Going to boarding school a thousand miles from home is one thing, but going to boarding school 1,000 miles from school is another. During this unique and challenging time, every person, business, and institution has been forced to make changes to their routine. Phillips Academy has been no exception.
(Source: Boston Magazine)
Classes at Phillips have had to change their entire structure for the spring term. Because students live all around the world, in various time zones, all classes have been conducted asynchronously, meaning that there are no scheduled class times. Instead, students have been assigned readings, videos, and homework. This method of learning isn’t ideal and can be especially hard in some classes, while easier in others.
Some students have fallen behind in their studies because they have had difficulty in this new learning environment, but teachers have been more than accommodating, setting up Zoom meetings, being flexible with due dates, and, in some cases, assigning less work or giving breaks. There is no easy way of conducting classes online, especially when it has to be done asynchronously, but Phillips Academy’s teachers and administration are doing the best they can to provide a fair and adequate education to its students during this unique and challenging time.
One of the most unique parts of going to a boarding high school is having all the students, faculty, and staff together on one campus. It provides opportunities both socially and educationally that are hard to come by at other schools. During a time when the school can’t foster traditional connections, Phillips Academy has had to find other ways to engage as a community.
One such way is club meetings. It is unfortunate that Phillips’ many clubs can’t meet in person right now, but many are nonetheless finding ways to meet over Zoom. These Zoom meetings allow students to connect with their peers, despite being off-campus. Teachers are also assigning group work, which also fosters connections between students. Originally, I thought group work would just be cumbersome over Zoom, but I have found it to be a great way to get to know people in my classes and learn from each other during a time when learning is often done alone.
Phillips Academy has also tried to engage students by sending out “All School Meeting” videos every other week. These videos are in place of meetings we would normally have at school every other Friday. Although these videos have been somewhat uplifting, they haven’t been very effective, because a lot of students just ignore the videos completely. Ultimately, the school cannot foster the same sense of community that they normally do, but that has not stopped them from trying to bring members of the community closer together.
With students out of their dorms, one of the biggest challenges this pandemic presents is the problem of housing. What should be done with students’ belongings all summer? How will the school decide where students are going to live with questions looming about enrollment for 2020-2021? Unfortunately, the solutions to these problems are not easy to come by.
When it comes to students' belongings, Phillips Academy offered three possible options: for students to return to campus at a scheduled time to collect their belongings, for school staff to pack up items and store them, or for school staff to pack up items and ship them to students. Each option has its pros and cons, but at the end of the day, the school could only offer so many solutions. Phillips Academy has also been forced to suspend decisions about student housing until August, because of questions about enrollment. Students won’t know where they’ll be living on campus next year, if at all, while the school year is already fast approaching.
This isn’t an easy time for anyone. Long-distance learning can be really difficult, and schools like Phillips Academy have to make a lot of changes to make things work. In times like this, with the world in disarray, it is more important than ever to be grateful for the hard work people are putting in to make sure that students are educated. Phillips Academy’s actions have not been perfect during this pandemic, but there is no doubt in my mind that they are working as hard as they can to provide a fulfilling and engaging educational experience.