Remote Learning: Connecting in Meaningful and Masterful Ways

We are all adapting in this pandemic era, and that has never been more obvious than in our classrooms. Remote learning began officially for Millbrook students in April, and the lessons that have come out of smart and resourceful planning are allowing students and teachers to accomplish class goals even in this new-fangled way. Most importantly in a school that is built on community, remote learning is allowing teachers to connect with their students and students to connect with each other.
It is difficult to capture an image of how remote learning is working effectively, but picture this in your mind's eye…English V recently read the Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein, which touches on pop culture and the changing role of women in America during the 70s and 80s. Each student presented a project based on the play, sharing their screens to show a video clip of 1980s style aerobics or an explanation of the Equal Rights Amendment.
In Kathy Havard’s Social Justice & Community Engagement class, students finished a unit on education by Zooming with Ray Castellani, the superintendent of the nearby Webutuck School District, and Monica Baker, Webatuck’s English as a New Language teacher, to hear about how Webutuck is coping with the crisis. Through a grant, they were able to get all students I-pads and a few families "hot spot" devices to provide wifi. They are delivering breakfasts and lunches packaged for several days on Mondays and Wednesdays, and their requests for assistance climb every week. Millbrook students brainstormed ways to help and have made videos for Webatuck students, reading books to them and creating an animal alphabet video. This week alumna Elizabeth Celaya '98 will talk with the class about how Hudson River Housing is responding locally, and next week Rebecca Gerard of Citizen Action will join them in a Zoom call about lobbying efforts for affordable housing at the state level, focusing on how COVID-19 has affected people who are insecurely housed.
In Ava Goodale’s Field Biology class, students recently took a virtual field trip to Peru and followed up by completing a case study on Maijuna Beekeeping and Community-Based Conservation. They were asked to put themselves in the shoes of a Maijuna native, to learn a brief history on peoples in the neo-tropics and their traditional stingless beekeeping, and to understand the scientific classification of stingless bee species in Sucasari Village. Ultimately, they had to be able to answer how an entire community is working together to conserve ancestral land. Moving from the bees to the birds, the class also completed an eBird bio blitz, taking a virtual tour down the Sucasari River, across a canopy walkway, up a river trail, through an agricultural land workshop, and across a blackwater lake to identify 352 individual species of birds along the way! Students share that the virtual experiences are making them feel like they are actually leaving the house!
In our arts classrooms creativity is king, and, of course, our art faculty have brilliantly planned for remote learning. In Sarah MacWright’s photo classes, two alumni guest speakers dropped in a recent Zoom class. Alex Beal '15 and Olivia Galli '16 shared their experiences after Millbrook and offered insights into being a freelance photographer and working with high profile talent. Lauren Duffy’s Darkroom Photo students have been learning Lightroom and Google Drive as major tools to move forward in their study of photography. Exploring “What is a portrait,” students captured side-lit selfies in order to see different ways that light moves across a form, and discussion on high contrast and abstract photography got students thinking about perspective and contrast.
In Leighann Kowalsky’s Circus Arts class, guest artist Mark Ferrando, a Los Angeles-based circus artist, acrobat, and stuntman, has been working with students on juggling skills and tricks. Using items like lemons, lacrosse balls, and other household objects as “juggling balls,” students embraced the challenge of a physically-based Zoom class with great dexterity. They have also connected with renowned circus artists from around the world, interviewing them individually to build further connections and dig a little deeper into their understanding of the industry, its history, and what’s going on in contemporary circus.
Ceramics and 3D Design students are embracing resilience and play, expanding their material vocabulary using what they have at home. Beginning ceramics students made spring planters using found and natural objects. Kosmas Brandenberg’s planter uses tree bark from his yard to create a decorative surface on top of a plastic vessel. 3D Design students made paper sculptures, like Luca Seresin’s origami bouquet of flowers built with Post-it Notes. Using new mediums, honors ceramics students are exploring big ideas and themes present in their independent bodies of work. Noor Rahman’s passion for pattern has led her to the art of quilt-making. For the fabric, she has sourced old shirts and has cut them into squares to create her nine-patch inspired design.
Language teachers are getting creative too!  No whiteboard – no problemo! Spanish teacher Erica Freymann jumped into her bathtub when she realized that her shower tiles would mimic her classroom whiteboard, and clean up would be a breeze.
All of this and so much more is happening in our remote classrooms. Now, more than ever before, a Millbrook education ensures that teachers and students connect to each other in meaningful and masterful ways.
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