Back to School! 2020

On October 28, over 60 alums gathered for a beloved, traditional event: Back to School! This year, as traditions and practices are reimagined every day, so too, was this special evening.

Rather than return to 100 East End Avenue, the former Chapin students were offered a glimpse into Chapin’s new virtual learning program. Each attendee preselected Lower, Middle or Upper School, and from the comfort of their own homes, experienced overviews of the classes Chapin students take today.

The evening began with remarks from Head of School Suzanne Fogarty. “In March, we had to pivot to virtual learning and it’s no secret that Chapin earned a reputation for excellent virtual learning right out of the gate.” She underscored the importance of Chapin’s goal to preserve “moments of joy, tradition and community.”

Following Ms. Fogarty was Director of Technology Dr. Vivienne Forrester. “IT infrastructure is the backbone of virtual learning and remote work,” she began, explaining how vital it is for “seamless and equitable technology integration,” during this time. She also noted that Chapin possesses “safe, secure and reliable technology infrastructure.”

Ilana Pergam ’86, Director of Academic Program, was the third to speak. As she began, her landline phone started to ring. Fearing her answering machine would be broadcast, she quickly muted to turn off the phone. Laughing at the irony, Ms. Fogarty claimed, “Humor is a good thing!”

Ms. Pergam quickly returned, stressing that the world of Zoom requires flexibility and adaptability on the spot – which had just been seamlessly proven. She went on to discuss the transition process Chapin went through, describing it as having “expanded Chapin’s walls and broadened our reach.” She noted the comprehensive surveys that were sent to students, parents, faculty and staff periodically to ensure a productive virtual learning experience. Additionally, many members of the professional community took part in professional development work over the summer to further their abilities in virtual work.

Currently, Ms. Pergam explained, Chapin offers in-person learning for K-5 students and a hybrid model for Classes 6-12. She noted that families also have the choice to stay fully remote, learning online at all times. “We are able to serve all students." she said.

Irina MacGuire, Director of Alumnae Affairs, wrapped up the introduction, expressing her thanks and praise before sending attendees off to their divisional Zoom rooms. “You will all be inspired by our incredible teachers.”

Those in Lower School (LS) began with a game of “Precocious Pig,” a twist on the traditional game of hangman, created by Lower School Technology Integrator Rich Jenkins.

Alums were then sent into smaller breakout rooms with Mr. Jenkins telling them the same thing he says to his Lower School students: “Try to remember there’s lots of voices in this space. Help out your friends and listen.”

While in breakout rooms, the attendees engaged in various discussions and answered prompts and polls from Mr. Jenkins. They were also treated to videos created and used by Lower School faculty this past year.

When everyone reconnected back in the main LS room, Mr. Jenkins explained, “The idea of remote learning is all about engagement. Engagement offers the opportunity for students to feel, be seen and heard, and to make an impact. We’ve had important discussions about the ability to make an impact.”

Meanwhile, in the Middle School (MS) session, Middle School Technology Department Head Trude Goodman introduced herself to her group. “I’m so excited to share our technology tools!” she said, as she presented Padlet, a virtual bulletin board where students and teachers can share notes, ideas, pictures, etc. in a secure location.

“I’m going to pass the virtual baton to Fanny,” Ms. Goodman said, as her co-host and colleague took over.

Math teacher Fanny Sosenke began by saying, “How can we use technology in a wise and good way?” and described her goals of connecting math to social justice. She offered an example lesson about fractions, an introduction to the ‘Desmos’ website (a site that offers math software tools and digital classroom activities), and the use of memes for humor and learning.

The Upper School (US) session, which was led by Math teacher Patrick Aquino and English teacher Katherine Burd, was organized into two breakout rooms. In Mr. Aquino’s room, similar to Middle School, they discovered Desmos, with the alums participating in a graphing, ‘Guess Who’ style game, where individuals pair up and ask each other questions to discover the graph their partner picked. They also learned about ‘Fill Your Cup,’ a special game created by Mr. Aquino specifically for Calculus students.

In Ms. Burd’s room, attendees learned about the Upper School English curriculum, including the Class 8 reading list. “Student choice is really meaningful,” she explained. Their ability to structure their time is impressive.”

After approximately fifteen minutes, the members of each break out room switched and, to end the evening, returned to the main US Zoom room for a brief Q&A. 

Each divisional session provided alums with a unique view into the terrific work put forth by our teachers and the continuous development of Chapin’s robust virtual learning program.