School shifts to remote learning due to coronavirus

Freshman Will Upton attends his first online biology class taught by Coach Duncan.

As the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has spread around the world, health organizations, such as the Center for Disease Control, have recommended that large gatherings be suspended for multiple weeks, and school campuses are being closed across the nation, Jackson Prep included.

For students, Spring Break was extended by two days while the school made plans to change the way in which a Prep education is experienced, at least for the time being.

Students began to take remote classes from home on Wednesday, March 18, in order to slow the spread of the virus into the surrounding community and among the staff and students at Prep. It is unknown how long the school’s campus will be closed, and it will be analyzed week-by-week by the school’s officials. 

The school has been able to communicate these new updates through an email called Patriot Communications, which tells the parents and students important information regarding how to proceed in the current situation. This has included how to conduct the new remote learning from home, when to pick up the student’s locker materials, and any other information that the school wishes to share with the Prep community.

Getting students their materials was handled throughout the day on Tuesday, March 17. A group of faculty and staff, coordinated by Coach Jimmy Nix, transferred the contents of all student lockers to individually labeled bags, which were then assembled at the front of the junior and senior high buildings.

Following a set schedule, parents or students drove onto campus throughout the day on Tuesday and bags of books and other materials were delivered to their cars, thus minimizing contact. 

Additionally, students without internet-capable devices, including many 6th and 7th graders, were issued school Chromebooks to use for the remainder of the remote learning period.

The technology department at Prep has had to adapt rapidly in order to create the new remote learning system that the students will use from home. Teachers have been using Zoom and Google Meet to video conference their students. These platforms allow the students to have active discussions with their entire class. 

While the delivery of the education may be different, the community created by the remote learning resources will help provide a sense of normalcy and structure along with a reassurance that we will get through this”

— Mr. Lawrence Coco

Google Classroom system has been essential in this transition. This site has allowed the teachers to direct the students during their class period. The teachers can post links for the video conferences, and then the class can continue forward at the teacher’s direction. Whether it is posting sheets of notes or links to online websites, Google Classroom has been important for the remote learning system that has been implemented. However, each teacher may vary what systems they use as they experiment to see what systems work best to teach their classes. 

In the midst of this terrible situation, the school now has an opportunity to expand the resources used by the teachers. The remote learning system will have challenges, but the new systems, techniques, and online resources that the teachers use can be utilized once this pandemic has passed.

The first day of remote learning was Wednesday, March 18. It was a “Z” day, which is a schedule where a student attends every single one of his or her periods. This is a concept that the administration wants to use next year at the beginning and end of each semester, which can be helpful for starting out the new semester and exam review at the end of the semester. This was a perfect opportunity to use this new day since this would allow the students to meet with all of their teachers to work out any problems with the remote learning system. After the initial “Z” day, it was back to the school’s recently-adopted A-B-C rotation. 

On Wednesday, Head of School Mr. Lawrence Coco said he was thrilled to see how the students came together and helped each other in the midst of the new process of remote learning. He loved watching the students help each other work the online classes and the sense of unity that the students have created in the midst of this situation. 

In an e-mail on Thursday, March 19, Mr. Coco announced that Prep’s campus will be closed until Monday, April 20, following the order that Governor Tate Reeves had signed. After this point, Prep will be making the decision on how long the remote learning system will continue based on a week-by-week basis. There are several groups that are consulted as the administration makes these decisions, such as the federal government, state department of health, MAIS, JAAIS, Board of Trustees, and several state, local, and federal agencies of government, and these were the groups that were consulted prior to the order from Governor Reeves. 

As Prep moves forward during this pandemic, the school has two primary goals. The first is the safety of the faculty and students along with their families. Also, Prep urges people to continue to intentionally social distance in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

Mr. Coco hopes that “while the delivery of the education may be different, the community created by the remote learning resources will help provide a sense of normalcy and structure along with a reassurance that we will get through this.”

The rapid transition to the remote learning system has been made possible by three faculty members of Prep that Mr. Coco would like to recognize. Ms. Amy Wiandt, Ms. Laura Bishop, and Ms. Laurie Van Pelt have worked exceptionally well and have been a crucial part of the transition to the remote learning experience for students.

Another group of people that have worked tirelessly during this period has been the school’s maintenance and custodial staff. They have been sanitizing the campus during this time to protect that staff, an extremely important job. With their help, the teachers have a better chance to remain healthy as they continue to teach the students from their classrooms.

Unfortunately for juniors and seniors, the decision was made that prom would be cancelled. The annual event was supposed to be held on April 9 at Duling Hall, in Jackson. With the growing pandemic and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba issuing an executive order prohibiting gatherings of ten or more people, Prep leadership did not see the dance as viable.

At this point, no athletic seasons have been wholly cancelled. They have all been postponed and will be reviewed on a week-by-week basis as new updates come in about COVID-19, a decision made by the MAIS.