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North Hills Monthly

Shady Side Academy: Delivering an Exceptional Education, in Person or Remotely

Oct 29, 2020 11:58AM ● By North Hills Monthly Magazine

Classroom renovations and extensive safety protocols have enabled Shady Side Academy to offer in-person learning for every child, every day.

This year, in the face of a global pandemic, schools faced an unprecedented challenge—but also a profound opportunity—of reimagining the way they deliver an education to students effectively.

Shady Side Academy was one of a few schools in the region that successfully opened this fall with in-person instruction five days a week, welcoming a record 1,108 PK-12 students across four campuses. This, of course, was no easy feat. The school’s administration worked around the clock over the summer to craft a comprehensive reopening plan grounded in safety, flexibility and academic excellence—and to provide training and professional development to faculty to support it.

“When it is safe to do so, we believe children are at their best academically and socially when they attend school in person and form close relationships with their teachers and peers,” said SSA President Bart Griffith Jr. “Our planning was guided by the goal of serving every child, every day with in-person, on-campus instruction. However, in these uncertain times, we recognized that a successful return-to-school plan must be flexible enough to adapt. Our plan not only provides a safe, in-person learning environment, but also an effective distance learning environment if needed.”

SSA’s reopening plan fully aligns with federal, state and county public health guidelines, and was designed in consultation with infection prevention experts at UPMC. Extensive health and safety measures are in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“We know that if students do not feel safe at school, or their families do not feel safe sending them to school, they will not learn effectively,” said Griffith.

Each morning at home, parents complete a COVID-19 screening questionnaire via mobile app, which generates a “green pass” for the child to attend school. Students and employees must undergo temperature checks upon arrival and wear face masks throughout the day. Hallways and stairwells are one-way, with hand sanitizer stations in every classroom and common area. Revamped academic schedules keep students in smaller, more consistent cohorts throughout the day, and lunches are delivered to classrooms or served grab-and-go style.

Every classroom meets CDC social distancing guidelines, keeping students and teachers 6 feet apart. With 189 acres across four campuses, Shady Side has a unique advantage many other schools do not—space. Extensive summer renovations expanded and reconfigured existing classrooms and converted congregate spaces such as cafeterias and libraries into classrooms. Quads, plazas and fields were tented to create additional outdoor learning spaces.

A live remote video attendance option is available to the 10 percent of students who are unable to learn on campus. Classrooms are equipped with Meeting Owl Pro 360-degree smart cameras that integrate with Zoom, enabling remote learners to attend classes live alongside their peers.

So far, Shady Side’s extensive planning and preparation have paid off. Two months into the school year, students and teachers had settled into new routines and found creative ways to learn, play and engage with each other safely—from a socially distant, restaurant-themed second grade “book tasting,” to a herpetologist visiting a sixth-grade outdoor science class, to seniors enjoying lunch in Adirondack chairs on the quad. Fall sports teams were competing within SSA, WPIAL and PIAA health and safety protocols, and music and drama classes found safe new ways to rehearse and perform.

Although covered by masks, it’s hard to miss the students’ smiling faces as they enjoy the face-to-face interaction with teachers and friends.

“It has been so good for the soul to see students back at school and connecting with friends new and old,” said Griffith. “This is not easy work, but we are doing it and doing it well.”

In a series of reopening webinars, families expressed their gratitude to SSA for enabling students to return to school safely.

“I truly appreciate all of the efforts of Shady Side to make this return to school successful, with virtually every detail thought of,” shared a Middle School parent.

“I’m thankful that our school has a plan that considers both our education and safety equally,” said a Senior School student.

If and when it is no longer safe to learn on campus, Shady Side’s plan provides for flexible toggling to all-school distance learning. Every K-12 student has their own device, with a 1:1 iPad program in grades K-8 and laptops available for 9-12 students who do not have their own. During distance learning, an age-appropriate mix of synchronous (live) Zoom classes and asynchronous lessons are presented every day for students in every grade, and teachers, counselors and learning specialists host virtual office hours. Community time is preserved through virtual assemblies, dance parties and club meetings.

Regardless of whether classes are on campus or online, Shady Side Academy continues to deliver the challenging, engaging curriculum for which it is nationally renowned.

“Our commitment to academic excellence is unwavering,” said Griffith. “We have embraced this challenge as an opportunity to reimagine the way we deliver on our promise to families.”