Virtual School

Sewickley Academy Goes Virtual

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.

When learning needs to move to Virtual School, our values and commitments do not change: we seek 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. 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.


View our Virtual School Family Guide

List of 7 items.

  • History of Blended Learning

    Using a combination of both online and in-class strategies to achieve educational goals is called “blended learning.” 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 above) 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 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.

    Virtual School is supported in Grades 4-12 by MySewickley, Sewickley Academy’s learning management platform. In the Lower School, Virtual School is conducted via email and other digital tools as deployed by teachers, with some support from MySewickley in Grades 4-5.
  • Short Term (weather and other short-term conditions)

    Virtual School goes into effect for all students in Grades 4 -12 after two consecutive canceled school days. Faculty members have prepared lessons and are ready to teach virtually 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. Virtual School 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 SA 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 Pre-K - Grade 3 
    • Students should engage in free play, leisure reading, and other healthy activities.
    For Students in Grades 4 and 5
    • After 9:00 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 teachers are 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 
    • After 9:00 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 times/dates. Look at the Announcements section on the Bulletin page and look at the Assignments page to find them.
    • The activities for each class are supposed to be completed in the same amount of time you would have been in class, so 70 minutes or less of dedicated, focused work for each class.
    • 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 teacher will post directions on how and where you should ask your questions.
    • If you are not able to get online today to check MySewickley and have tried everything you can, send your Division Head an email.
  • Long Term

    In the event that school must close and Virtual School is required for an extended period of time, Sewickley Academy has plans in place to ensure the continuity of learning for students in all grades.

    Communication Via Email 
    While school is taking place virtually, families and students should communicate with teachers and administrators via Sewickley email. 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 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 necessarily 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 meet our educational goals.

    Remaining Flexible and Adaptable
    Virtual School will require flexibility from students, parents, and faculty, and we know that some people will have questions and challenges that are unique to their particular situation. During a period of extended Virtual School, we expect to learn from our families what is working well and what needs our attention; we will make adjustments accordingly. 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 at a time that works for them. We can also record lessons that might occur synchronously if a student is unable to be present for a video conference. We will keep track of students who we notice have missed lessons and reach out to those students and their families if we see a pattern emerging so that we can problem-solve together.

    Support Services 
    Students and parents will be able to access support services during any period of closure by contacting the relevant specialist directly via email:
    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 portalhelp@sewickley.org or by leaving a voicemail at 412-741-2236. One of our Technology Department members will get back to you as soon as possible.

    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
    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 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion LaVern Burton at lburton@sewickley.org.
  • Lower School

    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. Something as simple as a Tic-Tac-Toe game turned into a graph of wins/losses/draws is one such simple idea. More ideas from our teachers will be shared and updated.

    Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning and Screen Time
    Students can expect to engage in synchronous learning and asynchronous learning while we are in session using distance learning methods.

    Teachers will be organizing one-on-one, small group, and/or whole group check-in sessions, and will communicate those opportunities to families on a class by class basis. The format of these moments (e.g. Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet) will depend on a child’s grade and classroom teacher, and will be completed live (i.e. synchronous). Teachers may also provide pre-recorded video/lessons that children 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 teacher to teacher and day to day.

    Throughout this period, we want to emphasize the importance of measuring and balancing screen time. When not in class sessions and when not using devices to complete an assignment, students 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 imaginative play, to read for pleasure, and, if possible, to exercise outside.

    The Role of Family Members
    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. Students and families should expect some digital or face-to-face check-ins, which depending on the age of your child, may require your assistance. Families will get further information from their child’s homeroom teacher regarding the timing of these check-ins.

    For Students in Pre-K and Kindergarten
    • Families should read with their children daily. Lower School librarian Sarah DeMicheli (sdemicheli@sewickley.org) will be available by email to make personal recommendations for family read-alouds. Make sure there is creative playtime as well.
    • Homeroom Teachers will email families one video lesson (5-7 min. max.) per day that provides direction on reading a book, posing questions, and other learning prompts.
    • Synchronous learning opportunities (one-on-one, small group, and/or whole group) will be arranged in developmentally appropriate ways on a class-by-class basis.
    For Students in Grade 1-3
    • At the beginning of each week, homeroom teachers will email a video to families to introduce and explain the learning approach and focus for the week.
    • Homeroom teachers will email the families of their students every day by 10:00 a.m., providing one literacy (reading/writing) task, one math task, and optional activities from Spanish, Art, Music, PE, Technology, and/or Library.
    • Homeroom teachers will explain how and when students should submit the work.
    • Students should engage in independent reading, shared reading, or be read to by a family member for approximately 30 minutes each day. Lower School librarian Sarah DeMicheli (sdemicheli@sewickley.org) will be available by email to make book recommendations for students looking for their next book.
    • Synchronous learning opportunities (one-on-one, small group, and/or whole group) will be arranged in developmentally appropriate ways on a class-by-class basis.
    For Student in Grades 4 and 5
    • At the beginning of each week, homeroom teachers will email a video to families to introduce and explain the learning approach and focus for the week.
    • Homeroom teachers will email the families of their students every day by 10:00 a.m., providing one literacy (reading/writing) task, one math task, and optional activities from specialist classes: Spanish, Art, Music, PE, Technology, and/or Library.
    • Homeroom teachers will explain how and when students should submit the work.
    • Students should engage in independent reading for no less than 30 minutes each day.
    • Lower School librarian Sarah DeMicheli (sdemicheli@sewickley.org) will be available by email to make book recommendations for students looking for their next read.
    • Synchronous learning opportunities (one-on-one, small group, and/or whole group) will be arranged in developmentally appropriate ways on a class-by-class basis.
    Special Classes
    • All Virtual School information from specialist classes will be routed through, and communicated by, the homeroom teacher directly to families.
    • Synchronous learning opportunities (one-on-one, small group, and/or whole group) may be arranged in developmentally appropriate ways on a class-by-class basis.
    Assigned Tasks vs. Optional Learning Opportunities
    The expectation is that in Grades 1-5, every student will receive one literacy task and one math task to be completed each day to be submitted via a method determined by the teacher. This is to ensure that, no matter what, our students are progressing with their reading, writing, and math.

    In addition, structured “Optional Learning Opportunities” continue to challenge our students and engage them in deeper learning experiences across a variety of disciplines while connecting our students to their teachers remotely. We believe strongly that these subjects are vital components of a well-rounded education, and want to encourage students to continue to engage in these subjects while in Virtual School.

    Assigned Tasks and Optional Learning Opportunities can all include recorded video or synchronous lessons. They can all involve turning something in for feedback from the teacher, lead to individual conferencing with students, challenge our students, and provide additional structure for our families.

    *All Lower School faculty will respond to emails from families in as timely a fashion as possible, taking no longer than 24 hours.
  • Middle and Senior Schools

    MySewickley will remain the primary vehicle for all communication, including announcements, assignment and basic expectations for teaching and learning. 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.

    The Role of the 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.

    • Students should expect daily assignments and timely feedback from their teachers.
    • Faculty will be sure that all assignments for students are posted in MySewickley by 8:30 a.m. each day of the PANTHERS cycle.
    • Division offices will send an email from Sewickley Academy to all students at 8:30 a.m. each school day that includes a schedule for the day, announcements, and a link to a Google Form check-in.
    • Students should read the email and complete the check-in form by 10:00 a.m. of each school day. The form provides students with the opportunity to let us know that they are present for the day of learning and indicate if they need support of any kind.
    • Between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:10 p.m., faculty will monitor email and other electronic tools (including Google Classroom) to keep track of student progress and be available for questions that emerge.
  • Assessment Practices in Virtual School

    During a lengthy extension 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 the strong, caring relationships with our students that are a necessary precondition to learning. A continued emphasis on the 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.

    To illustrate the kinds of changes that are possible, most recently during the COVID-19 outbreak, the following adaptations were made:

    Senior School:
    Beginning on April 6, 2020, the policy for grading in year-long courses will be:

    1. Faculty will notify students in an Official Note what their grade average is for all work completed prior to April 6.
    2. During Virtual School, students will continue to earn grades as they have during the school year, and these grades will become a part of their yearlong grade average. While learning in an online environment necessarily requires more emphasis on formative (or ungraded) assessment and timely feedback, our faculty are prepared to create summative (graded) assessments that will provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which they are meeting the learning goals and objectives of their respective courses.
    3. In acknowledgment of the unanticipated challenges of an extended Virtual School experience, at the close of the school year, students will receive their final cumulative grade or the grade reported on April 6, whichever is higher. The administration reserves the right, however, to review any substantial decline in a student’s grade average for the third trimester and require remediation work.
    Beginning on April 6, 2020, the policy for grading in third trimester-only courses will be:

    1. Grades will continue to be assigned to student work.
    2. Students in any elective third-trimester course may choose to drop the course by May 1 without penalty. We will remove the course from their transcript. Seniors should consult College Guidance before initiating any course drop.
    Middle School
    Students will receive a progress report, as previously scheduled, on April 23, 2020, with a current grade and progress toward new indicators of success in a virtual learning environment for each class.

    1. A note about grading: Students will receive third-trimester grades. For year-long courses, their final, yearend grade, will be an average of the first two trimesters or all three trimesters, whichever is higher for the student. Health/PE and Arts courses, taken in the third trimester, will earn grades as standardly calculated.

    Lower School
    1. Progress Reports in the Lower School will remain largely the same. In an effort to maintain the focus on relationship-building, feedback, and mastery of skills, and to acknowledge the drastic change in the learning environment for our students, letter grades will be omitted from the Trimester 3 progress reports for students in Grades 4 and 5.
    2. All students will continue to receive specific assessment results in various content and skills through the “N/A, Emerging, Developing, Secure, and Extending” learning continuum as implemented on past Progress Reports.

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