The Lab School
Using Lessons from Virtual and Hybrid Learning as We Head Back to Campus
What do you envision when someone utters the word “flexible”? A yogi in full lotus position? Maybe one of those wacky inflatable tube men dancing, boneless, in a carefree wind? Since the start of the quarantine from the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the word “flexible” might also make you think of The Lab School of Washington.
The Lab community learned a great deal last spring when everyone had to suddenly pivot to full virtual learning — and virtual living. There was a steep learning curve, lots of new technology to master, the sense of collective loss from not being together, but also some significant silver linings. In fact, you never know what you are actually ready for — and capable of — until an unthinkable challenge arrives, uninvited. The spread of the coronavirus forced us all to test our mettle. The Lab School, as it turns out, was more than ready to take on the challenge of virtual learning, and, in some ways, Lab has “outLabbed” itself.
Our amazing faculty and staff adapted 21st century communication technology to deliver Lab’s signature teaching methodology, exploring many sources for sharing information and generating curiosity. When something didn’t work, well, we came up with new solutions. It seems that Lab’s treasure chest of best practices continues to expand. And as digital natives, our students showed us that not only is technology easier than we thought, but that screen time is as much about social connection as it is about learning content.
And our Clinical Services providers found secure platforms to continue the delivery of speech and language, occupational therapy, and psychological services and offered expanded options for online support to parents, students, faculty and staff, and graduates and alumni.
Following Virtual Plus opportunities, which started in late September 2020 and afforded small groups of students and faculty on campus to promote connection, social-emotional well-being, and learning, Lab transitioned to its Hybrid Pilot — from mid-October until the Thanksgiving break — a combination of in-person and remote teaching and learning.
“The pilot allowed us to test processes, recognize limitations, and figure out how best to design and navigate a safe campus so as to bring more of the community back in person for the spring semester,” says Head of School Kim Wargo.
Along with witnessing the astonishing levels of resilience across the whole community, what has been most striking as faculty and staff compare experiences from classes and academic assessments turns out to be the intellectual and social-emotional growth of students. “With less scaffolding in classrooms and the invitation to explore multiple ways to complete an assignment with more emphasis on process over product, our students really took ownership of their work—not just their projects, but also how, when, and where they worked,” says Head of Elementary Amy Oswalt.
And if the internet gave us a particular gift, it continued to put the world at one’s fingertips. More than ever during the pandemic, being able to learn and explore without leaving your living room or classroom became all the more important—and fulfilling. To capitalize on all things virtual, The Lab School purchased a subscription to Virtual Field Trips, which provides K–12 teachers with educational, destination-based videos for social studies, geography, life science, and ancient civilization curricula. The resources help educators take their students “around the globe, or around the block, and open their eyes to the majestic and magnificent world around them!” Teachers in all divisions have taken advantage of this tool and gone beyond it to explore other resources and experts.
Returning to campus
With the number of faculty, staff, and students getting vaccinated and returning, our campus feels as if it is coming back to life. As always, our two primary goals remain to protect the health and safety of our community and continue to deliver the top-notch education that Lab is known for.
“I believe the number of people getting vaccinations gives us all hope, and the plan is for an in-person, on-campus educational experience five days a week for all divisions. While we know there will be some need for continued risk mitigation, we are hopeful that 2021-22 will look and feel much closer to ‘normal’ than anything we’ve experienced since March 2020,” says Ms. Wargo.
Here’s to sharing more fist bumps and high fives, hosting community-building events, sharing passions and activities, and just hanging out in classrooms.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Wise and insightful words from Winston Churchill …
“I do feel that along with all the challenges we have faced during the pandemic, there is now a light at the end of the tunnel, and we can start thinking about how to apply lessons learned going forward. It would be a missed opportunity to simply revert back to everything as it was pre-Covid. Perhaps we think about our spaces differently, shift priorities around the balance of social, emotional, and academic growth, or build into our curriculum more outdoor learning opportunities,” says Ms. Wargo.
“And with a longer lens, we can look into opportunities to offer Lab’s successful distance learning model to the greater national and international population of people with learning differences,” she adds.
Enter: Lab’s new Global Division
We are launching our new Global Division for students in grades three through six with language-based learning differences who live outside the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The program will offer half-days of virtual classes in reading, mathematics, and writing provided by experienced online teachers with expertise in learning differences. The Global Division builds on The Lab’s School’s more than 50 years of experience bringing art and academic integration to the next frontier of learning, the virtual platform.
We are very excited as we shape this new program. It definitely arose from what we learned during virtual learning … that we are uniquely qualified to offer what we do best — help students turn their differences into advantages — to students in any state, country, or learning situation.
Enter: The Reservoir Group
This summer, our three clinical services teams in Occupational Therapy, Speech-Language Pathology, and Psychological Services are joining forces under the collective umbrella of The Reservoir Group. In a nutshell, The Reservoir Group — a one-stop shop — specializes in understanding and working with children and adults with language, learning, motor, speech, and social-emotional needs.
Leaning into the wind
That inflatable tube man still dancing in your mind? It is the flexibility of thought that arises from times of adversity, after all, that often brings about the best, most surprising changes.