From a Distance
Two local schools support students through remote learning by implementing ways to maintain interaction and engagement online.
- AboveNaomi S. meets with her chemistry class during online instruction.
Traditional education went through a dramatic shift this year for more than 1 billion students worldwide. With very little notice, teachers had to quickly pivot to reenvision the ways they teach and the ways their students learn. During this time of enormous societal change, two independent schools that share a vibrant South Bay campus have proven to be a model for what is possible with distance learning. Students at Rolling Hills Prep and Renaissance Schools kept right on track with their continued growth and academic progress—albeit remotely—thanks to constant contact with teachers who offered virtual classes and programs.
In a series of strategy sessions held in March, teachers facing the possibility of school closure met to quickly determine the best ways to provide normalcy and calm to the 225 students and families of Rolling Hills Prep and Renaissance Schools. “Collaboratively, we decided to maintain our popular block schedule and to hold many school activities virtually,” says head of schools David Maher. “These have included classroom labs and projects, advisory sessions, tutoring periods and even athletic workouts through platforms like Google Classroom, Google Meetings and Zoom.”
Above: JT T. was awarded one of the Athlete of The Year awards at the virtual athletics banquet.
Staying In Touch
During this period of distance learning, the schools provided stability and consistent communication for students and parents alike through existing support systems such as their comprehensive advisory program. Through this program, each student is assigned an advisor—a dedicated adult who monitors their progress, serves as an advocate and relays crucial information to parents. Frequent student and parent contact with advisors was encouraged, and students checked in remotely with their advisors at the beginning of each school day.
Community gatherings featuring senior speeches, student and faculty announcements, and even student council elections were all held online. And the administration continues to have a strong online presence with weekly correspondence and regularly scheduled meetings for current parents and information sessions for newly admitted families that will be joining the schools in the fall.
“Despite the difficulties, we continued to provide a first-rate education, and our teachers and staff stepped up and did an exemplary job throughout the past few months,” says Maher. “They truly showed our students and parents how much our schools care for them.”
Above: Artwork by Teel S. is featured in Arts Week 2020 along with a video discussing her work.
Finding New Formats
The unique need for adaptation inspired academic departments to embrace virtual methods and convert long-standing traditions into new formats. The annual All-School Art Show transformed into Arts Week 2020— a virtual showcase highlighting arts courses, high-achieving arts students and students in the unique Specialized Arts Diploma program. An Arts Week website and social media pages provided an in-depth look at programs and student work. The complete show can be viewed at RollingHillsPrep.org/ArtsWeek.
“Despite the difficulties, we continued to provide a first-rate education, and our teachers and staff stepped up.’”
Science and math teachers also retooled the annual on-campus STEM Expo with STEM Expo 2020—a series of video podcasts with experts that explored various fields and projects relating to science, technology, engineering and math. This project resulted in more than eight hours of video content and 16 individual episodes, all of which are available to view at RollingHillsPrep.org/STEMExpo.
Equipped with a forward-thinking Student Life and Counseling team, the schools are using their progressive view of social-emotional learning to rapidly develop new initiatives that promote positive engagement among students, parents, faculty and staff. The Student Life team’s peer mentoring program has provided virtual meetings among students across grade levels to address the challenges brought on by isolation and quarantine.
Additionally, teachers and the administration developed a variety of virtual initiatives using social media and digital tools, such as communal movie-watching parties, a distance learning mascot contest, and a virtual prom hosted by Jack in the Box with celebrity DJs Dillon Francis and Diplo. Although many sports and other year-end activities were canceled, the schools still honored the year’s athletes and accomplishments at a virtual athletics banquet. The last week of the school year was marked with virtual closing ceremonies and other events to honor the Class of 2020 and their families.
Walker P. was a student presenter at the STEM Expo 2020 event,
where he discussed building a graphics computer.
Despite the current uncertainty regarding the 2020–2021 school year, Rolling Hills Prep and Renaissance Schools will continue to seek positive and healthy opportunities as the educational landscape changes. They are revisiting their approaches on a daily basis and making adjustments as new information comes to light—making them a source of stability and reassurance for their community.
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis for both schools throughout the summer, and a recording of their virtual information session for prospective families is available at RollingHillsPrep.org/Visit. Elementary age students who would benefit from more extensive learning support and need time to become more independent learners can look into REACH Elementary and Middle Schools (REACHSchool.org), a newly founded sister school moving onto campus this fall.
“I’ve been continually amazed by all of our students on their successes and accomplishments under difficult circumstances,” says Maher. “They’ve shown me resiliency, character and kindness like I’ve never experienced.”
Rolling Hills Prep and Renaissance Schools
One Rolling Hills Prep Way, San Pedro | 310-791-1101 | RollingHillsPrep.org