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On Thursday, May 28, 2020, the Ojai Chautauqua formed a panel to discuss this question in front of a live streaming audience.

In the words of the Agora Foundation: These are unprecedented times and it’s unclear whether the worst is behind us. A vast majority of schools, at every educational level, have ceased on-site programs for the remainder of the school year. Many schools are also hesitant to set any definite plans for fall 2020, with so much still uncertain. In the meantime, most public and private institutions have moved to online learning and alternative approaches, with varying levels of success.

What is the best thinking in online learning, and where are schools finding success? How are institutions looking at structural change in order to stay viable and effective? How are leaders thinking about the future intersection of K-12 and higher education? How will fields that have in-person practicum requirements fulfill their training? What are schools that rely on international students planning to do next school year? Will job training reorient to high-demand fields on a national scale?

Panelists:

Jodi Grass – Head of Oak Grove School
Erika Beck – President of CSU Channel Islands
Paul Lazenby – Director of Mother of Divine Grace School
Tiffany Morse – Superintendent of Ojai Unified School District
Moderator: Tom Krause, Board President of the Agora Foundation

Early in the morning on Wednesday, April 8, three weeks after we first moved the entire school to remote learning, we held our first remote (Zoom) student council meetings. As the High School Student Council advisor, I anticipated their agenda to include big topics like prom and spring showcase which, I believed, would incite difficult conversations with disappointing realities. I considered how I might console and encourage the students.  

When I reviewed the agenda, however, I saw something different. Don’t get me wrong, prom was a discussion item, yet it was framed as “ideas for virtual prom.” Amazingly, our students had already moved to problem-solving. What really caught my heart, however, were items like “ways to support the school” and “ways to support the community.” 

I found out later that similar discussions happened at the Elementary and Middle School Student Council meetings as well. Each group of students initiated plans to help those less fortunate and to support their schoolmates with individual handwritten notes and small gifts that would be sent home. Elementary Student Council members initiated collecting food for those less fortunate. The Middle School Student Council decided to look into the needs of local animals during this crisis. 

As early as April 10, each council had plans for reaching out to every student in the program they represent, and all three student councils were working together to plan a food drive to support the food insecure in our community. Since that time, the students have collected two rounds of food, as well as items needed for animals at the Humane Society. 

On Friday, the High School had a virtual prom. The officers of the HS Student Council sent each student individually curated and personalized invitations along with mini bundt cakes to be enjoyed remotely, but together, during prom. 

Helping others is an essential part of healthy development for children. Children develop compassion through acts of caring and kindness toward others; helping them to build competence and awareness of one’s relationship to others. It helps build self-efficacy in their role as a positive force in the world. Understanding one’s impact, helpful and not, is also a fundamental aspect of our school philosophy.

It is inspiring to witness our students reach beyond their personal disappointments to acknowledge how this crisis might be hurting others.

May 3, 2020
Jodi Grass, Head of School

April 19, 2020
Jodi Grass, Head of School

I have been visiting the classrooms (virtually, of course) to see the faces of our students and to answer their questions. Some questions have been personal in nature, “What is the name of that cat I can see behind you?” “What is your favorite color?” “What do you miss most about being at school?” The most prevalent question, however, has been, “When are we returning to campus?”

I don’t know when we will return to campus, but as soon as it is safe for any local school to return to a physical campus, Oak Grove will be returning to ours. In the meantime, we will continue to offer the most comprehensive remote program possible to our students. We will continue to invite feedback from parents and students and to thoughtfully incorporate that feedback into the program.

Since none of us (students, parents, teachers, staff) chose remote schooling, it will never be ideal. What we have been able to provide, however, is truly astonishing. Our teachers, with the active support of our Program Directors, Ron, Russ, Laurie, and the Director of Teaching and Learning, Meredy, have performed a herculean effort to shift quickly to a remote platform. This meant that we missed Spring Break. I have often heard from our tireless staff, “This is the hardest I have worked in my lifetime.”

What is most remarkable, however, is the commitment of the entire Oak Grove team. Not one of our teachers or administrators had to be compelled to do this extra work. Not one had to be enticed to do additional professional development or to learn new technologies in the evenings and over the weekends. Not one administrator had to be coerced to attend online meetings, workshops, strategy courses, and seminars offered by the National Association of Independent Schools, the California Association of Independent Schools, or the California Teacher Development Collaborative. Hours have been spent looking, researching, dialoguing, and re-assessing to deliver academic content, connection, and a safe container to our students and their parents.

I am humbled by our teachers and staff’s deep commitment to our students, to this community. I am also grateful to many of our parents and students who have offered their gratitude and acknowledgment of these efforts.

It is my job to do everything within my power to support these incredible people, to ensure a safe return to campus, and to ensure that our school and the community remain strong and intact. I remain committed to and inspired by our truly unique community.

When there is love there is consideration, not only for the children but for every human being. Unless we are deeply touched by the problem, we will never find the right way of education.

Krishnamurti
Education and the Significance of Life