TBS Takes on Distance Learning Amidst Coronavirus


Photo courtesy of https://graduate.asu.edu.

TBS has turned to the Zoom video conferencing software to conduct classes during the COVID-19 crisis.

A worldwide pandemic infecting hundreds of thousands of people leading to the closure of businesses, schools, and disrupting everyday life sounds like a sci-fi movie, but it’s not. COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a pandemic on March 11, 2020. As of now, the virus has infected over 1.2 million people and caused more than 69,000 deaths. All of these cases span the globe as people in 183 countries and regions have been infected. One of the main reasons why schools are closing is that, according to New York Governor Mr. Andrew Cuomo, “Viruses and diseases spread more in schools than in public transport.” As a result,  elementary and secondary schools across the United States have shuttered their doors, meaning over 41 million students have had to turn to online schooling with Zoom or other web-based software to continue their education according to www.cnn.com. 

Most younger people, ages 3-25, may be at risk of contracting the virus, but should recover. However, they can still spread it to other people who are more vulnerable, such as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. 

Since the coronavirus has spread with unprecedented progress, TBS has closed for the entire month of April. The Middle School is taking other actions, as well, in order to help protect the Benjamin community. These actions include making distance learning tools available such as Zoom and Google Assignments, a complete cleaning of both campuses before coming back to school, and continued communication from the administration.

Zoom is a web-based software that allows users to video conference with up to 100 people. Users have the capability to share their screens, see other class members, chat, and virtually raise their hands to ask a question. This is uncharted territory as The Benjamin School has never had to close for an extended period of time such as this.

We obviously don’t know the long term effects of this change,” said History Department Chair Mrs. Anne Franzen. “I am taking my master’s degree online through Arizona State, and I can tell you that even though it is a different way of learning, I am still learning and retaining important information.”

Many teachers enjoy the fact that Zoom offers them a chance to stay connected with their students. “I like being able to see my students every day even though we are apart,” said Dean of Academics Mr. Charles Maddox. “I also like the flexibility it provides students and teachers during this difficult and strange time. One of the greatest challenges was getting everyone comfortable with online learning. There was a big learning curve for both teachers and students, but I think we’ve really hit our stride.” 

Students and teachers were given Zoom instruction prior to school closing on March 13. The TBS Technology Department helped students and teachers connect with each other via Zoom so they could practice video conferencing and using the platform.

Some middle school students, however, are skeptical about the benefits. “I don’t think [Zoom] will improve learning because teachers are not right in front of you in person showing the students what to do,” said eighth grader Elena McDonough. 

“The new Zoom program is cool, but sometimes it takes a long time for a teacher to call on you, and to ask your question,” said fellow eighth-grader Brendan Matz.

“Zoom is good, but it is not the same as the real thing,” saidighth grader Chloe Fong. “It takes very long for teachers to answer your questions, and you don’t see your friends very much.”

Others see some of the benefits of online learning. 

“I miss my friends, but I like that we can be released earlier from classes and that school is over earlier [each day],” said eighth-grader Caroline DiMaio. 

“I find it easier to focus [via online learning], and that’s why I like it,” said seventh grader Alex Pace. 

TBS is now in its second week of distance learning as spring break fell in between the first and second week. It began on Monday, March 16 with core subject classes (English, history, math, science, and world languages) meeting virtually for periods that lasted either 70 or 80 minutes. After spring break, the schedule was tweaked to include more time between classes to eliminate screen fatigue, and other meetings were implemented, such as a middle school assembly on Monday, March 30, and advisory meetings to begin each day the rest of the week. 

It is not an ideal situation, but teachers and students are making the most of it. As Interim Head of School Mr. Tom Reid said in an email to the TBS community on March 30, “In thirty-plus years as a head of school, I have had many interesting and challenging experiences. These coronavirus days are a harsh reminder to me to refrain from ever thinking or saying, ‘I have seen it all.’ And clearly, we have not seen the end of this pandemic and will not for some time to come.”

In the meantime, TBS is trying to stay healthy, stay connected, continue teaching, and continue learning amidst this “new normal.”