The spread of the coronavirus drastically changed how our children learn. While a sudden shift from in-person to virtual education could have left faculty and families reeling, that wasn’t the case at the Chicago City Day School. In fact, the transition to online learning happened with relative ease. And if you ask Chris Dow, middle school teacher and incoming head of school, it’s a testament to the school’s 40-year history.
“It speaks to who we are as a school and what was already so successful for us,” Dow says. “We have teachers who are passionate, skilled, and able to differentiate their instruction for all our students. We’ve been able to transfer those strengths to distance learning efficiently and effectively.”
Located on two tree-lined acres on a residential street in Chicago’s Belmont Harbor neighborhood, this independent school for children in junior kindergarten through eighth grade boasts small class sizes, which Dow says has been a big benefit during the changes in education brought on by the pandemic.
“We’re a small, tight-knit school, so we were able to react and adapt quickly as things were developing,” Dow says.
Here, Dow discusses the school’s online model and what’s in store for the 2020-21 school year.
Meeting students at their level
Dow says that when planning the online learning program, teachers made sure it was flexible and appropriate for different grade levels. Younger students, for example, had fewer online meetings scheduled, so they could spend more time reading, exploring and learning at home.
Older students assembled for homeroom meetings twice a day, giving them a chance to connect, socialize, assess their workload and support each other.
Every day, the school integrated non-core classes or activities into the schedule, including art, drama, tech class and music.
City Day teachers remained mindful of parents’ schedules when developing the online program, Dow says, as they knew that many parents, particularly those with younger children, would often have to help get their children online for the lessons.
Parents have reacted to the program very positively. A parent of a City Day seventh-grader says she appreciates how thorough the online school day is.
“There’s the right number of touch points,” the parent says. “And that’s true from reading and math, to art and tech — they’re giving these kids a full school day in this really unique experience.”
Another parent referred to City Day’s distance learning program as a “model” for other schools.
“That model has made all the difference for us,” the parent notes. “It has made this whole situation not just bearable, but truly enjoyable for the entire family, so thank you so much Chicago City Day School.”
Looking ahead to the 2020-2021 school year, Chicago City Day School is prepared for all options, including traditional classroom learning, online, or a hybrid of the two, Dow says.
City Day’s campus features four separate buildings that would provide more than enough space for “social distance” learning.
“We don’t know exactly where things are headed, but we are prepared for all the eventualities,” Dow says. “We want to welcome all of our students back to campus in the fall, and we have the necessary spaces to fit changing conditions. We can have a couple grades in each building. We can stagger our day — all the things that have been talked about, we are able to do on our campus.
“We are very fortunate. Our founding head, Mrs. Galeta Kaar Clayton, and our board have been very smart and structured a school and campus that can adapt and react to something even as unexpected as this has all been.”