here. You can register for any of our virtual offerings here
  • A task force is at work developing a range of additional programming options for our faculty/staff, our students, and our broader GDS community. While plans are not yet finalized, we are considering academic options for students, family and community building events, opportunities for professional learning, and more.


How can the parent community get involved?
We’ve heard from some of you that you’re interested in offering your knowledge and expertise to our students, and we’re so excited by this possibility! Please use this form to share your initial thoughts and/or opportunities to engage, and Lisa Schneiderman in our Advancement Office will be in touch with you after the break with more information. Please tune into our Parents Presents workshops being held each Tuesday and Thursday at 4:30 p.m.

On our distance learning webpage, you can access a list of other organizations and nonprofits providing support to communities in need.


How is the School planning for the economic downturn?
The economic impact of this pandemic has far-reaching consequences, for our families and for our School. 
For our families, the School has: worked to expand our financial aid resources, allowing us to respond to an increased demonstration of need; set up a “community response team” to support families in need right now, from organizing grocery delivery to receiving check-in calls; and provided technology for families in need, from devices to internet access.

For the School, we are actively monitoring current economic conditions and planning for the School’s immediate and long-term financial health.


Is the new Lower/Middle School building still on schedule for a September 2020 open?
The construction crew continues to advance their work while engaging in appropriate social distancing. While taking necessary health precautions has resulted in some lost time, we began the project with a significant cushion, and we remain on schedule to be in the new building when school opens in the fall. 

Are all faculty and staff still being fully compensated?
All GDS employees are continuing to be paid. Our cleaning crew continues to be paid, as do all of our year-round contract employees. 

How is the School supporting faculty and staff during this time?
GDS has encouraged staff to use flexible and unlimited leave time should they or a family member face health challenges due to COVID-19.
In addition to weekly staff meetings to keep us all connected, GDS is: collecting weekly feedback from faculty and staff in order to identify areas of need and address them; hosting weekly community-building events (meditation, workouts, happy hours); offering weekly distance learning professional development; encouraging employees to use our employee assistance program.

GDS also has a “faculty response team” on hand to support employees in anything they may need right now, from organizing grocery delivery to receiving check-in calls to creating redundancies or backups for faculty in the event that individuals get sick


What sort of contingency planning is going into the scenario that school cannot open on time in September?
In our planning, we are considering a number of different potential scenarios, including what to do if we are still under stay-at-home orders. We are also planning for continuity of learning if we start on time and need to close for periods of time throughout the year in response to COVID “flare-ups.” We have compiled strategic and tactical questions as well as established working groups to think about reentry. GDS’s decision to reopen our doors will rely on conditions that are beyond our control. We will, however, begin school on September 8 & 9.