KWoods thrives during COVID-19 building closure

Three months ago on March 13, Kensington Woods Schools, like all the other schools in the county and the state, closed it’s building to students, but did not stop its core mission – educating students and preparing them for their future.

Immediately after the building closure, KWoods teachers and staff joined together remotely and asked how they would support and engage students through this experience. Not knowing what the future held, staff decided to host the #KWoodsChallenge, which encouraged students, staff, parents and alumni to develop a passion and learn something new during the building closure.

The response was substantial, with submissions of fitness goals, learning new skills like painting, making musical instruments, dog grooming and piano as well as serving others through mask making and other endeavors. The work by the Kensington Woods community was shared through the school’s Facebook and Instagram pages under the hashtag, #KWoodsChallenge.

As it became clearer that school might not reopen as normal, the Kensington Woods teachers and administration started conversations early about how to continue learning experiences for its students in grades 6-12, while still supporting them emotionally, socially and educationally during this uncertain time. In regular Zoom meetings throughout the end of March, staff designed a structure that would engage students in active, relevant learning experiences while creating interventions that supported student’s social-emotional, logistic and technology needs.

Upon the return from spring break, the school launched its distance learning experience on April 6, significantly earlier than most schools in the area. Throughout their time learning remotely, students continued to participate in all of their classes, through weekly meetings with their teachers and peers, assignments delivered through Google Classroom and engaging and relevant projects focused on course expectations. Principal Markus Muennix even continued the Kensington Woods tradition of the weekly Monday Meeting assembly through weekly videos aired on the school’s YouTube channel.

During remote learning, the physics class designed cereal box guitars to study sound. The STEAM class creating sourdough starter, and the senior English class performed its annual Senior Play (Much Ado about Nothing) via Zoom rather than on stage. Middle school students studied the Civil War in both social studies and English, participating in an interview as a particular character to give them the feeling of walking in another person’s shoes. Teachers hosted small group discussions and one-on-one tutoring sessions to review difficult content, and students engaged their parents in the learning process by teaching them new skills.

“My school did a superb job of continuing to educate our students, despite all of the challenges and changes. My classes had regular scheduled Zoom meetings, class Civil War projects, 30-minute Senior Presentations, 15-page college essays, homemade sourdough, a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About ‘Zooming,’ and class movies,” said Ken Ferguson, who teaches English.

Staff banded together to reach out to students who needed extra supports through phone calls, home visits, one-on-one tutoring sessions and regular check-ins, communicating updates with the rest of the staff through weekly staff meetings.

All the while, staff and students worked together to continue to develop connections and relationships, an important part of the Kensington Woods School culture, through virtual activities like Movie and Game Night, Spirit Week, golf and cooking lessons, art studios and even a virtual award ceremony. The fun will continue throughout the summer with virtual fitness challenges, art shows and book club.

Recognizing graduating seniors was also a priority during the building closure. The yearbook staff developed the KWoods Roar, a digital magazine written and designed by the staff, as a project during remote learning. A special issue of The Roar included profiles of each of the 19 graduating seniors.

Principal Markus Muennix, music teacher Ben Cunningham, and art teacher/NHS Advisor Jessie Pratt also hand-delivered special graduate yard signs to each senior. The senior’s high school experience culminated on June 12 through a personalized drive-in style graduation ceremony during which each student walked on stage to accept their diploma and say a few words in front of their peers, teachers, friends and family.

You can check out the videos of the graduation here:

“It’s hard to believe that the 2020 school year has ended, with such success in student work, given the circumstances,” said English teacher Shannon Morton. “We teachers at Kensington Woods held to high expectations and graded our students on their work, while at the same time re-configuring it to make sense in an online format. Students met those expectations, showing that they have flexibility and perseverance in the face of real-life challenges! The best part of online learning was still being able to connect with students and see the class skills and content filtered through their learning and experience.”

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