Our Goal: Stay well. Stay connected.
Throughout the COVID crisis, we have been keeping the health and well-being of our entire community at the center of everything we do.
When the COVID crisis hit, we were determined to keep our traditions and time together as much the same as possible. Because we are a small school and already had a one-to-one MacBook program in place, we were able to nimbly shift the boys’ academic and musical education to synchronous, distance learning and maintain our full weekly schedule uninterrupted.
But we also kept our Friday night movies, continued to have lunchtime recitals, added weekly parent teas to the schedule and devised games and contests throughout the Spring term. Although our tight-knit community was scattered across 8 states, we remained deeply connected.
As COVID continued to develop, we prepared different scenarios for that we could toggle between as needed: (i) full re-open in New York City, (ii) a return to 100% distance learning, (iii) a hybrid plan of rotating cohorts of students returning to school in-person while the rest studied remotely, or (iv) a temporary relocation to Incarnation Center in Ivoryton, CT (where we usually spend two weeks at the end of every school year) and the careful formation of a germ-sharing “pod” over the course of two weeks to permit mask-free learning, socializing, and singing.
We divided the 2020/2021 academic year into quarters (rather then our usual trimesters) with the plan of selecting from the above models for each quarter as the year progressed. We opted for temporary relocation to Incarnation Center for the first quarter of the school year, and developed a highly detailed plan to give our students a safe and extraordinary start to the school year. Please view photos and posts on our Facebook page for real-time updates of the Choir School in our temporary residence.
For Quarter 2, all students returned home for 6 weeks of remote learning via Zoom, thus avoiding multiple breaks home for the holidays and the attendant risks of spreading the virus.
For Quarter 3, our students are returning to school in one of two 3-week residencies. Third, fourth, seventh and eighth grades formed one cohort and fifth and sixth grades formed another.
For Quarter 4, we will continue to assess how to best serve our students and families, and determine whether to resume distance learning, return to our Midtown Manhattan building or, when the weather warms, form another “pod” in Connecticut.
Scroll below to read more about what parents said about STCS and for more details on what our spring term and end-of-year events looked like.
What parents said about our response to the COVID-19 crisis in Spring 2020
Midway through the Spring 2020 term, we asked parents for feedback about their and their son’s experiences with our synchronous, distance learning program on the Zoom platform. One hundred percent gave us a Very Good or Excellent rating. (47% “Excellent” and 53% “Very Good”).
Here’s what they had to say in detail:
What have been your most positive experiences so far with distance learning?
The entire school community’s willingness to shift their attention dramatically to online teaching. It takes an enormous amount of patience with all of the technical difficulties that one can sometimes experience.
Communication has been great, boys still seem to be learning at a good pace.
The distance learning is the same quality as learning at school.
Very easy for him to manage alone, and happily hands-off for me, allowing me to work from home with less stress.
What has been your son’s most positive experience so far with distance learning?
Still being able to see and work with his friends.
Even though my child is at home, he can still see his peers, teachers, and housemothers.
Being able to stay connected with everyone as if they are still in school.
Seeing his friends every day and feeling like they never left.
For those who have other children doing distance learning in different schools, how does your experience of STCS’s model compare? Are there any lessons or ideas from what other schools are doing that could be helpful for us to consider?
Educationally it is better than other program. My younger son attends public school, but it is not interactive at all.
My other kids’ experience doesn’t compare, although their schooling structure would be impossible to do face to face classes. We are pleased in the ability to keep it as face to face as possible.
None of the schools are doing like Saint Thomas. Work-wise and time-wise.
Biggest difference with public school programs is that Saint Thomas is a full day experience, and hands on – as opposed to a few slides they run through in 30 minutes. You are way (!) ahead of the game!
STCS is far better than what our older son has. No complaints. Thank you!!!!
Other schools are taking short cuts, reducing the class length and the number of meeting times per week, which make me very pleased with Saint Thomas’ commitment to a full schedule.
STCS is much more organized than our other school, and I’m grateful for the continuity of learning.
Are there any STCS community-building activities that you or your sons have especially enjoyed or are especially excited about (game/movie nights, contests, read alouds, lunchtime recitals, virtual teas, etc.)?
Our son loves reading aloud and being able to participate in activities. I am looking forward to the lunchtime recitals.
Virtual teas, meeting and recital are working so well. The school is providing their best! So far, so good!
We really enjoyed the opportunity to attend the National Latin Exam awards ceremony and hear all the boys perform during the lunchtime recitals. My son loves movie nights and looks forward to them.
You’re doing such a great job! Thanks!!
Bingo Game. And definitely Game/ Movie night!
The Self-Care Bingo game was very successful – aka a non-computer based game!
Do you have any positive shout outs for specific teachers/classes?
Shout out to the teachers in general for hanging in there and giving the boys stuff to look forward to.
Receiving the Easter gift boxes was a great moment to experience the care and love that house mother and teacher have for my son.
Serious shout out to all of the staff. Each of you has done an exceptional job ensuring the experience is the best it can be under the circumstances.
Ms. Yung and Ms. Ratze are phenomenally diligent and Mr. Spolettini and Mr. Appleton and … everyone!
Listening to our son laugh intermittently while reading Romeo and Juliet has been entertaining and we enjoy discussing Dr. G’s coronavirus lectures. Thanks to everyone in the school, especially Ms. Francisco, for keeping all of this going and supporting the boys.
I would like to shout out the entire staff. This was a change that is very challenging and you made it seem easy. You guys learned it very quickly and efficiently and the boys are able to function like they are in STCS every day. I am really happy that the distance learning has been so successful because you are on top of it.
Spring Term, Graduation and, Yes, Even Camp
We launched distance learning on March 18th, deciding on a fairly full daily schedule of synchronous, or simultaneous, online classes held over Zoom with all students engaged with their peers and their teachers. Despite the rigors of this scheduling model, both the boys and the teachers proved more than up to the challenge. The boys showed up to each and every Zoom session, worked hard both in class and out of class, and were able to meet or exceed the benchmarks for an essential set of skills in each grade level. While not the same as if we had ended school together, the teachers anticipate minimal disruption to the boys’ transition into their next grade level in the fall. Indeed, many teachers highlighted that they had learned new skills throughout our distance learning program and, although virtual reality is not an ideal teaching space, felt that they had grown as teachers by passing through this crucible.
Right away, we knew that it would be important to do whatever we could to maintain not only our strong academic program but also the boys’ intensive musical studies. The boys continued their instrumental, vocal, choral, and music theory studies beginning in the first full week of our distance learning program. Despite the limitations of Zoom, the faculty were creative and thoughtful in designing activities and work in which everyone could take part effectively. Just as they would have done on campus, all students continued to participate in “lunchtime recitals”: we hosted six over the course of the semester, virtually gathering a large group of the students, parents, and faculty together to listen to these communally-given concerts, with boys performing their solo vocal or instrumental pieces from their living rooms-sometimes with parent accompaniment. These recitals were such a hit that a number of boys asked to perform twice. When the ABRSM board of music examiners announced that they would not be holding examinations this spring, the music faculty sprang into action, devising a system of music juries held over Zoom by which the boys would be able to show off the musical skills and knowledge that they had been building all year. In choir, although singing together is nearly impossible due to the limitations of any online platform, Dr. Filsell met with the boys weekly and worked on building their individual choral skills as well as thinking about choral music as musicians and as composers: whenever we can next sing in church, he is looking forward to putting together a Coronavirus Mass with the best choir boy compositions!
Most importantly, as our world moved online, it was crucial to our school to work hard at maintaining the close-knit sense of community and brotherhood that the school fosters. This was our guiding principle from the beginning of our planning for distance learning, and our emphasis on building a sense of community allowed us to reach out in ways we had never thought to do before. Each grade level had two advisor periods built into their academic week; in addition to the group discussions and games that typically took place in those advisor meetings, we also held a number of all school gatherings and set up individual and group conferences for boys with our school counselor and housemothers in that time. The faculty also offered a wide range of extracurricular community-bonding activities throughout each week, including self-care bingo contests, online chess tournaments, Friday night Netflix parties, Sunday game nights, daily “read alouds” of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series, athletic competitions, and even a coordinated care package. The parents took part in weekly Virtual Parent Teas, and a small group of faculty members who were still on campus gathered together-socially-distanced, of course-to eat one or two Chef Heidi-prepared meals each week, as well as participating in a few virtual happy hours! All of this time spent together even while we were apart allowed our community to come through this experience with a new appreciation for and understanding of each person who makes up the fabric of our collective lives.
End of Year Events, Graduation and Camp
These community activities culminated in a series of successful events closing out the 2019-2020 school year. Following the completion of our academic classes at the end of May, the school decided that, while we could not compensate for the hiking, boating, tennis, and swimming it typically provides, we would offer a virtual version of the boys’ yearly Camp Incarnation experience. The teachers designed a series of activities that the boys could do at home, including some Camp standbys-like Dr. Gilbert’s ever-popular paracord bracelet-making elective-and some new favorites, like building Rube Goldberg machines, doing a virtual Escape Room, and playing a musical Jeopardy game with our voice teacher. While Virtual Camp was optional, nearly every student chose to come to at least a few sessions-to rave reviews!
We also held online versions of our Camp Awards ceremony, at which every boy receives awards-some silly and some serious-and our official 8th Grade Graduation ceremony. Graduation took place on the morning of June 6th over Zoom, offering an opportunity to make use of the virtual space differently. In addition to the usual slate of group musical performances (this time achieved through a pre-recorded virtual choir performance by the graduates), speeches honoring each graduating boy, and “Ora Labora” renditions, the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 allowed the graduates themselves more of a platform to make the ceremony their own. Each boy chose to perform or present something, ranging from singing tear-jerking musical theater renditions to playing a movement of Beethoven on the piano to reciting a Latin poem to putting together a photo slideshow of memories from their time at the Choir School. With around 100 people on the Zoom call, including many far-flung family members of the graduates, we were thrilled to share this experience with so many of the people who are most important to each graduating student. While far from typical, I am certain that no one will ever forget part one of the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020: we hope part two, taking place in person whenever it is safe to do so, will be just as memorable. The final event of the 2019-2020 school year, for all students and parents, was a lovely Goodbye Toast in which we could once again honor the graduating boys and our departing Latin teacher, Miss Ratze, as well as celebrate the remarkable achievements of our entire community throughout this difficult year.