Custom instruction, counseling and enrichment for all ages
Daily classroom meetings and one-on-one teacher check-ins are still part of each student’s day at Inly School, an independent Montessori-based school for grades PreK–8. A full schedule of curricular and co-curricular classes are still delivered by each teacher, along with after-school enrichment activities like yoga, cooking, ballet and Taekwondo. In the Upper Elementary and Middle School classes there are additional “help desk” hours, where students can pop in, hang out, and ask questions — just like they’d do on an ordinary school day.
But while physical facilities are closed during the pandemic, these all happen virtually through Inly At-Home Learning, a technology platform designed to help students stay connected and stay on course, wherever they may be. To minimize disruption to learning, the new Google-based platform was developed by a team of Inly tech specialists and teachers over the school’s spring break in March. It was up and running, and populated with fresh content and assignments, the day students returned to session. From home, students have been able to bond with their teachers and classmates while engaging in as “real” and well-rounded a school experience as possible — and then some.
Custom curriculum, personalized learning and class meetings
Although there are many e-learning resources available on the Internet, Inly uses its own custom content, adapting it for both online and hands-on work. Rather than one-size-fits-all, the Montessori-based curriculum allows for personalized and extended experiential learning while still aligning with state academic standards. Each morning, after virtual “circle times” and class meetings, teachers share new slide decks with creative assignments for the day. These are often accompanied by videos, so students can later re-watch their teachers demonstrating, instructing, posing a question or sharing a message. Teachers are available for one-on-one check-ins with students during “virtual office hours.” Students and parents are encouraged to sign up to make sure they’re on track — with their academic work as well as their overall well-being.
Lower Elementary teacher, Margie Morgan teaches a lesson on subject and predicate during a daily video lesson. Later, a student completes a sentence analysis project after watching the lesson.
“Providing Inly curriculum content, delivered by our own teachers, is grounding for students in this time, when it feels like the ground underneath us is unsettled,” says Head of School Donna Milani Luther. “Community and Connection are at the core of our work, and we have designed a learning platform around those principles. We work hard to make sure students of all ages are fully engaged and know we’re all still here for them.”
Keeping a check on mental health and social/emotional wellness during the pandemic
While Inly’s e-learning platform provides curricular essentials, it also serves as a conduit to expanded counseling services. The “On Our Minds” portal lists virtual office hours with its certified school counselors and welcomes anyone to sign up — students and parents alike.
It also features a Wellness Library with articles on Parenting, Mental Health and Mindfulness. Many have appreciated the advice and reassurance from educators who tell parents they’re “not expected to be the teachers” and should go easy on themselves.
Bringing parents, grandparents and entire families together through technology
Morning Share, a longtime tradition where the entire PreK–8 school comes together monthly to share songs, stories and presentations, is now a weekly Zoom session open to all. The first Zoom share had more than 300 participants, with parents, siblings and grandparents joining in the experience. Roughly 100 regularly tune in each week, taking part in themed activities like “Bring Your Pet” and “Silly Hat Day.” Technology Integration Specialist Kelley Huxtable says this kind of response has made them realize the potential of bringing students and families even closer together through the use of virtual connections, during “normal session” times as well.
Extracurriculars and “Montessori-Plus” activities provide expanded full-day enrichment
Realizing that families are under more pressure than ever while balancing work-from-home with home-schooling and activities, Inly has expanded its preschool enrichment and after-school “Passport to Adventure” programs with more virtual activities like yoga, ballet, cooking and Taikwando to keep kids busy. Students can enjoy creative sessions with the same familiar teachers from their living rooms or back yards. Zoom dance parties and games, hosted by co-curricular dance, music and sports teachers, round out the fun. All virtual extracurricular classes are free, except private drumming and piano lessons which are available for a fee.
Hands-on, experiential learning keeps students engaged at home — indoors and out
Just like during the regular school year, Inly students take their learning outdoors whenever possible. Bruce Frost and Ellyn Einhorn, Inly’s Outdoor Classroom specialists, post Citizen Science assignments and encourage students to create mini “outdoor classrooms” of their own. Lower Elementary (grades 1–3) and Upper Elementary (grades 4–6) students do as much hands-on discovery as ever. They build planter boxes, plant pollinator gardens, go backyard birding and keep nature journals. They build forts, human nests, fairy and gnome houses, and instruments out of twigs. Older students conduct experiments, share observations, record results and enter their own scientific and ecological data. The technology is a tool that facilitates all this experiential learning, rather than supplanting it.
Upper Elementary and Middle School students are empowered to use Inly At-Home Learning as a tool for self-directed investigation and to spark new ideas. As Jen McGonagle, curriculum director for grades 4–8 explains it: “We don’t expect students to use our new site as a checklist to move through, but rather a series of experiences that become opportunities to dive deeply into a subject and learn.”
How Montessori philosophy and learning fits into a new virtual world
The Montessori philosophy remains the cornerstone of the Inly learning experience, whether in-person or virtual. Many traditions carry on as usual — like lunch, which is always held in one’s own classroom rather than a cafeteria. While learning at home, students have the option of joining their classmates and teachers in a Zoom Lunch any day they wish. This is a good way to practice Grace and Courtesy, a Montessori curriculum area focused on being respectful, taking turns talking, using good manners and cleaning up after one’s self.
In the Montessori environment, students learn about the balance of independence and responsibility from a young age. They are challenged to develop time management skills, to complete work without being reminded, and to track and meet goals. Through intrinsic self-motivation, they are empowered to achieve their personal best. Through the At-Home Learning site, their parents now have a valuable window into the Montessori process and what makes their children’s minds “tick.”
Virtual Visits and Online Lessons Open to the Public
Anyone interested in learning more about Inly School can register for a Welcome Wednesday session, held weekly from 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Email Steph Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.
This summer, the school will offer public memberships to its “summer school” online program. Inly LIVE: Learning In a Virtual Environment is designed to help students overcome the “quarantine slump” through standards-aligned lessons and hands-on activities that make learning fun! Email Steph Allison at email@example.com to be added to our mailing list and stay tuned for more information.