Dana Hall’s hybrid model is only one of many

Before the 2020-21 school year could begin, Dana Hall and surrounding independent schools were tasked with a complex challenge: creating a learning model that would be successful for all community members. Local students and their families at Dana Hall were given the choice to be fully remote or a hybrid learner. The hybrid model that Dana Hall has selected has two cohorts, D and H, which alternate being on campus weekly. When not on campus, students participate in all classes and co-curricular programs remotely from their homes. When on campus, they are learning 6 feet apart, with masks on. Grades 5-6 and 11-12 are together in cohort D, and grades 7-10 are in cohort H.

Students who are hybrid can decide at any time to switch to remote learning, but once they make that choice they must stay remote until open enrollment, which will be after Thanksgiving and in January. This rule was put into place for health and safety reasons, to avoid bringing in potential new germs from new people coming onto campus. Another substantial reason that Dana Hall chose this model was to give more time for the virus to show up through symptoms. The week-on/week-off plan allows 9 days between students’ being on campus, making it easier to catch symptoms before a student comes to campus. To further minimize people on campus, Dana Hall has signs placed throughout campus explaining how the campus is closed to anyone who is not a student or faculty member due to the virus.

Classes meet on campus in tents or classrooms. However, all students regardless of location Zoom into class so that online and hybrid students are in class together, whether that is virtually or physically. Similarly, some teachers are fully remote, and those classes meet over Zoom from campus as well as students’ homes. Sophia Cook ’22 notes that “I like Dana’s hybrid style because it is a nice break from week to week.”

Private schools in the greater Boston area have chosen varying hybrid learning models. Beaver Country Day School is remote each Monday with two cohorts coming in two different days per week. Milton Academy was all remote until October 5 and is now allowing day students to come to campus in cohorts. The Rivers School is similar to Dana’s plan with one week off, one week on, though their entire upper school is back. Belmont Hill is in-person four days a week, and remote one day per week. At Winsor, students are in-person two days and are remote for the remaining three days. Dexter Southfield is in-person with contract tracing as schedules only allow students to see a limited number  of people. Newton Country Day School is in-person but split up into small cohorts.

Consistent education regardless of where students live was of the utmost importance to Dana Hall, which was a leading reason that the School originally made the choice to go fully remote as of August 6, 2020. In an email sent out to all Dana Hall families, Head of School Katherine Bradley wrote, “Throughout our lengthy planning process, we have kept in mind three guiding principles: ensuring the health and safety of our entire Dana Hall community; creating a vigorous academic experience that allows for exceptional learning and growth; staying abreast of evolving best practices and devising protocols to implement them.” When this model was shared, as expected, there were many happy and relieved families, but also very many frustrated families. At this point the school decided to reopen the idea of a hybrid learning model while rearranging furniture, adding better ventilation systems to classrooms, and reimagining athletic programs. 

Dana is currently providing boxed lunch for all on-campus students and faculty, but students may also opt to bring lunch from home as long as it is nut-free. Students also have the option to sit inside in assigned, separated seats, or outside in the tent or grass in a socially distant matter. Sophia adds that “Lunch kind of depends on your seat because it gets lonely if you aren’t with your friends.”

Newton Country Day School senior Schuyler Awtrey is not a fan of her school’s hybrid plan. NCDS’s plan consists of splitting everyone into small cohorts consisting of 5-16 girls. They are running a block schedule where teachers teach in a specific cohort’s room each day. Schuyler states, “I dislike this system since my cohort is smaller than others.” This means Schuyler’s cohort and others of a smaller size are less likely to get an in-person teacher. Schuyler also has strong feelings regarding the block schedule NCDS has in place, saying, “The block schedule means that I have some classes for almost two hours, which is way too much time on Zoom.”

The Dana Hall Task force’s next challenge is figuring out testing, which will happen in the week after Thanksgiving and the first week back in classes in January, which will both be fully remote weeks. Similar to Dana Hall, NCDS is self-reporting symptoms each today and also has one-way doorways and hallways. However, NCDS is testing all community members weekly with a PCR test.

All in all, many Dana Hall students are back on campus face to face, or at least mask to mask. Ms. Jessica Keimowitz, Head of the Upper School, states, “At this point we don’t have [cases] in [Dana Hall’s] community.” Further, Emily Bennett ’22 finds the good in all of the changes this pandemic has created, explaining, “I love it, I absolutely love it! Hybrid learning should be the future of education. It is the perfect balance.”

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