Necessity may be the mother of invention, but at Rivers this spring, necessity joined forces with hard work, thoughtful collaboration, and just a touch of good luck to give rise to Rivers Remote, the school’s academic response to the coronavirus outbreak. This online learning program was largely created and put into place over what would have been the school’s spring break.
With astonishing alacrity and well-coordinated teamwork, faculty and administrators pulled together Rivers Remote and launched it just a day after classes had been scheduled to restart after break. This success was at least partly attributable to two factors. The first was that the school started laying the groundwork early. “[Dean of Faculty] Leslie Fraser and I began talking about two weeks prior to break,” explained Director of Academic Technology John Adams.
Fortunately, when students left for spring break, they were told to take home all their materials, including their iPads. That left the tech team confident that students would have the necessary tools to access virtual classrooms. What would those classrooms look like? Faculty had to
tackle every aspect of that, from the nuts-and-bolts of choosing technologies to the mastering of those technologies to factoring in important non-academic considerations. Adams quickly
created a series of Zoom tutorials and compiled a wealth of online training sites and resources for teachers.
Early preparedness was one key factor. The second was timing. The fact that the need to ramp up Rivers Remote coincided with spring break turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as faculty members put vacation plans on hold and jumped into teaching in a whole new way. They attended daily training sessions, and some took a course through the nonprofit Global Online Academy on best practices for teaching remotely; those who took the course shared what they’d learned with their colleagues.
In a virtual fireside chat with parents part way through the implementation of Rivers Remote, Head of School Ned Parsons shared with parents the philosophy behind the development of the program. “Rivers Remote was built upon three foundational pillars, the first of which was to maintain academic progress and the continuity of the learning environment. The second was to maintain routines and structures that can be so beneficial to students. And the third was to maintain what makes us who we are as a school—and that is connection. Without connection and personal relationships, none of this can really work.”
Upper School Dean of Students Will Mills was instrumental in making sure Rivers Remote addressed issues of student life and community. Said Mills, “We’re spending a lot of time making sure the channels of communication are clear. Using existing student life teams, we’re keeping an eye on how kids are doing on a regular basis.”
Parsons wrapped up his remarks to parents with an emotive aspiration: “We know two things now: We can do this remote learning, and we don’t want to do this....Every day we ‘go to work’ without being surrounded by your children is a loss for us, and we can’t wait to be together again.”
We still don’t know all that the fall will bring, but at Rivers we continue to plan for every eventuality, with a sole focus on maintaining our relationships with our current families and our family of alumni.