MS/HS Back-to-School Guide

Welcome back, Crusaders, to a year unlike any other – one you will never forget. One day, you will tell your grandchildren about your school experience during the great pandemic. As we prepare to start to 2020-2021 school year, we all know that this year will be different than any school year any of us have experienced. As a community, we all need to take actions that will be in the best interest of the community, even though they are inconvenient, uncomfortable, or difficult.

This guide will explain many of the changes we are making this year and help generate mutual support that will empower us to thrive, which is what we are all committed to—helping our students thrive.

Middle School/High School Schedule
This year, we are using a rotating block schedule. This means, students will have half of their classes one day and the other half the next. Odd-numbered periods meet on one day and even-numbered periods the next day (we will flip odd/even all year long). We will use this schedule whether we are online or on campus.

A major advantage for students is that in a block schedule, they only meet with three or four classes per day, and they only have to prepare for three or four classes per day. Many schoolsuse this type of schedule for this reason. When we are on campus, block schedules will help this year by having students in contact with fewer other students (three or four different groups of students rather than up to seven). We will also have fewer passing periods, when social distancing will be a concern. When we are online, having screen time for three or four classes should be less stressful than trying to manage seven classes.

Open Periods
This year, we are capping most classes at 24 students. In the past, our average class size was around 24, but we got there by having some classes of 30 and some of 18. In order to stick to that cap, we added an 8th period to the schedule. This helps us spread classes around a little more and helps us schedule more efficiently. It also makes the number of classes on odd and even days the same.

Because students selected seven courses for the year, we gave every student a class called “Open Period.” Open periods meet during the first or last period of the day. When we are online, that means students will only have three classes the day they have their open period and they can use that time to get their homework done for the four classes that meet the next day.

When we are on campus, we hope that students will either be able to come late or be picked up early on days they have their open period. We know that this could be very difficult for parents, but it would help us stagger our starts and dismissals, which are considered good practices for social distancing. For early dismissal open periods, students would be allowed to leave before lunch, which will help us supervise a challenging time for social distancing.

Synchronous Events during Online Learning
When we are online, “synchronous learning” is very important. Parents, students, and teachers all wanted more specific time during the day with live classes meeting. This year, our expectation is that teachers will hold live events (synchronous learning) during their designated meeting periods. We also expect that students will attend these events. To be clear, within the 75-to-85-minute periods, live events could take many different forms. Our goal is for these live events to most closely approximate effective learning in the on-campus classroom. Some examples include:

  • Teachers hosts a short presentation at the beginning of the period, providing directions for independent learning. The students work on their own while the teacher keeps the online meeting room open for students to rejoin and ask questions as needed. The whole class meets again at the end to submit or share work and bring closure.
  • The teacher starts with the whole class together, and then divides the class into groups using the “breakout room” feature of the video-conferencing software. The students work in their groups while the teacher enters and leaves the different breakout rooms to provide help and direction as needed.
  • The class is live together for the entire period while different students or groups of students present to the rest of the class.
  • The entire class is live together for a discussion or Socratic seminar.
  • On the first day of a multi-day assignment, the teacher provides directions. On each following day, the teacher leads a short meeting at the beginning of the period for daily directions, and then spends the rest of the period meeting for follow-up and feedback with individual or small groups of students while the rest of the students work independently.
  • As an assessment, the teacher meets for 5-10 minutes with each student to assess achievement of the lesson’s learning goals.
  • We would not expect – or even want – teachers to provide a live online lecture that lasts the entire period. We wouldn’t want this is on-campus situations.

Asynchronous (Independent Learning) Learning
At times, teachers might have direct instruction in the form of a recorded slideshow or video that the students view on their own. The live events are then used to help answer student questions and help them practice the skills that are taught in the recorded lessons. This is commonly called “flipping the classroom” and is likely to occur in online and on-campus situations.

It is also expected that there will be some work assigned that is not completed or expected to be completed during the class periods. This “homework” will be part of both online and on-campus learning. Class assignments will be due for submittal on days that a class meets.

Chapel and Seminar
Chapel will take place on Wednesday. In our odd/even block rotation, Wednesday could be either odd or even, so we have schedules that have a space for a 30-minute chapel or seminar period. We call these “C/S” for chapel seminar schedules. Thursday is when seminar will meet. One function of seminar this year is to be the class in which students have chapel.

While we are online, students will log into their seminar Google Classroom on Wednesday for chapel. They might watch the virtual chapel video on their own or they might view it with their class as part of a Google Meet. They will then spend some time as a class talking about the message and reflecting together. We expect that there will be a time for class prayer and that much of this discussion and reflection will be student-led. If it is Thursday, students will still log in to their seminar Google Classroom, but the activities will be related to seminar and will depend on grade level and (in the case of High School) Concentration.

When we are on campus, students will report to their seminar class on Wednesday for chapel. Depending on the degree of current restrictions, some students might go to the Kendall Pavilion for a small group chapel, while the rest of the student body watches a live feed in seminar class. We might also still have virtual chapels that students view and discuss with their seminar class. On Thursdays, students go to their seminar class for seminar.

Differences Between Middle and High School Schedules
When we are online, there are no differences between the Middle and High School schedules. When we are on campus, Middle and High School have different times for nutrition (morning break). This is to allow for social distancing in food service lines and faster food service line during this short break. It also allows for social distancing in restrooms. In addition to different nutrition breaks, chapel/seminar meet at different times for High School and Middle School. This is mainly to allow for the possibility of students being together in larger than single class groups for chapel. All of these differences show up during third or fourth period. Other than that, the schedules are the same. We will try our best to show these timetables clearly in Family Portal and on student schedules, but it gets a little complicated.

FACTS and Family Portal
FACTS is our school information system; it was previously known as RenWeb. This is where all we store information on schedules, grades, and contact information. The parent email that is stored in FACTS is our primary means of routine communication with families. As part of FACTS, there is an online portal to view information called Family Portal (previously known as ParentsWeb). Middle and High School students and parents can view schedules, grades, and teacher announcements in Family Portal. The link to Family Portal is: https://vil-ca.client.renweb.com/pwr/

Students access Family Portal using their VCS username and password. Parents initially set up their own username and password using the email address that is in FACTS for them.

We use a variety of automated messages that are delivered from FACTS that include messages when a student has earned a zero or incomplete on an assignment and messages when a student has been absent.

Google Classroom
Google Classroom is our learning management system, where students and teachers interact (much like the physical classroom). This is how we will create assignments, share handouts, collect assignments, provide feedback, and share meeting links. Students access Google Classroom using their VCS email (which ends with @vcs.email) and their VCS password. The Chrome browser is the best choice for Classroom and Meet. Students must be logged into their VCS email account in order to join Google Meet. Parents can opt to receive either weekly or daily updates that includes announcements and missing work from all their child’s Google Classrooms.

Textbooks and Other Supplies
We are developing a process for families to drive through and pick up physical textbooks and other supplies such as musical instruments or packets for specific classes. We will use a few more electronic books than we used last year, but to keep costs down (because we already have physical books in stock), we will be using many of our paper books again this year. We anticipate that material/textbook pick-up will be held over the next two weeks (be on the lookout for a sign-up form to reserve your time slot).

Back-to-School Checklist for Online Learning

  • Each student has their own device—tablet or laptop
  • Headphones or ear buds for meetings
  • Stable home Wi-Fi with enough bandwidth to support all family members

Back-to-School Checklist for On-Campus Learning

  • Each student has their own device—tablet or laptop, fully charged each night
  • Stable home Wi-Fi with enough bandwidth to support all family members
  • At least two masks/face coverings—to be washed each evening
  • A thermometer for daily health screenings
  • Pocket-size hand sanitizer

Who to Contact with Issues

Key Documents

We can’t wait to see you at our virtual Meet the Teacher Night on Friday, August 28. More details to come.

Upcoming Events

Full Calendar

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