Remote learning: How one independent K-12 school defied the odds during COVID-19
In March 2020, when COVID-19 turned American education on its head – along with everything and everyone else on the globe – Bellevue Christian School managed to pivot seamlessly to an effective remote learning program. The independent school, located just outside Seattle, worked relentlessly to defy the odds and deliver compelling, effective instruction to its 800 K-12 students.
“They say it’s better to be lucky than good, but it really helps when you’re both,” says Blake DeYoung, chief advancement officer for the school. “We benefitted from some real ingenuity and skill at the design level, and then from good old-fashioned effort, energy and execution at the teacher level. But we also created space to start talking about COVID just a few weeks ahead of many other schools, and that gave us the window we needed to deliver a stand-out experience.”
From that experience, the school built an engaging, safe, in-person model for the current school year. Taking their health protocols seriously, the school has stayed open throughout the year with no cases that can be tied to transmission at school.
But quietly, alongside the celebrated return to in-person learning, Bellevue Christian developed another program: BCS@Home, a remote-learning platform for elementary students. BCS@Home met the needs of students and families who didn’t want a return to in-person learning.
BCS@Home is not the remote learning of last spring. Students meet in small groups of 8-10 for livestreamed instruction in math and language arts. They meet in grade level cohorts for livestreamed instruction in science, social studies, and Bible. They work with Specialist teachers in art, music and physical education. Every student meets individually each week with their teacher, who represents some of the best and brightest from Bellevue Christian’s faculty ranks.
“We worked hard to find the right teachers for BCS@Home,” says Amanda Albright, the program’s director. “Just as remote learning isn’t right for all students, it’s also not right for all teachers. We needed teachers who had a specific vision for how this could work.”
At the heart of the BCS@Home approach is the commitment to be “real” in a remote environment. “We talk about real learning, real relationships and real dependability,” says Albright. “We pay careful attention to what many remote programs lack, and we work hard to fill those holes. At the top of that list are concerns about learning loss, lack of community connection, and too much pressure on parents to run point on instruction and management.
“It’s hard enough to be a parent in COVID. We want to say, ‘leave the school to us.’”
Kelly Fish, who teaches 3rd and 4th grade, saw the shift to online learning as a design opportunity. “I was excited, honestly,” Fish says. “The outcomes are the same: You want kids to learn, you want them to interact and develop social skills, you want them to be curious and experience joy. We knew how to do that in-person. Now, we know how to do it remotely, as well.
“It’s been one of the greatest challenges of my career, and one of the most rewarding.”
There are any number of reasons a family may not want their child to learn in-person. At the top of list are those with health concerns, either with the student or their family.
But it doesn’t stop there. Some students learn better remotely. Some suffer from anxiety or social stress. Some families want the flexibility and mobility provided by remote learning.
BCS@Home takes its learning mandate seriously, using assessment data to drive instruction. It also benefits from being a critical component of a larger educational system. Bellevue Christian has been operating since 1950 and has established systems of teacher growth, parent connection and technology support.
“We’re able to leverage those systems and benefit from being part of a larger organization,” Albright says. “We have this new and distinct identity, within a broader culture and philosophy that’s well established.”
COVID-19 has caused all businesses, organizations and families to confront assumptions about “the way things have to be.” Like other innovative organizations who’ve adapted, Bellevue Christian School has created a program to meet the new needs of families.
Bellevue Christian is a thriving, independent school community serving students from preschool through grade 12 on three campuses east of Seattle. To learn more, visit the school’s website.