Early on in this pandemic year, the British International School of Chicago, South Loop (BISC-SL) recognized the need for quick pivots to remote instruction, even as the majority of students returned to its classrooms.
“Since we reopened for in-person learning this fall, we have developed a flexible learning environment where students can opt-in to virtual learning day-to-day, with no disruption,” explains Mike Henderson, principal of BISC-SL.
Through careful planning, innovative use of technology and a flexible approach that puts the needs of students and families first, BISC-SL provides effective hybrid daily learning. If a student’s family member develops COVID symptoms, the child can join school seamlessly from home to preserve the integrity of the larger learning community. This well-planned system is a huge success, Henderson says.
Prioritizing personalized learning
Due to the unique challenges of early childhood learning, there are three classes of in-person learning and then one class that is purely virtual for the youngest students at BISC-SL. “Splitting our offering this way for our 3- and 4-year-old students allowed us to ensure that all students spend time with their teachers in small groups, one-on-one and whole-class sessions whether in-person or virtually” says John Biggs, BISC-SL head of primary. “The virtual students participate in all of their activities at home just as they would at school. It’s very interactive and they learn together. That collaboration is key.”
Older primary students work in small cohorts while tablet devices, whiteboards and large screens allow students and teachers to communicate, in-person or remotely. All students are encouraged to contribute in a variety of ways, and hybrid learning plays to the strengths of each student, Biggs says.
“Students on devices still talk to one another, collaborate and share information, verbally or through the chat function,” he explains. Primary students submit and share their work through Seesaw, an app that maximizes feedback between students, parents and teachers.
Leveraging technology for academics and social growth
Middle and high school students at BISC-SL benefit from social interactions and collaborative academic work, regardless of their location. “As COVID cases rise, the number of students in-person varies, because some have family members at home they can’t put at risk,” says Andrew Gilhooly, head of secondary at BISC-SL. “But the best part about our hybrid learning is that students have the exact same experience at home. They have the same interactions with their teachers and peers and it’s seamless for everyone.”
As freshmen present business concepts in their entrepreneurship course, for instance, two team members might be in the classroom, while the other two present from home on a large front-of-the-classroom screen. All students have devices, engage fluidly through Microsoft Teams and even take handwritten notes in a RocketBook, which they can instantly upload and share digitally. For social time, students can have lunch together — no matter where they are — and a multitude of extracurricular clubs are thriving at BISC-SL.
“We’re really proud that we can address student well-being as well as academics and preserve interactions. We still do a full day of school, with no change to the amount of coursework or delivery of classes,” Gilhooly says.
All students participate in phys ed, and teachers even see increased expressive freedom among students who participate from home in dance class, which BISC-SL — as a Nord Anglia Education School — offers in collaboration with The Juilliard School.
In-person or virtual, the school community at BISC-SL is close-knit, and students receive personalized education and support from faculty members who take the time to get to know them. BISC-SL prides itself on its proactive approach for students who need to attend virtually from time to time.
“We’re most proud that we have managed to be a full school, and that we can offer exactly the same curriculum at home in a hybrid model,” Henderson says. “Our kids love learning and we make sure this is a really good place to be.”
Learn more about British International School of Chicago, South Loop at bischicagosl.org.