Calhoun classrooms look different this year. Students and teachers wear masks, and desks are arranged six feet apart. Devices called “Zoombots” are in every classroom that allow remote learners to connect with their teachers and classmates via video conferencing.
After navigating the uncharted waters of distance learning this past spring, Calhoun rose to a new challenge: reimagining in-person school during a pandemic. To do this, Calhoun assembled a team of nearly 70 faculty, staff and administrators that spent the summer studying the guidance of leading health experts and back-to-school plans from educational institutions around the world; and envisaging new schedules, building layouts and safety policies that would allow school to reopen while protecting the community.
Calhoun has adopted a hybrid learning model, which flexibly accommodates both in-person and remote learners. Students in pre-K through sixth grade attend school five days a week, while students in grades 7-12 alternate between in-person and remote learning. Families can also choose to do distance learning full-time. All students are divided into smaller groups — known as “pods” or cohorts — that limit class sizes and facilitate social distancing. When students aren’t physically on campus, they log into Zoom to participate in the same lessons as their classmates.
A robust COVID-19 testing program is also a key element to Calhoun’s reopening. The return to in-person learning was initially postponed due to limitations in testing turnaround times. Now that school buildings are open, Calhoun has rolled out regular COVID-19 testing that uses the same technology employed by Yale and the NBA. The school also hired a full-time contact tracing director, and instituted a daily health questionnaire designed to screen for potential cases in the community.
There’s no question that the start of a new school year has never looked quite like this, but many aspects of the Calhoun experience have remained unchanged. Community connections have remained strong — whether through finding creative ways to welcome students back, or bringing assemblies to the virtual space. Throughout it all, teachers have continued to innovate and maintain a laser focus on fostering a love of learning in our students. The buildings are abuzz with students again, and while it’s been a long road to a new “normal,” no face mask can hide the tangible joy of being back together at school.