Around mid-March, the first cases of COVID-19 started appearing in Slovakia. After a couple of days, the Bratislava Self-Governing Region officials decided to start closing the first high schools in Bratislava. The leadership of LEAF Academy promptly acted by suspending daily attendance at school and moving all classes into the mode of online learning. What were the challenges we had to face with this transition and what has online learning taught us?
What was it like for us to move all teaching online?
The first week after school closed was crucial for us. We have spent the first two days just briefing teachers and students. The first online lessons started on day three. In their first lessons, the teaching staffulty and students were very happy to see and hear each other. It was a big plus that we were already used to online assignments and study materials as well as chatting through Google Hangouts. With the help of recommendations from our partners at the Global Online Academy, we understood that the amount of material to be studied had to decrease compared to regular classes. After all, students do not have the same conditions for studying at home and you can’t move as fast with the study material either. In addition, the teachers’ preparation time for online learning is longer than what we were used to.
A great help in these times was our school’s wellbeing team, which guided us using informal meetings with teachers and students, and sharing tips on how to manage isolation and remote learning. The team also initiated an online “hug” challenge where students were asked to send in screenshots from their group chats or their DIY face masks.
Our Advanced Placement (AP) exams – the school leaving examinations at LEAF Academy – have also been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Collegeboard, which oversees the AP exams, decided that all examinations will take place individually online. To better prepare for the exams, the organization offers classes and a database of questions online.
How did our students react to the COVID-19 pandemic?
One of our students, Kiko Čabala, created together with a friend a pandemic calculator in an effort to better illustrate the current situation and the importance of all measures taken around the world to prevent the spread of the virus. The purpose of their model was to bring a simple visualization of predictions through mathematical modeling. Additionally, in cooperation with an international team, one of our 3rd-year students is working on smaller-scale conferences for young people every Saturday. Their main purpose is to inform about solutions leading to the elimination of the pandemic, and know-how sharing with the WHO and crisis teams around the world.
Our Entrepreneurial Leadership classes now also focus more on projects supporting the community. With the help of teachers and mentors, these classes help students navigate how to create financially independent projects positively impacting their environment.
The weekly Monday Assembly has also been moved online. What is the Monday Assembly, you ask? Each week our students and staffulty get together to share current news from politics, sport, weather, student life, and school operations. In the online environment, the Assembly takes place at the same time as it used to, but in the form of an online YouTube live-stream. See for yourself…
Positive impact on LEAF Academy life
Despite the overall situation, we see online learning more as an opportunity than a threat. The situation motivated us to get accustomed to big changes faster. According to an internal questionnaire, half of our teachers can manage the increased work-load well, and around a quarter of them is feeling only mild strain. It’s a challenge for teachers to keep students interested when they are not physically present. To help each other out we regularly share questions and answers about online learning through Sli.do.
During one of our weekly online advisory family lunches, one of our 4th-year students summed up his experience as follows:
“These days I study harder during online learning and I am more focused. I especially appreciate that we listen to each other more, which makes the conversations all the more worthwhile.”