Typically around the end of March, students and their families start making their way back to the New York City area to get ready to return to school after a long and restful Spring Break. This year, everything is different. Due to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, and specifically New York, the Grace community has gone virtual. On Friday, March 13th, Grace ran a ‘practice’ day on what is now our home for the time being: Zoom. Students and teachers gathered and shared a few good laughs on this digital platform and tried to get comfortable with the software. Then, everyone said their goodbyes and went on their way to Spring Break, which, this year, meant staying home as much as possible to limit the spread of the virus. Since returning from Spring Break, Grace has re-opened its doors, but for now, that remains on Zoom. After the first full week of online classes, there are mixed reviews on how it’s gone so far.
“I feel like it’s been a lot of screen time,” said Evan Sarno ‘21, “it gets very repetitive at times and I feel like the learning isn’t the same as it was in person because we’re not actively contributing in the same way.” He continued on to say that, “it’s much harder to focus on a whiteboard on Zoom than to an in-person lecture.” Evan was just one of the many students who expressed their concern with the way things had gone over the first week of online classes. Paul Carey ‘23 said “I don’t like it so far. It hasn’t been very productive and the classes feel way too long.”
When Head of School, Mr. Davison was asked about the first week of classes, he shared some mixed reviews. “I think people are happy with how things have gone in a general sense.” He admitted that it will take some time to get used to, saying “it’s a very different animal from regular teaching.” When asked about the difficulties that both students and teachers have faced while making this adjustment, he said that “everybody is suffering from eye strain and it’s going to be something that we have to take into account in terms of the pacing.” As many students expressed, the classes have felt way too long, and Mr. Davison agrees: “The read I get is that 80 minutes is too long for this particular medium, so the teachers need to adjust what they’re doing. We have the time to get this so that the teachers feel confident and so the students feel engaged.”
Obviously, this will mean making some changes to the schedule, which Mr. Davison is very open to. “I think you’ll see that we are going to make at least one day in the week end at 12 pm, getting rid of the last block and the arts blocks” He continued, saying “we’ve gone back and forth on the number of advisory meetings, but I would assume you’re going to see fewer of those and I think we’ll see other changes to Wednesday.”
One positive that he noted was the engagement and preparedness of the students during these strange times. “I’ve heard, generally speaking from teachers, that they’re very pleased with how cooperative and how collaborative the students have been, that all the students are taking this very seriously too.”
Lastly, he expressed his desire for our community to get something out of this challenging experience. “I hope it makes everybody appreciate each other in person much more. With my 9th grade class, we were talking about it, and I heard people say ‘it’s school without the fun of school’ and you know, teenagers dread school to some extent, that’s normal, but there’s lots of fun stuff that goes on at school that people really miss, and I hope that they come back with a sense of valuing the fun of school.”
He concluded with a message that he wanted to share with the community: “Keep smiling, keep safe. When you smile, it releases an enzyme in your brain that calms you and focuses you so if you just remember to keep smiling, it’s going to help us go through this.”
Obviously, this has been a tough experience for all, but at the moment, few other options present themselves. Perhaps with time and a few adjustments, Grace will be able to make the most of Zoom School.