Mid-Pen today announced it' will conduct the fall semester through distance learning.
- Summary: Town Hall with Families on Monday, July 27, 2020
- FAQ from July 27, 2020 Town Hall with Families
- FAQ from July 23, 2020 Fall 2020 Announcement
On Thursday, July 23, Mid-Pen announced that due to ongoing COVID-19 developments, the campus will remain closed and we will conduct the fall semester through distance learning. During a Town Hall meeting for Mid-Pen families, Head of School Phil Gutierrez opened the session by sharing that he decided after ongoing discussions with health experts and school leaders to protect students, teachers, and staff. In line with our Core values, we, as a community, need to continue showing responsibility for one another by following health and safety protocols to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
On behalf of the scheduling committee, Art and Human Relations Teacher Michelle Boire provided an overview of the fall 2020 class schedule. Mid-Pen will follow a semester system that includes six classes and incorporates office hours, clubs, and more breaks in the day. Wednesdays now include two class periods, an all-school activity, and extended Core and office hours.
History Teacher and Activities Director Alan Cameron provided an update about the School Activities period for the fall semester. School activities will take place each Wednesday after the lunch break, and will include a variety of events such as themed dance parties and games. Long-standing Mid-Pen traditions like our Halloween celebration will still take place, but it will be different!
Mid-Pen will continue to host student clubs that are sponsored by faculty and staff. Clubs will meet after lunch on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday of each week. We will plan a club fair once school is in session so students can see what is available. If students have an idea for a club, they can reach out to Alan to start it!
We will continue to embrace the digital medium and create fun ways to celebrate and interact with our students. We will share a club and school activity schedule in the coming weeks.
Social-Emotional Learning and Mental Health
School Counselor Wendi Wells shared plans to support the social-emotional learning and mental health of our student body. She will continue to meet with students regularly. Also, she is working with all Core teachers to add a mindful minute to each Core meeting.
Admissions Director Randy Johnson introduced our Mid-Pen Mentor Program, which will pair incoming students with current students with the goal of fostering connections before school starts. Mentors will regularly check in with their assigned student(s).
Along the same line, we will pair new families with host families to provide support throughout the year.
Mid-Pen offered a look at academic plans for distance learning, beginning with an overview by Jorge Rodriguez, our Director of Teaching, Learning, and Equity. We are focusing on two elements of our teaching: working towards creating consistency across classes for students and distilling best practices for online learning. Teachers and administrators have been attending and hosting in-house webinars, courses, lectures, and conversations.
Math Teacher Nicola Willits shared that, in line with Mid-Pen’s mission of students belonging with expert and compassionate teachers, the faculty have dedicated their summer to professional development in support of enhancing and improving our students’ distance-learning experiences.
Literacy Advancement Teacher Kit Waffle provided a look at how Mid-Pen will support students with learning differences online. Specifically, Kit addressed the role of parents and teachers to best prepare students for success during distance learning. Slides are viewable here.
Jorge shared that--along with the coronavirus pandemic--we’re incredibly cognizant of the fact that we as a community and country are still reeling from the protests and upheavals spurred on by the national reckoning with systemic racism and its effects. The faculty and administrators are reading Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond. This text and subsequent conversations will allow us to better approach these historic issues in our classes, making sure we have the resources and knowledge to ensure that our curriculum is culturally responsive.
Heidi Scheissler, Mid-Pen’s Assistant Head of School and College Counselor, shared that she will be meeting with seniors individually to begin defining what life after Mid-Pen will look like for each of them. Parents are welcome to attend these meetings. Heidi will reach out to our juniors in the spring to begin discussions about college.
Heidi continues to be in contact with the College Board for updates about the SAT and subject-matter tests. She also regularly communicates with colleges and universities to understand changing admissions requirements due to COVID-19.
Fall 2020 Semester: General
Q: Would you reconsider opening up the campus at mid-semester?
COVID developments will likely be active and dynamic throughout the coming months.We are focused on delivering our educational experience through distance learning through fall. We will continue to work on campus upgrades for the second semester in the hope that we can return.
Q: Would you be open to holding small, in-person options, whether small group study halls, extracurricular meetings, etc.?
We’d love to but cannot do so. Our primary goal is to keep everyone safe. As we’ve seen in the news, social gatherings have led to the spread of infections throughout the area, state, and country. We need to keep people physically apart.
Q: What's been done to communicate about this to students?
The announcement about distance learning, as well as the update about the athletics program, was shared with students last week via Remind for current students and on social media for the community. Our student body can attend a virtual Town Hall on Monday, August 3, at 7 pm. Head of School Phil Gutierrez and faculty will share the schedule, our distance learning plans for fall 2020, and address any questions or concerns students may have about the new school year.
Q: What is the School Activity period, and is attendance mandatory?
The School Activity period is a 30-minute period on Wednesdays for virtual school-wide events for our student body. Activities may include themed parties and games to build community spirit. Students are encouraged to participate as they can interact with classmates and Mid-Pen faculty and staff. Attendance is not mandatory.
Q: What does Core mean?
Each Mid-Pen student is assigned a Core teacher, who serves as an academic advisor and advocate at school and with parents. Core teachers meet with their group of students on every day but Wednesday, when they will meet for 30 minutes.
Q: Any news on yearbooks from last year?
Yearbooks are in production and should arrive at the campus in the next few weeks. They can be picked up at when students will receive their school books.
Q: Will you be distributing a school roster so we can contact each other?
The school roster will be distributed after the start of the school year once all contact information is confirmed.
Q: Can first-year students review their course picks again and change due to the new environment?
Incoming students may contact School Counselor Wendi Wells with any questions about their fall courses.
Q: How much homework will students get via distance learning?
Our teachers are working on shifting their curricula for distance learning based on professional development and knowledge gained through experience during our spring semester. This semester, classes will meet three times per week in 60-minute blocks, and it is feasible for learning and homework to happen within the blocks. Some of the more advanced classes, however, will have additional work time outside of class. Teachers will post assignments in advance of due dates and will be flexible.
Q: Will you host in-person office hours?
Office hours are built into the daily schedule and will happen remotely.
Q: How will the 9th grade study skills class be taught, and will it consider both distance learning and more traditional learning?
Study skills are a crucial component of Structured Study Center, a required class for first-year students which will address habits used for both distance and in-person learning.
Q: What accommodations will be made via distance learning?
Students with accommodations will still receive them via distance learning.
Q: Are there ongoing discussions about how midterms/finals are held especially with LD students who need accommodations that may be difficult to address? Was this successful at the end of last year?
We are taking a close look at assessment accommodations for LD students. While extended time and use of calculators/computers will continue, families will be responsible for providing a separate quiet test-taking location.
Q: Are students required to keep their video on during class?
We are developing a class etiquette (or “netiquette”) sheet for our students as part of our Distance Learning Handbook, which will provide more information.
Q: Will class recordings be available for students to view/listen to later?
Our teachers are currently evaluating different technologies that allow students access to class recordings. We will provide an update at the start of the school year.
Q: Does Zoom offer the option for closed captions?
Captioning is an excellent addition for many students, and this is a key feature that we are evaluating for the fall semester. Each video platform has advantages and disadvantages, and some support captioning more easily than others.
Q: How does asynchronous learning work? Does it mean that the students do not have the traditional structure of the classroom?
Asynchronous learning is a broad term; it means that not all class time is spent in a live, online class. In many cases, it means flipped learning, where the student reads a text as homework and comes into the live class for higher-level learning activities like debates and role-plays. Asynchronous learning also includes group work, collaboration, and chatboard discussions, which have deadlines, but students can engage with on their own time.
Q: How is the after/before school homework help going to be handled?
Teachers will continue to provide help to students with online office hours daily from 9:00 to 9:30 am and 3:30 to 3:45 pm (1:00 to 2:30 pm on Wednesdays). Many teachers are using Calendly so students can easily make appointments for 1:1 support. We look to make this process much easier during the fall semester. In addition, the school will be hosting a virtual Enrichment Center before and after school, where students can receive general homework help or just drop in to do their work in a supervised setting in the company of their peers.
Q: I understand you have close relationships with returning students; how will you build those with new students, particularly those who do not thrive in the Zoom world?
Mid-Pen faculty and staff are committed to building relationships with new students using the virtual format. Teachers will work closely with new students to develop connections, and students are encouraged to participate in our online events and activities to learn more about our team.
Q: How are art classes being handled?
Art teacher Michelle Boire has designed a distance learning curriculum that she will replicate many in-person lessons. Some activities will be slightly different, but the goal is to keep everything as consistent as possible. Digital Arts will not have a Virtual Reality component because of the shared equipment and will complete a longer graphic design project. Supplies will be distributed via contactless pick up in early August.
Please contact Michelle for more information about art classes.
Q: How will drama class be handled? And will there be a virtual fall play?
English and Drama Teacher Caitlin Berka’s in-person theater class focuses on physicality, community-building, improv, and theater games, playwriting, and scene and character work. These components are still possible on Zoom using breakout rooms, hiding non-video participants, and other Zoom features and collaborative technologies like Google Docs and Flipgrid. Students will also spend time getting acquainted with the idea of Zoom as a stage and exploring the new physical space in which they will perform.
Caitlin does plan on a virtual fall performance. Innovation in theater since the shelter-in-place has shown that there are ways to not only make it work but also to use Zoom to do things that can't be done on a stage. Caitlin has spent the summer learning how to create theater on Zoom, both in her professional development class with Berkeley Rep and while vocal directing a virtual musical with the San Carlos Children's Theater.
Q: What about music?
Yes! Music teacher Jameson Swanagon has invested in new technology while continually exploring innovative ways for Mid-Pen music students to collaborate. His program thrived in the spring when we shifted to distance learning, culminating with a new music website that shares songs students created while sheltering in place during the spring. We encourage you to look at the site and listen to the music, and we’re excited to see what music students do in the fall.
Q: Will PE continue through distance learning?
Yes, PE will continue through the fall. Athletic Director Kurt Lange is developing his PE program for remote learning. We also will host after-school training online, as we did in the spring. Pre-season workouts for athletic teams cannot begin until December 2020/January 2021, per California Interscholastic Federation guidelines.
Q: Will a doctor be coming to school for the physical exam for the athletic program? And, if so, when?
At this time, we cannot schedule a doctor to come to the school campus for sports clearance. As our season approaches, we will let you know if this changes.
Q: What about those students who need half a semester of PE and are planning to do independent study, how will that work?
Students who have planned to complete independent study to satisfy a PE requirement can still do so. Please contact our Athletic Director, Kurt Lange, for more information.
Q: Why is Mid-Pen starting the year with distance learning?
Throughout summer, we have operated under the assumption that a safe return to campus would be possible. New school-reopening guidelines issued by the state, combined with the alarming, record-breaking rates of infection, hospitalization, and death throughout the Bay Area and the state, caused us to rethink our plans. Putting the lives of students and teachers at risk was ultimately too daunting a prospect and one we could not ask our community to undertake in good conscience.
Q. What criteria has Mid-Pen used to decide to start the year with distance learning?
Mid-Pen’s priority is ensuring the safety of our teachers, staff, students, and community. As part of our preparation to reopen campus, Mid-Pen’s administrative team participates in regular webinars and conversations with health professionals and school leaders.
We closely monitor local and state health data and scientific developments related to COVID-19. Over the past weeks, California’s cases of COVID-19 have repeatedly hit a record-high, with 33 counties on the state watch list. While San Mateo County currently is not on the state watch list, cases of COVID-19 within the county and surrounding counties are steadily increasing. We anticipate San Mateo County will be added to the state watch list in the coming days.
As well, new studies indicate that teens are as likely as adults to become infected with and transmit COVID-19 to others and that teens are likely to spread it to family members. These studies are contrary to earlier information that pointed to teens posing a low risk of becoming infected with and spreading COVID-19.
As we assess all of this information together, it became increasingly clear that distance learning was the best option to keep our teachers, staff, students, and community safe.
Q. Why will you continue with distance learning for the entire fall semester instead of reassessing throughout the fall if you can return to campus?
We believe it is in the best interest of teachers and students to know they will have a consistent educational environment for the full fall semester. Our teachers can focus on developing and teaching their entire fall curriculum via distance learning, which requires a different approach than an in-class or a hybrid learning environment.
For our students, the continuity of distance learning over the entire fall semester provides stability during these uncertain times. We want our students to focus on making the most of their Mid-Pen Online experience without the ongoing distraction of a potential return to campus mid-semester.
We hope that parents and guardians also benefit from the certainty of our fall semester for their planning purposes.
Q. Will Mid-Pen use distance learning all year?
At this time, we are focused on providing distance learning for the first semester of the school year.
Q: When will you reopen the school campus?
We do not have a return date at this time. Preparations for the eventual reopening of our campus are ongoing. We will continue to have discussions with education and health experts, and we will monitor county and state COVID-19 data, and developments in the scientific community.
Q: Are you following a semester or quarter system?
We will be following a semester system that allows all classes to meet. We look forward to sharing our schedule with you on Monday, July 27, at 7 pm, when Head of School Phil Gutierrez will host a virtual Town Hall to discuss the new school year.
Q: What improvements has Mid-Pen made to its distance learning program since the spring?
To further enhance their distance learning practices, our faculty and staff have engaged in professional development throughout the summer. The faculty will meet regularly between now and the first day of school on August 20 to share, plan, and implement distance learning strategies and lessons.
We value student and parent feedback and as we did in the spring, we will regularly survey our community to understand what is working in our distance learning program and what needs improvement.
Q: Will Mid-Pen change its grading policy for the fall semester?
Mid-Pen will continue to use its guiding principle of compassion for our students. As we did in the spring, we will evaluate our grading policy throughout the fall and make adjustments as needed.
Q. What about sports?
The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) announced that the 2020-2021 sports season will likely begin in December 2020 or January 2021. CIF divided the year into two sports seasons. For Mid-Pen Athletics, co-ed soccer, girls volleyball, and co-ed cross country will be the first sports to resume play, with basketball, tennis, and track and field moving to the spring. The California Coast Section (CCS) is currently developing health and safety guidelines for pre-practice workouts, which can begin no earlier than December 14, 2020. Once we can resume our sporting activities, our priority will be protecting the health and safety of our students and coaches. Although CIF and CCS have determined the new sporting calendar, they will re-evaluate it throughout the fall. All dates are subject to change based on health and safety guidelines at the local and state level.
Q. What will happen to co-curriculars like the performing arts and clubs?
The school schedule includes time for co-curriculars and clubs to take place virtually. As with our Class of 2020 graduation, we will re-imagine our performances. We’ve learned that by embracing our digital medium, we open the door to new, creative ways to present and share Mid-Pen’s most beloved traditions with our community.
Q. What about community service?
While we are not able to pursue in-person activities at this time, there are many ways our students can be involved in service to our community. We will share updated plans for community service at a later time.
Q: How will students get their books and other materials needed for class?
Mid-Pen will schedule a drive-thru pickup up for students to receive their books and supplies. We will let you know as soon as the date is scheduled.
Q. How will Mid-Pen support a robust social life for students through activities and events (both online and in-person), and how will activities fees be used?
We know that now, after many months of our shelter in place, our students are eager for in-person connections. We are too! That said, we are also committed to doing our part to stop the spread of COVID-19, and at this time, we cannot host in-person gatherings, even small ones, on campus.
Clubs and social activities for students are built into the daily schedule. We are also excited about other virtual events for our community.
Activities fees will still go toward professional production that we contract in support of graduation, talent shows and concerts, and drama productions. Fees also will cover future activities like socially-distanced "film nights" on campus and other events we hope to host if permitted by San Mateo County and the state. We anticipate that virtual field trips will come with a cost this year. Our school yearbook is funded by activities fees, as are other student activities that foster our community spirit in a virtual setting.
Q. How will students access counseling support?
Students are continually able to access support from our school counselor, Wendi Wells, for guidance and counseling support. They are able to set up appointments with her via email.
Q: How will Mid-Pen support students with learning differences?
Our learning specialist Ed Stern will continue to work with our students who have learning differences. Ed will have ongoing virtual meetings with students to assist them. Several teachers have also taken professional development courses this summer specifically designed to assist students with learning differences in a distance-learning environment.
Q. My student requires technical assistance to support distance learning. How can you help?
We know distance learning can pose technical challenges. You will receive a survey in the coming weeks to help us better understand your student’s needs for technical support. Families will also work with our Director of Technology Anne Marie Schar, who can help troubleshoot the causes of any technical issues, including support for WiFi connections and help creating a WiFi hotspot.
Q: I have a senior and am wondering how the college counseling program will operate in the fall?
College Advisor Heidi Schiessler will meet with each senior family to develop their plans for life after Mid-Pen. She will continue to meet with students virtually throughout the semester to ensure they are meeting all the necessary requirements and deadlines in applying to their intended colleges and universities.
The college admissions landscape has changed since high schools and colleges shifted to distance learning in the spring. Heidi is in close contact with the College Board regarding SAT/ACT testing dates for the fall. She also monitors college admissions requirements as they change in response to the global pandemic.
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- CDC School Guidelines
- San Mateo County Health Department
- San Mateo County COVID-19 Call Line
- State of California COVID-19 Dashboard
- Johns Hopkins COVID19 Outbreak Map
- World Health Organization - COVID-19
- NAIS Resources
- Study on COVID-19 Transmission by Teenagers to Adults