One of Cardigan’s unofficial taglines is “We know middle school boys.” It’s backed by a program that is based on the latest brain research and scientific knowledge and the relationships faculty and staff commit to building with students every year. Research-based programming and relationships. It’s what makes Cardigan work, and even during a pandemic when some of our students have needed to take their classes online, these principles have remained true.
This fall, 31 Cardigan students started the school year learning remotely–29 in China and two in Thailand. They span all four grades, studying a variety of subjects at all levels. As Cardigan welcomed most students to campus, faculty and staff were also busy setting up optimal learning experiences online so that the boys who were stuck at home wouldn’t miss out. At the heart of the experiences they designed were the principles and structure of the campus Cardigan program, just in an online format.
For the sixth and seventh graders who were learning remotely this fall, many of their classes were combined, and while they would have received more guidance in this area if they were on campus, online they learned by doing. “My father always says online learning is all about setting up the right environment,” explained Bohan “Bobby” Jiang ’23, who was learning remotely from his home in Beijing, China. “I have to remind myself that no one is going to help me. I have to be the one to set my alarm and prepare for my classes. It’s hard, but right after class I make sure to finish my assignments. Otherwise I might forget.”
By eighth grade, students begin to develop self-awareness and self-advocacy skills, and as ninth graders they prepare for the transition to their next school, developing into independent, lifelong learners. Students work to understand how they learn best, based on current neurobiological research and how to apply it in their everyday lives.
“In ninth grade there’s less guidance and students are expected to be more independent,” explained ninth grader Zihan “Harrison” Huang ’21, who was learning from Nanjing, China. “And at first that was really confusing and hard, especially in science, where we are learning about the scientific method. But we all got on WeChat (a Chinese messaging and social media app) and eventually understood what our teacher was asking us to do.” Multiple heads are better than one and collaboration with peers is encouraged.
One advantage to having a specified group of teachers working with the same students was that collaboration and well-established lines of communication developed; the teachers knew the students and worked together to support each individual. “Because of the relationships, the boys get a more robust experience because they share a group of adults who form a web of support,” says Jarrod Caprow, Assistant Dean of Academic & PEAKS Department Chair. “The adults collaborate across different subjects and can talk about students they have in common. It’s all about building relationships with the boys so that each one is known. We know their strengths and challenges. We can anticipate where they might experience roadblocks and are ready to support them and give them the tools they need to carry on and problem solve.”
For the online learners, this has meant making sure they have all the tools they need and acting quickly when technology fails or assignments need clarification. Last spring, Cardigan used a schedule that covered students in more than a dozen time zones across the globe. If that schedule was used again this fall, for many of the students that would have meant going to school in the middle of the night. The School designed a separate learning experience for them. Classes meet synchronously from 7:30 pm to 10:40 pm (EST) to support a normalized school day for the boys. Certain classes also meet from 8:00 am to 10:00 am (EST), and office hours are available, designed to provide support for the boys as they work through their asynchronous assignments.
“The pleasure of being on campus hasn’t been diminished,” says Harrison who, despite the distance, is also the editor-in-chief of the weekly student newspaper Verbatim. “I do miss my roommate and my friends, but the teachers are doing a really good job adapting to the online format. The quality of my classes is still informative.”
Limin “Alan” Wei ’21 who is studying from his home in Beijing, China, agrees. “There are lots of email exchanges between peers here and there, as well as my advisor, my secondary school counselor, and other teachers. There are also daily communications between the remote learning cohort.”
In fact, in late September after several of the students took the SSATs, they were able to gather in person. “My family organized for five returning students (Jiachi “Sean” Wang ’21, Delin “Michael” Liu ’21, Binxiu “Sean” Qin ’22, Xuanzhe “Victor” Wang ’22, and me) and two new students (Zhiyuan “Nelson” Sun ’22 and Dexiang “John” Xu ’24) to have lunch together,” wrote Shijia “Mac” Wang ’21. “It is interesting to see them face to face. We introduced some of the new students to ideas about Cardigan Mountain, and they seemed glad to know more.”
The remote curriculum is designed to ensure that students will be able to easily transition to on-campus learning when the time comes later in the year. In the meantime, the Cardigan boys who are working remotely continue to develop and learn, thanks to the culture of collaborative support put in place through all those involved.