Routines were just coming back into place after our return from spring break when suddenly, Premiere François Legault changed the course of education history, by closing schools March 12. Despite the then announced two-week closure, the North Star Academy team knew that we had to act quickly to ensure our students were back to learning as soon as possible at this critical time of the school year. Thanks to a clear strategic vision, where we had moved to one-to-one devices and had moved everyone to Google Classroom in the last two years, the transition was busy, and a lot of hours were invested that first weekend and weeks that followed to shift teaching and learning to a 100% online environment—but at the same time, quite seamless for our students.
We worried about motivation. How would our students respond to starting online classes three days after schools were being closed across the province? How would our teachers rapidly incorporate diverse ways of teaching and learning, that went beyond a talking webinar head on screen, to keep the students engaged? With a dedicated staff, everything fell into place and we were overwhelmed with the positive feedback from students and parents. As we write this article we are three weeks into online learning, and we have near 100% attendance each day.
North Star Academy is a private high school situated in Laval, Quebec—but we are more than that, we are a tight nit family, our motto stems from what we do day-to-day when we are face-to-face and which we have carrier into our virtual learning practices: Each Student, Each Day! At a time when the pandemic swirls around us with so much fear and the unknown, school has proven to be a source of security, of routine, of what is known. We check in with the kids to see how they and their families are doing and students who are anxious receive a phone call with support. Everyone is handling this collective crisis in their own way, and we want to ensure that our students know that they are not alone.
Moving online was the right choice for our community—attending classes daily, following their 10-day regular schedules, learning through interactions with the teacher, through pre-posted videos, through offline and online assignments—all add to the normalcy at a time when teens are seeking comfort and connections. Moreover, the human contact online with teachers and friends has alleviated the isolation that many others are feeling. We continue to offer a full course load in all subjects from grades 7-12. Our teachers are very busy continually adjusting ways to deliver curriculum, excited themselves about new apps, technologies and online teaching strategies that the circumstances have fast-forwarded them into learning.
Many people are facing decisions, realities and worries as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to swirl around all of us. Although so much remains unknown regarding where this school year will end, we know one thing for certain: that North Star Academy students and their families have one less thing to worry about right now, as their education is being well taken care of by an incredible team of teachers, supportive parents and enthusiastic students.