Foresight, collaboration enable smooth online learning transition

Foresight, collaboration enable smooth online learning transition
OMAHA – While Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart students were still celebrating surprise Congé on Monday, March 2, Principal Laura Hickman, Ed.D., was already making plans in case the day of games, food, and fun was the last time Duchesne students would gather on campus for one of the school’s many cherished traditions.

Hickman worked with teachers as they developed initial plans to transition their courses online. The conversations and transition work intensified as the spread of COVID-19 in America grew during the week.

State and county leaders announced on March 6, Nebraska’s first COVID-19 case: a 36-year-old woman living in Omaha who recently traveled to the United Kingdom. While students were on spring break, local health officials announced more confirmed cases in the city and state, national events were postponed or canceled, and President Trump announced a European travel ban. Unfortunately for Duchesne’s Mock Trial team, those cancellations included the National Championships scheduled for early May in Indiana.

“As we all know, that week things changed drastically and quickly,” Hickman said.

Duchesne Academy - CourageDuring spring break, teachers made digital lesson plans but they were still optimistic everyone would return to the building on March 16.

“Through Thursday, March 12, we were still planning to return the next week, but it was increasingly clear that a closure was imminent,” Hickman said.

Hickman sent families a late start notification for Thursday, March 19, and Friday, March 20. Teachers would use the extra time in the morning to learn new software and test lesson plans.

Hickman says the plan was moot by the evening of the 12th. Duchesne Academy and Omaha Catholic Schools decided they would close schools if Omaha Public Schools closed. OPS made the announcement that evening.

“We know that this event is going to cause extra stress for some families. The Duchesne community remains committed to supporting each other during these difficult days,” Hickman wrote in an email to parents and students on March 12.

While Hickman worked with teachers, Head of School Meg Brudney convened staff to ensure the Academy and Preschool would have the resources they need to teach in unprecedented ways.

Director of Plant Operations Mike Kotulak and the Maintenance Department developed an enhanced cleaning and disinfecting plan. Director of Technology Jason Schlesiger and I.T. Department Chair & STEAM Integration Specialist Bruce Moore worked together to ensure new software was available and teachers were ready to use it. The Advancement team reached out to alumnae and benefactors to deliver the sad news that many of Duchesne’s spring social events were canceled or postponed.

Brudney says when the decision was ultimately announced to close the school, Duchesne was able to transition to online instruction with relatively few problems.

Mrs. Doyle's remote work station“Our teachers and staff have embraced this challenge, like they embrace every challenge, both feet in. I have watched them use humor, share best of practice, and collaborate to enhance their courses,” Brudney said.

The Academy’s goal is for students to end the school year and for seniors to graduate as scheduled but due to the continued spread of COVID-19 in Douglas County, the school isn’t able to say when or if regular classes will resume. Duchesne’s Sacred Heart values and academic expectations remain the same.

“The work is significant, but so is the paradigm shift it requires,” Hickman said.

In addition to the software already in use, students and teachers are using Zoom to meet for video classes and meetings. Many have taken to it quickly but getting the entire Duchesne community up and running was a challenge.

Moore and Schlesiger collaborated to make sure faculty and students were able to install the software on their laptop or iPad and learn how to use it. While some teachers had experience making videos for students, all teachers met Monday, March 16, to learn and practice how to hold virtual class meetings, create videos providing extra instruction, and finalize online lesson planning.

“We’re learning by trial and error and sharing information when someone finds something that works well,” Moore said.
Ms. Thoene's class

Not all students have the same internet bandwidth, especially if there are more people in their home using the internet for work or school, Moore said teachers are ready to adapt assignments to make sure all students can participate in class and, most importantly, continue to learn.

“We’ll know more in a month or so how things are going, but so far students and teachers have all been positive and willing to work together to make this as good as it can be,” Moore said.

“Learning at home does not change our goals, it simply requires us to live them out differently,” Brudney said.

All faculty, staff, and students have been charged with maintaining Duchesne’s strong sense of community.
Duchesne Academy Instagram - Varsity Soccer
Ultimately, this experience will change Duchesne, like it will change our world, in still-unforeseen ways. Brudney says Duchesne’s values and long-term goals, however, will remain the same.

“These times are difficult, but we are meeting the challenge,” Brudney said. “Our community extends far beyond the walls of our building and, like I told our girls, no matter how long we’re apart and wherever they are, they are always home at Duchesne.”