A few weeks ago, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of schools across Pennsylvania, the students and faculty at Villa Maria Academy High School in Malvern were ready to transition to online learning without skipping a beat.
Drawing on its experience with online education – gained during “cyber snow days” – the community at the all-girls Catholic prep school was confident that it could handle the challenge of maintaining a top notch and demanding curriculum in “Virtual Villa.”
“While moving to a remote learning platform for long term is more challenging than maintaining instruction for a couple of snow days, our faculty embraced this challenge with their usual positive resolve,” said Sr. Regina Ryan, Villa Maria’s Principal. “They used their spring break to master the multiple online options that would enable them to continue a high level of instruction and assessments.”
The school’s small class sizes – the student-to-faculty ratio is 9 to 1 – made the transition easier, as did the positive attitude of the teachers.
“The more flexible we can be with the technology platforms, the better we can be,” said Dianne Goddard, Chair of the World Languages Department.
Halfway through the first week of Virtual Villa, faculty and staff members met via Zoom to share their experiences, trade ideas, and brainstorm new ways to continue to deliver an excellent education, despite the distance. Teachers shared ideas for how to administer tests and discussed techniques for posting notes and instructions for students.
Villa Maria’s student council members have also played an important role by maintaining school spirit. In addition to making the daily announcements via video, they are running contests and events via their Instagram account to keep students connected and having fun.
Morale boosters on Instagram included food creation day, creative arts day, and DIY day. The girls recapped the week in a “quaranscenes” video. Upcoming events include a Pictionary competition during lunch break, a scavenger hunt, a Villa trivia contest, an Easter egg dying contest, and a family lip sync challenge.
“The Villa ‘sisterhood’ is very strong, and as is often the case, adversity can bring out the best in us,” said Sr. Regina. “The enthusiasm, creativity, and exuberance of our student leaders has been contagious throughout the entire school community with each spirited and clever e-mail, challenge, invitation, and social media post. The response from their peers has kept all of us feeling very connected and in touch each day.”
Villa Maria has also taken its extensive music program online. Director of Music Leah Kim and other instructors are conducting video lessons, and students are uploading video of their performances. The school’s musicians are also continuing to prepare for the annual spring concert, which they hope can be performed in person, syncing their performance recordings with a metronome.
School athletes are maintaining their fitness at home and hoping that the athletic year resumes. Two teams – swimming and basketball – were competing in state-level tournaments when the season was suspended.
The rowing team is taking a creative approach to its sport, holding virtual regattas, in which the rowers competed among themselves, “racing” on their ergs at home for a designated distance and submitting their times. The Villa rowing team will next compete virtually against other schools in a similar manner. The virtual races have been a great way to keep the girls connected and in race shape.
While education continues at full strength online and students stay close through social media, everyone at Villa Maria is hoping that school reopens in time to honor the Class of 2020.
“Villa has many special traditions, and some of our most-loved events revolve around graduation week,” said Sr. Regina. “We will work around the calendar to provide our outstanding Class of 2020 with their prom and their graduation festivities. They might have a unique twist to them, but that certainly fits the rest of their senior year!”’
Sr. Regina looks forward to the day that the campus is again filled with students.
“While it is my fervent hope and prayer that we will be back in school sometime in May, we do have to plan for another reality,” she said. “However, at some point, we will come back, and it will be a real celebration in true Villa spirit.”
Click here to learn more about Villa Maria Academy High School.