At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools had to rethink what their classrooms looked like. At first, most schools across the globe switched to virtual schooling. Eventually, the vast majority also created a hybrid model where students learned virtually part of the week and in the classroom the rest of the week. While some schools struggled to create a virtual environment, other schools flourished. Apple Montessori in New Jersey, a thriving system of multiple schools serving over 1,600 students from infants to sixth grade, found innovative virtual ways to keep their students learning and successful throughout the pandemic.
When the pandemic hit, Apple jumped into action. Within two days, Apple rolled out a virtual curriculum for all students, from infants to sixth grade. Their curriculum not only included daily Zoom instruction, but the curriculum and training department created a library of pre-recorded videos of lessons for every age group. Resources that included instructions for hands-on activities and activity sheets were sent home to further the students’ understanding of each subject.
“The teachers did a phenomenal job,” Colleen Donado, assistant director of training/policies and procedures, said. “With quick training, they created materials that allowed Montessori teaching to remain the focus of the school day.”
Students weren’t the only ones to benefit from virtual learning. Apple brought parents into their modern Montessori experience with small group conference calls to answer questions and help come up with new solutions. Additionally, these group conference calls offered parents a chance to keep the sense of community that Apple worked so hard to build.
Beyond classes, Apple considered how they could bring a piece of their classrooms home in a way that was specialized for each family. The schools continued to hold events virtually like Mother’s Day Tea and International Day that they would normally have in school; thus, keeping the sense of community and family that Montessori represented to them.
Over the summer, Apple offered a Summer at Home program. This program ensured students didn’t fall behind during the summer months and stayed connected. Each week, all virtual camp students received packages at home with materials that corresponded with the theme and curriculum. For every age, all supplies necessary for daily activities, from art to science activities, were included in an organized, easy to follow package picked up at school weekly. During the summer, students remained engaged through a combination of Zoom instruction, pre-recorded videos and fun camp classes.
In the fall of 2020, Apple opened on-site with a virtual option. The on-site program remained its normal program with COVID safety protocols in place. Beyond health checks and proper cleaning, the schools kept students in pods and students remained in their classrooms throughout the day. However, many families felt uncomfortable sending their children to in-person school, so the need for virtual learning continued. In order to facilitate virtual learning, Apple designated 10 teachers to concentrate exclusively on virtual learning. These teachers created virtual classrooms on a Google platform that complemented the curriculum.
Additionally, virtual students received At Home with Apple kits specific to their age groups. For example, when students were learning about volcanoes, the school sent home materials to make volcanoes. Students were also provided opportunities to give presentations virtually.”
Creating virtual classrooms benefitted Apple in many ways. The vast library of videos created by the training and curriculum department during the pandemic can be used as a resource for staff training. Moreover, schools are now ready at any moment to switch to virtual classrooms. If a classroom or the physical school closes, the virtual option is ready immediately. “The classroom comes home with the student: videos are ready, packets are ready, students are ready. From toddler to elementary schoolers virtual protocol remains in place,” said Donado.
Part of Apple’s ability to quickly create a successful virtual classroom came from their experience with MSA-CESS accreditation, Donado said. Through the school system’s self-study, staff learned how to form teams in a collaborative, cooperative, and organized manner. Self-study also taught staff how to delegate. Therefore, when the pandemic struck, it was easier for the organization as a whole to come together quickly to make important changes because they already understood the dynamics of their schools.