Virtual School

Virtual School Family Guide

As Sewickley Academy continues our efforts to strengthen the educational experience for our students, we seek to enhance the range of tools our teachers have at their disposal so that they can create a seamless educational experience inspiring students to do their very best.

At the heart of any great education are vigorous academic programs and the relationships that support and inspire learners. Sewickley Academy excels at providing learners with a strong academic foundation that prepares them for future challenges by fostering relationships that inspire learners to pursue areas of interest and passion that will develop and deepen over time, or perhaps shift, to create novel and unexpected avenues for exploration.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 caused us to make adjustments to the delivery of our programs in order to meet health and safety guidelines put into place by the state and health officials. Specifically, at that time, we moved to a Virtual School model. Since then, we have strengthened our ability to pivot quickly to a Virtual School program. With our values and commitments in place, we are prepared to deliver educational experiences that inspire our students to continue their learning and growth in a way that challenges them to be their best selves, regardless of the physical environment. Our expectations regarding our Mission, Core Values, Community of Respect, Relationships for Learning, and Community Expectations remain. In addition, the expectations for student use of devices and virtual learning tools as described in our Responsible Device Use Policy remain in force. In all that we do, whether on campus or online, we seek to model the qualities that make our school a supportive, affirming, and kind community.

List of 6 items.

  • History of Blended Learning

    Using a combination of both online and in-class strategies to achieve educational goals is called “blended learning” by educators. Blended learning seeks to maximize the potential of both online and in-class learning activities and experiences through careful planning to leverage the best attributes of virtual and face-to-face interactions to increase student involvement, engagement, and input. Blended learning is not about the tools (i.e., technology) but how these tools (technology) and assets (teacher knowledge and skills) are leveraged to create a seamless and enhanced learning experience for students.

    A blended learning environment seeks to take the best of in-class practices and complement them with the best in online learning strategies. Sewickley Academy became a “1-to-1” school in the 2015-2016 school year by adopting the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) model to take advantage of the enormous power of technology by ensuring that it is in the hands of every student in Grades 6 through 12. In Grades 4 and 5, each student is assigned a Chromebook and iPad to use in school to support their expanding use of technology as they learn.

    Being a 1-to-1 school ensures that each student has the tools necessary to do the increasingly collaborative and dynamic work that is at the heart of a robust 21st century education. Using a range of powerful digital tools, students are able to collaborate online as well as in class to discover, create, problem-solve, and leverage as never before the power of both in-class and online experiences.

    Teachers remain the orchestrators of the lessons they teach, but they increasingly provide more space for student autonomy within the classroom – and beyond. Combining the best teaching practices in the classroom with the best practices in the online environment, teachers can ensure more fulsome engagement on the part of students, and active engagement has been consistently shown to be correlated with better educational outcomes. Furthermore, the online environment can be accessed anytime and anyplace, freeing students and teachers from the limits of place and time that can hinder the accomplishment of educational goals.
  • Virtual School

    While blended learning (described in the blended learning section) is an approach that seeks to combine the best of face-to-face teaching with the digital resources available in the online environment, Sewickley Academy also has the capacity to deliver instruction wholly or partially online. We refer to this approach as Virtual School. Sewickley Academy can enact Virtual School at any time, most typically when inclement winter weather makes travel to school unsafe, but also in the event of state and/or national recommendations and orders to curtail or end on-campus activities or to put safety procedures in place that do not allow for all students and faculty to be on campus at one time.

    Virtual School in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 is supported by three learning management platforms which are determined by the developmental needs of the children in each grade: MySewickley, Seesaw, and Google Classroom.

    • Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 3 – Seesaw
    • Grade 4 – Google Classroom
    • Grade 5 – Google Classroom and MySewickley
    • Grades 6-12 – Google Classroom and MySewickley

    Throughout this document, where learning platforms are mentioned, it will be a reference to these identified platforms for each grade.
  • Short Term (weather and other short-term conditions)

    For short-term campus closures that are not COVID-related, Sewickley Academy has plans in place to sustain learning. These plans go into effect for all students in Grades 4 -12 after two consecutive canceled school days. Faculty members have prepared lessons that students can access online if school is canceled on a third consecutive day. Faculty are mindful that after two days out of school, students may not have all of their classroom materials with them at home. These assignments are electronic or focus on a task a student can complete from home without additional materials.

    When does it happen?

    On the third day, after two full consecutive days of school have been canceled.

    Who is involved?

    Students in Grades 4-12.

    How does it work?
    The Sewickley Academy community will be notified via text message, email, and listings on the local news stations that our campus is closed. Students, parents, and visitors will not be able to access the buildings, including the Events Center and the libraries. An email will be sent to all students and families as soon as we know school will be canceled for a third day. The message will read as follows:

    For Students in Grade Pre-K - Grade 3
    Students should engage in free play, leisure reading, and other healthy activities.

    For Students in Grades 4 and 5

    By 10:00 a.m., parents will receive an email from the classroom teacher with instructions for the day.

    Your teacher will tell you how to submit the work and whether you will need to hand it in electronically today or hand it in the next time you have class in person.

    Your teacher is available for questions until 3:30 p.m.

    Your teacher will post directions for you on how and where you should ask your questions.

    For Students in Grades 6-12

    Students and families will receive an email from the school with important information, announcements, the schedule, and the virtual check-in link. In the Middle and Senior Schools, it will be sent by the division offices. Students are asked to check-in no later than 10:00 a.m. via a Google Form link included in the email.

    By 10:00 a.m. you should log into MySewickley and look at the class pages for each of the classes you are scheduled to have today. The easiest way to do this is to use the links on the MyDay screen after you log in.

    Your teachers have left you news updates, assignments, and due date/times. Look at the Announcements section on the Bulletin page and look at the Assignments page to find them.

    Your teacher will tell you how to submit the work and whether you will need to hand it in electronically today or hand it in the next time you have class in person.

    Your teachers are available for questions until 3:30 p.m. Your teachers will post directions on how and where you
    should ask your questions.

    During short-term campus closures, if you are not able to get online to check MySewickley and have tried everything you can, send your Division Head an email.

    Middle School: Dr. Mulholland:
    Senior School: Dr. Lau:
  • Long Term

    Should circumstances require online learning for an extended period of time, Sewickley Academy will shift to Virtual School to ensure the continuity of learning for students in all grades. We will notify the community that a transition to Virtual School will begin and will provide details regarding those grades that are affected. To make the transition to Virtual School, two days of administrative planning may be needed prior to classes beginning. 

    Communication Via Email 
    The previously mentioned learning platforms will remain the primary vehicle for all communication, including announcements, assignments, and basic expectations for teaching and learning. Each morning, Middle and Senior School students and families will receive an email from the school with that information sent by the Division Offices. Divisions will also maintain the Friday newsletters that provide overviews of the week and a look ahead.

    We understand that while students are not physically with us in the building, clear communication and access to resources will be necessary to keep you informed about your child’s progress. We will make use of SeeSaw, Google Classroom, and email in the Lower School and the Official Note system in MySewickley in the Middle and Senior Schools. Regardless of what learning management system a teacher uses to post resources for students, you can expect that the Lower School learning platforms or MySewickley (MS/SS) will list all assigned tasks each day and have a link to every synchronous meeting.

    Given the unique nature of working from home, the line between personal and professional space has been erased. Barring extenuating circumstances, we ask our employees not to email students and families over the weekends. As such, parents emailing faculty, staff, or administrators over a weekend should not expect a response until Monday. If the situation is a true emergency, please email your Division Head, who will reply and find a way to communicate with you.

    We believe this policy is necessary to create healthy boundaries that will allow Sewickley Academy employees to operate remotely while also addressing their own needs and those of their immediate families. Monday through Friday, faculty, staff, and administrators will aim for a response time within 24-hours to all emails. We ask for your flexibility and understanding during Virtual School.

    Course Expectations
    When Virtual School is enacted, Sewickley Academy is aware that course expectations will need to change to meet the needs of students and families. We maintain our

    commitment to our Mission and Core Values and simultaneously seek to adapt our means of

    meeting them to changing circumstances. Our goal is to keep the learning going and provide regular feedback from teachers on student progress. We know, however, that we may need to adapt our assessment and grading practices to meet the needs of our students and our educational goals. 

    Class Schedule and Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning

    In the Middle and Senior Schools, faculty and students will continue to follow the PANTHERS cycle, even though the timing and rhythm of the day will necessarily require flexibility among students, faculty, and families. Virtual School in the Lower School will follow a five-day (Monday-Friday) schedule.

    Routine is important, and that routine must consider the developmental needs of our students and the needs of the family as they engage in Virtual School from their homes. Learning will happen synchronously and asynchronously. 

    • Synchronous: Everyone in a class meets in real-time online at the same time using a video conferencing or other collaborative tools such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Google docs, and Padlet.
    • Asynchronous: Students use their learning platforms to access pre-recorded content and resources posted by the teacher to complete classwork independently. Students engage with class material and assignments at their own pace, typically within a given timeframe. There is no real-time interaction.

    Understanding Virtual Meeting Expectations 

    Setting Up for Success

    Be sure to have completed the assigned tasks prior to the virtual meeting that will allow you to contribute fully.

    Prior to the meeting, find a quiet place without distractions. Be prepared to take notes.

    Use your student planner or a notepad to write down important information, assignments, and dates.

    Dress in day clothes free of inappropriate graphics or text. No hats or hoods, please.

    Be cognizant of what is behind you when you are in a video conference. A neutral background (a plain wall, books, etc.) will keep the focus on the dialogue and away from your home settings.

    During Synchronous Meetings
    All students are expected to participate in every scheduled meeting.

    Turn on your video and be sure your face is visible on the screen. 
    Mute yourself when you are not speaking to allow others to hear.
    Use the “raise hand” feature when you would like to ask a question.

    Unmute yourself when the teacher calls on you.

    When you share, be respectful and on topic.

    Use the chat feature appropriately and keep the conversation on task.

    Stay focused on the class and avoid using other devices that are not related to the work at hand. 

    Students and families will have advance notice of synchronous meeting times, and teachers are advised to send invitations to the meeting through the video conferencing platform they are using. Throughout Virtual School, teachers organize one-on-one, small group, and/or whole group classes and check-in sessions and will communicate those opportunities to you on a class by class basis. The format of these moments (e.g., Zoom, Google Hangouts) will depend on your child’s grade and classroom teacher and will be completed live (i.e., synchronous). Teachers may also provide pre-recorded videos/lessons that your child can watch according to their daily schedule (i.e., asynchronous). Please keep in mind that faculty members may be caring for their own children or family members during this period, so this approach may vary slightly from teacher to teacher and day to day.

    At Sewickley Academy, we recognize the inequitable conditions an overly synchronous schedule can create for students, families, and colleagues. This is why our model of Virtual School seeks to strike a dynamic balance between asynchronous and synchronous learning and build on proven research that tells us that all students benefit from a variety of instructional approaches.

    Screen Time
    Throughout this period, we want to emphasize the importance of measuring and balancing screen time. When students are not in virtual class and not using devices to complete an assignment, they are strongly encouraged to take a break from screens and refrain from using electronic devices. Distance learning and the flexibility it allows related to scheduling provides a wonderful opportunity for students to engage in play, to read for pleasure, and, if possible, to exercise outside.

    Remaining Flexible and Adaptable

    Virtual School places each of us on an ever-evolving learning curve, and we know that you will have questions and challenges that are unique to you and your family. As we learn from you and your students what is working well and what needs our attention, we will make adjustments. We also recognize that not every student or adult will be able to be online together at all times. We have the ability to record lessons that students can view later if they are unable to attend a live class. We will keep track of students who we notice have missed lessons and reach out to you and your child if we see a pattern emerging so that we can problem-solve together. This may include teachers or advisors inviting individuals or small groups to campus for additional support. 

    While we are in a Virtual School model, every day is a Spirit Day. Wearing SA-branded gear as much as possible when video conferencing is a great way to bring a bit of our community into this new learning space.

    Support Services
    Sewickley Academy is committed to providing students with strategies that foster their individual strengths and allow them to reach their full potential. During Virtual School, faculty monitor student progress and student behavior carefully and will refer a student to support services if a need becomes evident. Students and parents will be able to access support services by contacting the relevant specialist directly via email:

    Dr. Christine Herring, Director of Support Services:

    Mrs. Beth Brown RN, BSN, School Nurse:

    Mrs. Suzi Peluso, Head Athletic Trainer:

    Ms. Lynn Sanborne MSW, School Counselor:

    Mrs. Sally Weir, Lower School Reading Specialist:

    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
    Sewickley Academy remains committed to creating an equitable and inclusive learning community where all students feel welcomed, valued, and appreciated. We understand that Virtual School is a different way of engaging with our students and families that may raise unique issues. For support, contact the Director of Equity & Inclusion and Service Learning LaVern Burton ( or one of the divisional DEI Coordinators.

    Ms. Brandi Lawrence and Ms. Monica Lynn in the Lower School

    Ms. Cheryl Lassen in the Middle School

    Mrs. Sarah Pease-Kerr in the Senior School

    Technology Support
    Sewickley Academy is committed to equitable access for all students, including access to the technology required to facilitate Virtual School. Any family that may have a challenge participating in these plans because of internet or computer issues should contact our Technology Help Desk via email at or by leaving a voicemail at 412-741-2236. One of our Technology Department members will get back to you as soon as possible.
  • Lower School

    Community Expectations
    The Community Norms, established in the winter of 2020, remain the same in the virtual environment. These norms will be more important than ever as we engage with one another in new ways and seek to expand our sense of community beyond the boundaries of our campus.

    We welcome all.

    We have fun learning together.

    We take care of ourselves and others.

    We respect our space.

    We give everyone what they need with flexibility.

    We grow from our mistakes.

    Asynchronous Work
    Asynchronous work for the week will be posted to the designated learning platform by homeroom teachers every Sunday evening. Other asynchronous work will be posted to the learning platform no later than 9:00 a.m. on the following days:

    Tuesdays - Science, Spanish, Art
    Thursdays - Music, Dance, PE

    Teachers will communicate expectations for due dates and methods of submission for each task.

    Virtual School Schedule
    Virtual School in the Lower School will follow a five-day (Monday-Friday) schedule for synchronous class meetings.

    During extended periods of Virtual School, this schedule will allow for three days of Homeroom Instruction (Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday), one day of specials (Friday), and one Flex Day (Wednesday) set aside for small-group and/or one-to-one work by sign-up.

    For sudden or short-term periods of Virtual School, this schedule may require adjustment and will likely feature more Homeroom Instruction days. Please follow the schedule provided by the homeroom teacher.

    Schedule Components
    Homeroom Instruction days for Grades 1-5 each consist of a Morning Meeting and two Connected Learning blocks. In Early Childhood (Pre-K and Kindergarten), each Homeroom Instruction day consists of a Morning Meeting and one Connected Learning block. 

    Morning Meeting
    Each Homeroom Instruction day (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday) will begin with a Morning Meeting. The Morning Meeting framework is a way to support the social and emotional learning of our students, as well as to strengthen and further develop our community. While we cannot and should not attempt to replace the amount of time they would typically spend together, we provide students with a quality experience that is reflective of what we offer in the classroom.

    Connected Learning
    Connected Learning times will be synchronous check-ins and learning opportunities that meet each Homeroom Instruction day. These blocks will begin with a whole group check-in and may be followed by a whole group lesson, small group lessons, or independent work in the homeroom subject areas. The purpose of Connected Learning is to reserve blocks of time in which students can receive instruction, ask questions, and learn together in the Virtual School model. Every Sunday evening, the homeroom teacher will provide details on the planned use of this Connected Learning time for the upcoming week.

    In Grades 1-5, one of the Connected Learning blocks each Homeroom Instruction day will be focused on math in an effort to sustain progress in the curriculum and to provide ample opportunity for students to ask in-the-moment questions of the teacher as they engage in collaborative problem-solving.

    In the Early Childhood program, these Connected Learning times will be used to engage students in a Reggio Emilia-inspired provocation/open-ended activity (which may be an extension of an asynchronous offering), a read-aloud, or a collaborative activity designed to inspire inquiry and creativity.

    Flex Day
    Wednesdays are set aside as a Flex Day, providing ample time for students and teachers to reach out to each other and engage in one-to-one and small group meetings. During Flex Day, students may meet with their homeroom or specialist teachers. While the amount of time spent in synchronous learning will be decreased on this day, Flex Day also ensures that students will have ample time to engage in asynchronous learning. Teachers will schedule students for times on Flex Day, and students can also request meetings with their teachers.

    Special Day
    Fridays are a Special Day, during which students can engage in synchronous learning in their specials classes. The synchronous special class meetings for each grade will rotate each week. Pre-Kindergarten will be split into two sections on the Special Day into groupings communicated by the homeroom teachers ahead of time.

    Also on Friday, homeroom teachers will hold an “Office Hour,” during which families can sign up for a brief check-in with the teacher. Families can, of course, request to meet with teachers on other days and times as well.

    Assessment Practices
    We continue to focus on formative, ungraded assessment at this time. With our virtual tools, however, we now have unprecedented opportunities to provide personalized,1-to-1, or small-group feedback to students. 

    Progress Reports will reflect learning both done on campus and in Virtual School. All students will continue to receive specific assessment results on Progress Reports in various content and skills through the “N/A, Emerging, Developing, Secure, and Extending” learning continuum as implemented in the past.

    The Role of Family Members 
    We encourage families to spend time together in learning that often feels like play. For example, play a game that requires math/strategy/critical thinking. Card games and board games can create wonderful family moments while providing the opportunity to create graphs of wins and losses to develop the mathematical thinking of the student.

    The family members of Lower School students are not expected to take the place of their

    children’s teachers. Families can assist, however, by ensuring that their children are

    engaging with their virtual classes and materials each school day. Getting students settled into synchronous lessons may require your assistance. Our earliest readers, in particular, will require increased support at home to understand and follow teacher guidance. 
  • Middle and Senior Schools

    Community Expectations

    Community of Respect
    A community of respect is a code that we want to live by in any environment. It doesn’t matter if we are at home, at school, or with friends, we strive to show respect for others and should be able to expect respect in return. Classroom norms in a virtual environment promote a community of respect.

    Community Space
    While you are not at school in classrooms or the commons, you will share a virtual community space. This means that when you are on video with teachers or peers, students can comply with the community space expectations by setting up a space at home that is conducive to learning. This includes assuring that what or who is in the background of a video conference does not detract from the learning and that additional devices are out of reach. 

    Academic Integrity
    We expect that compliance with academic integrity will be a standard that you follow while in Virtual School. It may be even more tempting for you to plagiarize while at home. Please remember that using proper citations and putting things in your own words is essential to learning and doing your best work.

    While Honor Council proceedings in the Senior School will not occur synchronously during Virtual School, the Honor Council will be consulted for any honor code violations, and decisions will be made by the Dean of Student Experience and Head of Senior School.

    Attendance is required for all scheduled meetings, including classes, advisory, appointments with teachers, and community events. Faculty will use MySewickley to report attendance for classes and advisory and will send Official Notes for students who miss scheduled appointments. Families of Middle and Senior School students should contact the division office to report an excused absence for their child. In the Middle and Senior Schools, students must attend no less than 80% of all scheduled class blocks to earn credit for a course. Only absences documented by medical professionals and communicated through the Sewickley Academy Support Team will be considered excused. 

    Dress Code
    In a video lesson with teachers or peers, students are asked to be in “day clothes” when they appear in a video conference. We are encouraging students to wear spirit wear when possible. Any shirt with inappropriate graphics or sayings should not appear on camera. No hats or hoods may be worn during video conferencing to ensure all faces are fully visible.

    Device Use
    There is no change to the expectation of how students use their devices for learning during class time together. Students may not record other students or lessons without permission from the teacher. Students are also asked to refrain from the usage of other devices during a video conference. 

    Managing a full load of courses can be overly challenging for some in a Virtual School environment. For this reason, we allow students in Middle and Senior School to make a request to drop an elective course for the trimester without penalty. We will remove the course from their transcript. Seniors should consult College Guidance before initiating any course drop. In addition, students who find the schedule and the load beyond what they are able to manage in this environment should consult with our Director of Support Services and their advisor to strategize the best pathway forward.

    Senior School Schedule
    Middle School Schedule

    Expectations and Delivery of Instruction

    Faculty may be teaching from their classrooms or from home. All classes will begin synchronously at the regularly scheduled time. Once students check-in, teachers will direct students to continue a synchronous lesson or engage in independent/collaborative work. 
    • All teachers post the link to their Zoom Classroom on their MySewickley Bulletin Board. Students should arrive on time to class by accessing this link.
    • In certain cases, if arranged with a teacher in advance, synchronous lessons can be recorded and shared with students who are not able to attend the live class.
    • Office Hours are built into the schedule and are designated blocks of times when students can meet synchronously with teachers to ask questions or receive additional support. Students are free to come and go as needed.

    When it comes to quantifying workload, there is no simple answer to the question: “How much work should I expect?” and it depends a lot on the class and the student’s existing skillset. Students should generally expect to be engaged and working for a combined 5 - 6 hours synchronously and independently each day. Students taking Honors or AP classes should expect significantly greater amounts of independent work beyond scheduled class time, whether or not the learning is in-person or online.

    We recognize that students work at varying paces. The total work time of 5-6 hours a day should be considered an average. Students who exceed the maximum expected time should communicate with their teacher and potentially their advisor and Support Services.

    Assessment Practices in Virtual School
    During a lengthy period of Virtual School, it may be necessary to make adjustments to our assessment practices. Particularly in the Middle and Senior Schools, we want to be sure to reflect the changes in our students’ learning environment and to maintain our focus on fostering strong, caring relationships with our students that are a necessary precondition to learning. During Virtual School, students will continue to earn grades as they have during the school year. A continued emphasis on performance tasks, mastery of skills, and on providing feedback to bolster and improve student performance (assessment for learning, also called formative assessment) will become even more important in the virtual learning environment than the assessment of learning that is typically reflected in traditional tests and quizzes.

    Wednesdays are reserved for Elective Courses and Office Hours in Middle School and for catching up, working ahead, and Community Time in the Senior School. Therefore, no class assignments will be due on Wednesdays.

    Using MySewickley, teachers will be specific about work completion times/dates, which generally are at the end of the class or at the start of the next class.

    The Role of Family Members
    The family members of Middle and Senior School students are not expected to take the place of their children’s teachers. Families can assist, however, by ensuring that their children are engaging with their virtual classes each school day.

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