“We are educating and adapting.” That’s how Kelan Griffin, Ursuline Academy IT Director, describes the academy’s distance learning efforts during the COVID-19 state mandated school closure. From the moment Governor Edwards declared the closure of all Louisiana schools, Ursuline did not miss one second of instructional time. Teachers and students left that Friday, prepared to begin online classes first thing Monday morning. This seamless transition has proven successful for students ranging from Toddler 1 to 12th grade.
“It’s all about the teachers. They are the ones doing it,” Griffin said. Once the onset of the coronavirus became prevalent in the state, Ursuline Academy faculty began meeting to brainstorm, share best practices, and test new ways of online instruction. With the advantage of Google Classroom already in place across the entire academy, teachers just needed to bring in Google Hangouts as a means of adding live video instruction. Ursuline’s IT Director states, “None of this was expected as we started 2020, but our preparation started years ago. If we rewind 6 years, we would not have been able to do this. Our success stems from our desire to provide a 1:1 device environment which led to doing what we do daily at school and at home.” Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, 5th-12th grade became 1:1 with Kindergarten-4th being added a few years later.
Online instruction with younger students consists of pre-recorded videos, assignments, and other resources posted to Google Classroom. Show and tells are conducted allowing students the chance to engage. Guest videos from teachers, administration and staff provide additional learning opportunities such as story time, virtual field trips, and more. Lower through high school students receive video instruction through Google Hangouts as one of their many learning tools. Through distance learning, students are able to receive feedback on classwork and art projects, view instructional videos, break into small groups, and check-in with teachers during office hours for additional support. In addition, school counselors are reaching out to students and families with support tips. And in high school, students are able to virtually meet with the campus minister and dean of students to address any issues and answer questions. Daily announcements, prayer, and a growth mindset curriculum for high school offer a sense of community while supporting the individual student.
In addition to the solidity of instruction are student council executive board meetings, a Google Hangouts rosary with students and staff, private piano lessons, administrative meetings, and board meetings just to name a few. While Ursuline’s historic State Street campus sits empty, its mission carries on across the 50+ zip codes that it serves. What’s said about academy foundress, St. Angela Merici, could not be more true during this time of world pandemic – when given two choices, Angela chose a third. Ursuline students and teachers have gone over and above to face the challenges given to them. They continue to push on through daily instruction and interaction and make the very best out of these uncertain times – taking learning to the next level. In the midst of educating and adapting comes sharing – sharing information between the academy’s divisions in order to learn and grow. “We continue to remain fluid and adapt. My job has been to troubleshoot the best I can remotely. The teachers are making it happen,” said Kelan Griffin.
In a thank you letter written to faculty & staff and administration, a 6th grade parent wrote about her daughter, “Due to the efforts and technology at UA, she wakes up each morning with a purpose and is able to learn and socialize remotely. It gives us great comfort.” Whether on or off campus, Ursuline Academy’s nurturing community fuels every girl’s success – building confidence and social-emotional resiliency. Ursuline girls stand up and stand out – especially in times like these.