Wellington School in Upper Arlington to give option for in-person classes

NATE ELLIS
nellis@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

When the Wellington School reopens next month, students will have the option of online learning from home, but they also will be able to attend classes in person five days a week.

As school districts and private schools throughout Ohio grapple with how to safely operate amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, many have decided to start the 2020-21 year by offering classes online only, or via a hybrid system in which students attend schools two days a week and take online courses the other three.

The Wellington School, an independent coeducation, preschool-through-12th-grade private day school in Upper Arlington with an enrollment of 700, has chosen a different model through which students may attend in-person classes five days a week when the school year begins Sept. 8.

Those who have pandemic-related health and safety concerns may be schooled virtually through HyFlex, a “hybrid-flexible” option, with online students following along with classroom instruction in real time.

At least at the outset of the year, parents and students will have the ability to change how schooling is delivered every four weeks.

“We truly believe one of our greatest strengths as a school is agility,” said Jeff Terwin, Wellington School head of school. “As the COVID-19 situation both nationally and in Ohio continues to be extremely complex and ever-evolving, we want to lean on our ability as a school to be nimble and quickly adjust to meet the needs of our community by giving families an opportunity to reassess their own needs every four weeks.”

Terwin said the school developed its reopening plan through discussions with the school’s program-innovation committee, medical subcommittee and Learning From Home Work Group, which comprise Wellington board members and students’ parents.

Among the decisions they made was to move back the first academic day from Aug. 26 to Sept. 8.

“With our extensive new safety protocols, as well as the introduction of a HyFlex learning model for faculty and students to adapt and integrate into their daily schedules, we wanted to allow for a transitionary period in which everyone can be better prepared for our first full academic day on Sept. 8,” Terwin said. “We will also use this period of time to continue to monitor county alert-level markers and assess whether our plans need adjusting for the safety and well-being of all our community members.”

Terwin said Wellington has implemented enhanced technology that allows for two-way streaming so students who elect to learn from home could follow lessons in real time, as well as “participate in discussions and keep in touch with their peers.”

Students who attend classes five days a week on campus, as well as on-campus Wellington staff members, will be required to wear facial coverings while inside school buildings.

For the time being, no visitors will be permitted in Wellington buildings, and the school has taken steps to reconfigure classrooms to increase distances and to reduce in-person class sizes with one staff member per eight students.

Terwin said hand sanitizer would be readily available throughout buildings, and the school plans to expand on a long-held practice of utilizing outdoor learning spaces, including tents set up around the campus grounds.

“We are hiring a number of learning-support staff to accommodate influxes or reductions in student numbers,” Terwin said. “This same staff will accommodate teacher breaks and supplemental services for students and faculty.

“The additional learning-support staff members will also serve as in-house teacher substitutes in an effort to reduce the number of new people on our campus.”

Shelley Brown, Wellington assistant head of Lower School, said it’s “extremely important” for Wellington to provide the opportunity for students to learn from home or return to school, in part because each family brings a unique set of circumstances.

She said Wellington’s options “allow families to make a choice that best suits their needs.”

“We know both options will provide a rich academic program while also encouraging social connections that all of our Lower School students need,” Brown said.

Brown said Wellington teachers were forced to pivot education models during the onset of the pandemic this spring, but it will be a challenge for them to, for the first time, offer in-person and online instruction at the same time.

“Our teachers quickly pivoted this spring to teach their classes virtually with very little notice,” she said. “We learned a lot from this experience, and we honed our technology skills over the summer so we would be even more confident in delivering our instruction virtually.

“Our Lower School teachers have now delivered instruction in their classrooms and virtually, but we have never done it at the same time. Wellington teachers are known for their focus on student engagement and their dedication to innovative teaching, and they are more than ready for the exciting challenge of connecting with the students in their physical spaces as well as students who are learning from home.”

She said innovative thinking and flexibility will be keys this year.

“Technology has always been integrated into our classroom instruction, but we will also be using technology to connect our Wellington students with the greater Columbus community and beyond,” Brown said. “Since we will not be leaving the campus for field trips this fall, we are already exploring ways to digitally connect our students with experts beyond our school building.

“The opportunities to connect and learn are endless. Want to hear a story read in space? We can do it. Want to talk about the design-thinking process with an athletic shoe designer in California? We did that this spring. Our classroom walls will not limit us on how we can connect and learn from experts in our city, country and world.”

Terwin said Wellington would “remain connected” to state advisories and Franklin County Public Health to continue to assess and revise plans for this school year and will observe “all federal, state and local mandates if they present themselves.”

He said the school has established its own internal COVID-19 “tracing and community-spread thresholds in collaboration with Franklin County Public Health.”

“Normalcy is not a word that we have been using much lately, but I am proud of the plan that we have in place to give our students the best start to the 2020-2021 school year on Sept. 8,” Terwin said.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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