Sanford school implements a new phase of education

Posted December 18, 2020 4:59 a.m. EST

As the academic year continues amidst COVID-19, Grace Christian School in Sanford has taken extra steps to make their operations as safe as possible, conducting in-person classes while also making virtual accommodations that mimic the live classroom environment. (Photo Courtesy of Grace Christian School Sanford)

This article was written for our sponsor, Grace Christian School.

This school year has been anything but typical. In Wake County, public schools started the year off online, pivoting to a virtual classroom setting before making the leap back into part-time in-person classes.

Other schools in the area, however, took a different approach to the new academic year. By combining in-person schooling and virtual schooling from the get-go, Sanford's Grace Christian School has been able to innovate their methods to provide a high-quality experience to students, all while adhering to safety standards.

"We feel it is necessary to provide a close to normal experience with a lot of new health procedures. For kids to experience school from the social component, to the educational, the spiritual development, we just don't feel the kids being stuck in their houses for a year is what's in their best interests," said Stuart Shumway, head of Grace Christian School. "We've opened up new classrooms and reduced class size. We brought on a full time Registered Nurse, and we're heavily invested in health and cleaning technologies. We've upped our janitorial services, our cleaning habits, hyper hand-washing, screenings — all of that has gone into being able to operate safely."

In addition to these safety measures, the school was also able to have a test run before the academic year officially started.

The preschool, daycare, and elementary camps started during phase one of reopening, bringing around 400 children and employees to the school's campus throughout the summer months. Thanks to these early programs, the school was able to see how effective their safety procedures were and make any necessary adjustments.

Since Grace Christian is fully accredited by two separate agencies, it's one of the few top-tier private schools of its kind in the area. Most of the school's parents were in favor of safely reopening for in-person teaching in order to continue that educational experience for their children.

However, for those who feel uncomfortable with the risks, Grace has provided a live virtual learning experience that mimics the classroom as much as possible.

"We've issued every student laptops and tablets from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Our teachers have live cameras and mics in the classroom, and for students that are enrolled in the class, they're able to participate off campus if families choose to learn from home and not miss out on anything," said Shumway. "Our teachers are willing to do this because they are called educators and know that in order to be effective in this era of learning, change is necessary."

He continued, "We don't want to leave certain segments of our students behind because they have legitimate safety concerns. If they're in vulnerable categories, they're not being marginalized with a second-rate form of education — they are able to log on, interact with a teacher in a live classroom, collaborate with their peers in group projects, give presentations, complete assessments, and ask questions to their teacher in real time."

After seeing how most schools adapted to online learning in the spring — through pre-recorded videos and limited interaction — Shumway and the school faculty wanted to create a virtual environment that would still feel as close to in-person schooling as possible.

Since Grace Christian is a private school, they were able to uniquely leverage their resources in order to create this enriched virtual environment. In doing so, they allow students learning at home to work along with the rest of their class in real-time while maintaining distance.

For those students who have chosen to stay home, their presence in the classroom is represented through a monitor that the teacher has on display. Several cameras are used so at-home students can see the teacher and the white board, so virtual students can still interact and learn at the same time as their peers.

The school hosts activities every few months, inviting virtual learners onto campus for a safe and distanced chance to interact with their teachers and classmates.

For the families who felt comfortable returning to in-person schooling, Grace has been ready to serve — and demand has been high.

"Many of our classes are capped. Parents know what is best for their children, and they're seeing the effects of their kids being isolated for seven, eight, nine months at a time — limited from being around their peers and falling behind academically because the quality of education done remotely in most schools just is not anything close to what a live classroom experience can be," said Shumway. "Parents are desperate right now for something, and our teachers want to be here to meet the needs of our students. I know that for any family that's a part of our school, they're going to receive a safe and quality education here from a teacher who is committed to be in these classrooms, everyday, facilitating learning."

Shumway added, "As partners working in the best interests of our students, I couldn't be more proud of the Grace Community of parents, teachers and staff who have stepped up to deliver education to these students. What is happening here is no small thing and the results of their commitment to our kids will be felt for decades to come."

This article was written for our sponsor, Grace Christian School.

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