St. Mary’s Ryken students continue to learn at home
Published by The Enterprise on April 6.
By Kristen Griffith
The students of St. Mary’s Ryken High School hardly missed a beat in their education when the novel coronavirus caused schools to close.
When Karen Salmon, the state superintendent, announced all Maryland schools would be closed from March 16 to March 27, then extended the closure to April 24, St. Mary’s Ryken switched to e-learning.
Terry Wood, a Spanish teacher at the Catholic high school in Leonardtown who helped staff become acclimated to e-learning, said they feel well prepared to make the transition from in-person classes to online.
“The first week or so was such a long learning curve. We were all figuring out what to do, what works best, but I do foresee something that could extend out with some adjustments,” she said.
“I think in education, you’re always ready for a curveball,” Catherine Bowes, who is in her first year as principal of the high school, said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s an interesting challenge.”
Students and staff were already familiar with the online portal the St. Mary’s Ryken community used for turning in work, finding assignments on the class calendar and returning work back to students.
Wood found a way to deliver content that was usually delivered orally through apps that can turn class notes into video format. She said she can record herself speaking through the lesson and have it played during a Power Point presentation, then upload it to the class page for students to see.
She said it’s not as personable as an in-person class, but it’s a way to keep some connection with students. Another way, Wood said, is to share with the class what she is doing with her family while schools are closed. And for an activity, she had students create videos of themselves to share with her.
One of the tasks was to build a blanket fort and share what it looks like. The school also created “Selfie Friday,” an opportunity for students and staff to send selfies with their pets, workspaces and pictures of any activities they’re participating in.
They also started the Knights e-learning Watch Team, a group of coaches, guidance counselors and teachers who call or email students, monitor grades and offer support. They will use the feedback to make any necessary changes to the e-learning experience.
“We can’t just send 700 kids home and expect them to learn the same way,” Bowes said, adding that the data shows them which students are not adjusting to the new setting.
Wood said the student response has been different across the board. Some said they like the different style of teaching. “But just like us, they miss that community of all of us being together. And I think it makes a difference if the student is a relatively strong student to begin with,” she said, adding that students who often struggled in class have a harder time adjusting.
The first announcement of school closures happened Thursday, March 12. By Wednesday, March 18, e-learning at home was in full swing for SMR students and teachers. Wood said the first week or so was a steep learning curve. They were all figuring out what works best.
When it comes to accessibility, Bowes said they are in better shape than their public school colleagues. Each St. Mary's Ryken student has his or her own iPad they are required to bring to class every day. But there are about three families and three teachers who do not have online access at home. She said they will be purchasing a number of hotspots to send to them.
Bowes said she is thinking of the Class of 2020 and ideas to keep their celebrations.
“Certainly, graduation doesn’t have to be in the middle of June and prom doesn’t have to be in the middle of May,” she said.
Tara Everly, a science teacher and field hockey coach, said the teachers and students have been positive overall and working to make this a quality experience.
“We’ve all said we feel like we’re teaching a class for the first time,” Everly said of her coworkers, adding they have never done something like this before.
Adapting to e-learning has been a bit tricky for Everly because her classes are more hands-on.
One of her classes learned a unit on joints of the human body before schools closed. Her modifications for at-home learning include assigning students to see how far their own joints can move with a cardboard goniometer, sending them pictures of what muscles would look like through a microscope and sending students data they would have generated themselves in class.
Everly said her students are a bit overwhelmed. “There’s no break. No walking to class to get some mental break,” she said.
But she said she still tries to make connections with them when communicating through email.
Wood said she is proud of the faculty and students who “took this and ran with it.” She added that she’s always been impressed with the St. Mary’s Ryken community “and this just pushes it over the top how much everyone is looking out for each other.”