Archer students and faculty continue remote learning plan for 2020-2021 academic year


Photo credit: Anna Brodsky

The front of Archer on March 13, the last day of on-campus school activity. Head of School Elizabeth English announced in an email sent out on July 13 to all students and faculty that due to the novel Coronavirus, on-campus learning will continue to be replaced with virtual learning until further notice.

By Vaughan Anoa'i, News Editor

As the surge of COVID-19 cases continued to increase in the Los Angeles area, in-person gatherings such as public events are currently prohibited by government officials. This decision requires schools and businesses to stay closed as public gatherings are not considered to be a part of proper social distancing regulations.

Head of School Elizabeth English released an email announcement on July 13 that all students and faculty members of the Archer community would not return to in-person learning in the Fall as initially planned. Instead, students continued virtual learning from last semester via Zoom. Middle schoolers began classes on Aug. 18 while upper schoolers began on Aug. 24.

Due to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision not to return to campus in the Fall for COVID-19 concerns, according to the email, English decided Archer should follow suit.

“Because this is a highly dynamic set of circumstances, we are planning to make the decision of whether or not to return to campus on a month-by-month basis based on local data and expert guidance on opening schools,” English wrote. “As we’ve followed the re-opening of schools in other countries, what becomes clear is that community containment of the virus must precede in-person operation of schools and businesses.”

In an interview conducted via email after the initial announcement, English noted the changes that had to be made to fully support distance.

“We intentionally designed a schedule for next year that could toggle between in person and remote learning,” English wrote. “We knew we would need to remain flexible in order to respond to a potential surge in COVID-19 cases like the one we are experiencing in L.A. County right now.”

Although circumstances have shifted and much information is still “uncertain,” English wrote, one thing that hasn’t changed is her support for Archer’s teachers and administrators.

“Our main focus is on supporting our teachers to teach effectively in the remote space and to design their courses and adjust their pedagogy for both synchronous and asynchronous learning,” English wrote. “The truth is, you cannot replicate what you do in person online, not effectively anyway. The good news is that we have exceptional instructional leaders at Archer, and our academic leadership team is meeting again tomorrow to plan professional development for the entire faculty.”

Echoing English’s statements, new Middle School Director Nat Damon said he felt “grateful,” to have worked alongside Archer’s faculty and staff members during this unique planning process.

“I have never worked with a more thoughtful and collaborative group,” Damon said. “Since July 1, the curriculum development has been a true democratic process where all seats are rolled up, all hands on are on deck, and all opinions are being listened to.”

Also commenting on this year’s planning process, Associate Head of School Karen Pavliscak noted the differing methods and strategies that the faculty and staff used to best determine the right balance between asynchronous and synchronous learning for Archer students to utilize.

“As we moved into the remote space, we were auditing the student experience,” Pavliscak said. “We took all the data from the sixth through 12th grade across every subject, and said, how can we make an easy student user experience so that their focus is on learning?”

Using survey data from Archer students, teachers and even parents, the planning committee and coordinators came up with a remote learning system specifically garnered for Archer students in the remote space.

“All summer long we were using this information, and we created our own teacher remote professional development website,” Pavliscak said. “Our teachers are lead-learners now, and they are having incredible cognitive empathy for their students as they’re right alongside them, trying to keep every tool at the fort of their learning.”

Echoing Pavliscak’s words, this planning process in particular struck Damon as an “eye opener” to additional aspects of his life that were also put on hold amid the current pandemic.

“It’s been an incredible eye opener for me at how partnership and true collegiality came become real, particularly in times of uncertainty,” Damon said.

Newly appointed Upper School Director Meghan Tally commented on the topic of curriculum planning for the current 2020-2021 academic year.

“So many things were well underway when Mr. Damon and I arrived this summer,” Tally said. “From the very beginning, it was inspiring to see the openness of this faculty to innovation, creativity and collaboration.”

When discussing possible victories or major takeaways from this process, Tally said this experience shifted her perspectives and taught her to be thankful.

“I am feeling really grateful to have been a part of something that’s so much bigger than I am,” Tally said, “and for being a part of a community where we’re so together in this sense of purpose.”