The entire world has undergone significant change, and strange phrases like “social distancing,” “self-quarantine” and “flatten the curve” have quickly become the parlance of the day. But at Providence School, families of preschool through high school students are replacing these phrases with “checking-In,” “birthday caravan” and “sunshine delivery.”
After quickly pivoting to online learning over one weekend, with remote learning classes beginning March 16, the administrative team at Providence recognized families needed more. As a complement to Zoom classes, Google Classroom assignments, and robust email communication, Providence doubled down on one of the core strengths of the school: community.
Faculty partnered with families to offer support through weekly check-in calls, virtual chapels, mental and physical health resources, community celebrations, and sunshine deliveries of small items to brighten a student’s day.
“We had to ask ourselves how we could execute our lofty mission in this unique time, even while being physically separated. How could we maintain academic excellence, keeping the focus in the right places? In a community of our size, it was easy to quickly identify the needs of our students, families and staff, and then adapt as needed,” said Rodney Meadth, principal of middle and high schools.
Check-in calls to families help clarify successes as well as challenges with the distance learning plan. Following the first week of distance learning, the administration adjusted the weekly schedule for middle and high school after feedback from families.
“It is so evident that the teachers are doing all they can to fill the gaps of not being present on campus. I have received three different phone calls this week from teachers checking in, multiple texts asking how the workload is, and a precious teacher asking at the end of every single email how she can be praying for our family during this time,” wrote Alison Wagner, parent of four Providence students.
From May 8 through May 11, Providence faculty will make “sunshine deliveries” to every student’s home, from Solvang to Ventura, dropping off sidewalk chalk with a challenge to create art and post a picture on social media for younger students and providing baskets with favorite treats and another chalk art challenge for the older students. The goal is to show students they are valued, missed, and loved.
Besides the sunshine gifts, Providence seeks to provide parents with practical tips for guiding children and teens through a season of anxiety, stress and loss.
Susan Isaac, spiritual life director and assistant principal for the middle school and high school, organized a panel discussion, Mental and Spiritual Health in a Time of Corporate Crisis. The live webinar features Westmont professor and psychologist Andrea Gurney, Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara youth pastor Doug Ranck, and Providence bible teacher Max Beers.
“There are a lot of us right now who feel like we’re struggling, maybe even failing, on multiple levels–in our homes, at our jobs, in our relationships. We were created to live in diverse community with one another — of course, we won’t feel like we’re succeeding in a time where that is taken away,” Isaac said.
“We organized this webinar to offer support, encouragement, and camaraderie to parents and those who work with adolescents in a time when it’s all too easy to feel like they’re going it alone,” she said.
The school maintains a webpage to house many other resources they have created for parents at http://www.providencesb.org/remote-learning/ and uses its social media channels to provide helpful mental health resources (Resource Thursday) and exercise videos to promote good health practices and relieve stress filmed by PE teacher Scott Mitchell (Saturdays with Scott).
Teachers, students, and parents all miss having the in-class experience.
“I miss lunchtime and study hall and before-school and after-school conversations with students. I miss the ease of traditional education,” said Bruce Rottman, a 40-year veteran teacher of high school humanities and economics.
“I typically have nearly 2,000 minutes of face-to-face interactions with students each week. Now, I’m lucky to get a few hundred minutes of virtual interaction. It’s good, but does not replace the face-to-face experience,” he said.
Weekly age-appropriate chapels help remind students to respond with hope and focus on loving and serving others in this season. An all-school spirit week included a service project to complement each thematic dress-up day. On Crazy Hair Day, for example, students were encouraged to send cards and pictures to a hospital, cancer center, doctor or nurse.
In his Monday Morning Message, Lower School Principal Matt Knoles celebrates the resiliency, faithfulness, and joy that marks the Providence community with Patriots shout-outs. This one went out to parents: “None of this was part of your plan, and you all became instant partners in teaching. You’re doing a great job!”
Students stay on the cutting edge of their academic development and continue to make progress at Providence School. But it’s the hope and connection the Providence faculty and staff provides families that brings comfort in a challenging time such as this.
“Fortified with their faith in God and concern for the students, they [faculty and staff] step up to the plate, as every child is accounted and cared for,” said Diane Loewen, parent of a high school student. “They provide calm in what could be a storm, gratefully serving yet again above and beyond the call. To say I’m thankful is an understatement.”