(Credit: Adam Richins)
One month ago today on Thursday, March 12, Montrose made the decision to close our doors and shift to online learning in order to keep our community safe during the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve come a long way! While we’re away from North Street, we’ve lost the ability to smile at each other in the hallways, attend daily Mass or Enrichment reading, and meet after school for clubs and sports. Yet, students and faculty at Montrose have kept our school spirit alive and ready to take on whatever lies ahead.
From class activities to athletic competitions, Montrose has offered a multitude of engaging opportunities for our community during quarantine. As we enter the second month of online classes, it is important to refer back to the Montrose compass. We can reflect upon what has worked well and what we can improve at virtual Montrose. We can respond by making adjustments to help our students and staff. And finally, we can recalibrate by adapting to new changes and growing together as a community.
Learning How to Virtually Learn
As we can all agree, the world’s “new normal” has brought many adjustments to our day-to-day lives. School life for students across the nation has gained a whole new meaning. Just a couple of months ago, most of us had never heard of Zoom, and now we use it everyday. Since March 12, we have not only adapted to a completely new schedule, but have also learned how to virtually learn through the many tools on Zoom and Google Classroom.
In the traditional classroom, very few Montrose teachers choose to use Google Classroom or other online resources. From the beginning of our time at Montrose, we are encouraged to write our notes instead of typing them because of its proven benefits in the learning process. As a school that does not require iPads or laptops, students and teachers alike have had to adjust to using technology — not just for notetaking, but for everything we do from home.
“With Google Classroom, everything’s all in the same place,” said Middle School English Teacher Mrs. Roberts. Since the beginning of virtual learning, she has chosen to adopt Google Classroom into her sixth, seventh, and eighth grade classes. Mrs. Roberts added: “In a traditional classroom, I give a lot of paper! The online resource helps me as a teacher, but also is good for students.” Mrs. Roberts shared that she plans to keep using Google Classroom after we return to the traditional classroom.
Teachers have also developed creative ways to use their Zoom classes. French Teacher Ms Lechner and Math Teacher Mrs. Hughes among many others have adopted a sort of “30-20” or “40-10” rule during their classes. After thirty or forty minutes of lecture time, students sign off of the Zoom call and spend the remainder of class completing a Google Form check-in. Although students still complete the Google Form through a screen, it gives us the ability to absorb the lesson by ourselves and enjoy some extra breathing time between classes.
Students greatly appreciate ideas like the “30-20” and “40-10” rule, and thrive on opportunities to learn outside of lecture time through Zoom. After April break, many students expect that updates may be made to the Montrose schedule to lessen screen time across the board. But even if those updates are made, students still hope that teachers will find ways to keep their virtual classroom engaging. As Olivia Lipson ‘25 said: “I work better with hands-on activities, and it’s really hard to listen when you’re just staring at a screen. In my science class with Ms Cheffers, we are working on science experiments.”
Last weekend, 11th grade students in Ms Thordarson’s Physics class carried out egg drop projects. Usually, Ms Thordarson’s students have the chance to build their egg drop project in class and put it to the test by dropping it from the A&A mezzanine. Instead, we filmed our experiments at home, and had the chance to watch everyone’s videos together while screen sharing through Zoom.
“Looking at a screen all the time is just not fun. I’ve been trying to keep students learning more practically,” said Ms Thordarson (one of the beloved creators of the Quarantine Diaries).
In addition, some teachers have turned one of their classes each week into an independent period for “office hours.” Mrs. Roberts shared: “I have enjoyed the new schedule and I have found that this format has afforded me a lot more time to meet with students one-on-one. With my classes, we Zoom twice a week, and then for the third class period, they can Zoom in with questions or make an appointment with me.”
The fact that “Zoom” has now become a verb amongst students and teachers may also be a sign that we’ve come a long way in the past month.
Keeping Community Connected
Montrose cherishes its traditions and allows interaction among all grades to keep our community close-knit. Lucky for us, Student Government (affectionately “Stud Gov”) has hosted engaging and entertaining M-Blocks and Common Homerooms through Zoom. “We’re trying to keep as much tradition as we can, like keeping Big and Little Sisters in the same pairs. We want to bring what we’re used to at school into a virtual situation,” said Stud Gov Exec Vice President Celia Roberto ‘20.
The first update to our schedule (potentially of many) will come into play this week — a rotating schedule between M-Block and CHR on Wednesdays. Ms Thordarson said: “I like the adjustments for the CHR and M-Block, because before they were on Tuesday and Thursday, which was hard. We have five Zoom classes on those days, and the breaks were taken away. The schedule is kind of in flux because we’re looking at screen time and amount of work.” Last week, 55% of respondents on the Looking Glass poll voted that “The screen time isn’t a problem as long as I take breaks during Enrichment and lunch.” 45% of respondents said that “The screen time definitely affects me — I get headaches often, or can’t focus by the end of the day.” 0% voted that the screen time has not affected them at all. With the new adjustments to M-Block and CHR, students will hopefully experience the benefits of less screen time, and will also be able to better enjoy them every Wednesday.
Quarantine has led to increased feelings of loneliness all over the country. “If you know someone who needs something, tell Stud Gov so we can reach out!” said Stud Gov Exec Secretary Gabriella Bachiochi ‘21. Celia added: “Take comfort in the fact that we’re all lonely together. We are very much having days where it’s just hard to be alone. Randomly reach out to someone, randomly text people, do random FaceTimes — people appreciate it.”
College Plans from Home
Since the pandemic began, colleges and universities have taken major steps to prevent the spread of the virus. Sadly, numerous colleges have chosen to cancel orientation events for this year’s high school seniors. However, current high school juniors will also be heavily impacted by coronavirus cancellations. “The class of 2021 is historic,” said College Guidance Counselor Mrs. Foley. She also explained that some colleges have decided to become test-optional for applicants in the class of 2021 alone — a step that will certainly change the game for the admissions process.
Along with the college processes for both juniors and seniors, AP exams remain a very important part of the Montrose education for many students. In response to safety precautions suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the College Board has made big changes to the format of the AP Exam. The normal 2-4 hour exam period has been shortened to a mere 45 minutes. They will also only cover content that AP curriculums should have completed by March, which is when schools closed and classes turned virtual across the country. In addition, the College Board will allow students to use their notes. AP Physics C teacher Ms Thordarson said: “For some students, it’ll be nice that it’s open-note. But the thing to remember about open-note is that if you don’t have your notes organized in a good way, you’ll spend more time flipping through everything. ‘Open-note’ does not always mean ‘easier’ — the key is to be well-prepared and organized.”
Usually, students have the comfort of knowing exactly how AP exams will play out. Teachers, online resources, and prep books can offer years’ worth of practice exams to any student. Now, the ambiguity of these unique exams requires us to rely on the Montrose compass and handle the situation with trust and integrity.
Montrose is Still Montrose
Now that it looks like we may not be heading back to North Street for a while, you may be wondering how different members of the Montrose faculty outside of your teachers have been doing. It’s hard to imagine Mrs. Howard anywhere other than behind the front desk at Montrose. But from home, Mrs. Howard works everyday to keep our school ticking.
“I’m still command central!” Mrs. Howard joked in a recent (phone) interview. “We’re working as a united team to promote the mission everyday. We have Zoom meetings together and outreach phone calls to comfort those in our community who have had losses. Even though the physical doors have closed at Montrose, the doors are open. The leadership at Montrose has handled this unexpected crisis with calmness.”
At school, we’re also used to finding Mrs. Rose’s office tucked behind Mrs. Howard’s front desk. Even though we can’t drop in for an ice pack or an Advil from her anymore, she has played an important role for our students during quarantine. She shared: “I’m not taking care of students physically, but I’m following students who have medical issues that impact them academically, and working with other administrators to do whatever I can do to best support those students.” Mrs. Rose has also been in touch with school nurses from other independent schools in the area to keep each other updated about the coronavirus situation.
Mrs. Keefe shared that she has grown in love for Montrose and in faith since social distancing began. Although she can’t see any of her grandchildren, she has been in touch with family and friends across the world. “There’s so many avenues to connect with people,” she said. “I’ve been answering lots of emails, and doing meetings over Zoom with the staff. I use the telephone a lot to check in with our 23 international girls and their host families and the nurse. I also try to reach out to somebody I haven’t spoken to in a while.”
While reflecting upon your experiences in the past month, think about moments in your day where you can create goals, and make it happen! It’s important for our well-being to channel our extra time into things we love — whether it be spending time with family, participating in the Mavericks on The Move challenge, or experimenting new hobbies and investing time into old ones. Equally important, we can remember our faith. As Mrs. Rose said: “Faith and family are the most important things. [During quarantine], we have the opportunity to step back and recognize what’s really important. Remember what Fr. Dick used to say — ‘God’s in charge. I don’t know what he’s doing, but God’s in charge!’”
After the cancellation of the Junior Ring Ceremony, the Italy trip and the Ireland Exchange Program, prom, and other beautiful events and yearly traditions, it can feel like we’ve been drawn apart more than ever this year. In reality, it has given us an opportunity to see the good. “Right when I found out the softball season was cancelled, I was really disappointed. I was so ready for everyone to get to know each other and make new friends,” said Varsity Softball Captain Sophie Cronin ‘23. “But I would definitely say that next year, we’re going to come back stronger than ever.”
In the end, Montrose is still Montrose. We continue to persevere through times that can fluctuate between lonely and stressful or relaxing and peaceful. And now that we have reached the “one month mark,” it’s important for all of us to choose gratitude, especially for the countless first responders on the front lines of this crisis. We cannot be certain about what will happen tomorrow, or in another month from now. But we can continue to ground ourselves in hope and unite as a school, even from afar. As Mrs. Keefe shared: “There’s going to be many, many miracles in this time.”
Spandana Vagwala ’22, Co-Assistant Editor-in-Chief and Maevis Fahey ’21, Editor-in-Chief