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NSA stays connected through closure

Online learning is not a new concept for students at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, but the length of time they will have to use it is new.

While NSA has a virtual learning plan that it has used in cases of inclement weather, when it closed school due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school held off on virtual learning for a week.

Rather than rush right in, faculty took time to research additional online tools to deliver lessons, to practice using them and to create lessons for several weeks.

Head of School Debbie Russell said students are following a shortened schedule in order to be mindful of screen time and their overall well-being. During their other time, students can connect with teachers during daily virtual office hours, complete assignments or pursue hobbies.

Lower school teachers are spending time individualizing learning for every student.

All students have opportunities to learn at the same time to help maintain class connections, but will also have learning time on their own, too.

“It has been amazing to watch our community transition to virtual learning,” Russell said. “Our students are resilient, and of course, are accustomed to technology, so most have made the transition very easily.”

Russell said faculty have adapted to the new technology, as they use a number of platforms in their teaching now. They include Google’s G Suite for Education, which includes video conferencing through Google Hangouts and Google Meet, as well as Google Classroom. Teachers are also using platforms such as Zoom, Seesaw and EdPuzzle.

“Our faculty has really risen to the occasion,” Russell said, “and is continuing to deliver a quality educational experience for our students virtually.”

Middle school students at NSA all have laptops, and high school students had been bringing their own electronic device to use at school. She said most lower school students have been borrowing devices from a family member or friend to access lessons.

“The faculty is focused on covering the essentials now,” Russell said. “At the end of the school year, they will evaluate what was accomplished and will make any necessary adjustments to the curriculum for the following school year. As an independent school, we have the authority to easily make those changes.”

NSA’s second trimester ended the week before schools closed, giving the school “somewhat of a natural break in the grading period,” Russell said. In the third trimester, students will receive points, rather than letter grades, for participating in synchronous lessons, for completing assignments and for mastery of skills and content. Third trimester grades will then be averaged with the first two trimester grades for a final year-end grade, Russell said.

Russell said the school will make every effort to hold graduation for seniors, noting the impact on closing for seniors is more social and emotional than academic, especially with many of them having been at NSA for their entire education.

“Unfortunately, with school coming to an abrupt end, our seniors didn’t have an opportunity to say goodbye to everyone, or to participate in the many unique year-end celebrations that were planned to honor their achievements,” Russell said. “As a community, we definitely feel a sense of loss for these celebrations, so we are making every effort to hold graduation, even if it’s in August.”

Russell expects a seamless transition for students when they are able to return to school next year. Faculty will evaluate the curriculum to make any needed adjustments for the next school year. She said they are resilient and will be excited to get back to school.

Though parents of students have adapted to help their children with learning, and students have been reconnecting with their classmates and teachers virtually, the school is offering its support for students and families who need help.

“All of our families are struggling with how to balance working from home, parenting and assisting young children with school — while trying to work from home — along with the emotional toll the virus, stay-at-home order and the economy have had on everyone,” Russell said.

In the meantime, the school is also making sure that everyone stays socially connected, even if they have to stay socially distant. Russell said NSA “has always been a community within itself,” and is keeping connections going through social media, videos, photos, emails and phone calls.

“Now more than ever, these connections are important,” Russell said, “so we will be stronger as a community and as individuals when this is all over.”