Virtual open house highlights perseverance with distance learning

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Robin Linares

Carlmont’s open house website provides an interactive experience for families to check out student work. Gay Buckland-Murray, the instructional vice principal, stressed the importance of the continuation of an open house, despite the abnormal circumstances. “Open House is a chance for students and families to ‘see’ teachers/classes that the student has been involved in all year [and say] ‘here’s the teacher/class that I’ve been talking about’. It’s a chance to look back in that sense to what has been happening this year,” Buckland-Murray said.

Carlmont’s open house goes virtual this year, with a website showcasing student work and course information. 

In past years, the open house has been a tool for families to see projects done in classes, meet teachers, and visit classrooms. It was also a way to view the workload for future courses that they might be interested in taking the following year. More notably, past open houses have taken place on campus.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an in-person open house would not be feasible, and some even wondered whether there should be an open house at all.

“There was talk of canceling the event outright,” said Gay Buckland-Murray, the instructional vice principal. “Some other schools in the district did not do an event of any sort. Carlmont felt that we should try and produce some opportunity to ‘visit’ classes.”

Ultimately, Carlmont decided to create a website where every department could include information about their course and show off the work students had done throughout the year. According to Buckland-Murray, other forums were considered, but a website seemed to be the most convenient.

“We considered various formats, including a bell schedule on [a] Zoom format like we used for Back to School Night in September, or a ‘waterfall’ schedule where different departments would be on Zoom at different times,” Buckland-Murray said. “We tried to create an interactive platform where families [and] students could access teachers/classes/programs on their own time schedule.”

When families visit the website, they are greeted with a message discussing the unusual setup for an open house this year and what they can expect to see as they look through the different departments. 

“Our students, families, teachers, and staff have had to change, [or] pivot, what they thought this year would be more than once. This year’s open house is no different … it can’t be what it usually is, so we’re presenting something different,” the website read. “Some programs are introducing themselves; other classes are showcasing student work. Some departments want to present what happened this year; others have chosen to focus on the future.”

Some teachers used slides and videos to display how students are learning this year. Ame Secrist, a Carlmont physical education and dance teacher, explained the process of showing her students work on the site and how her presentation has been affected from other years.

“Teachers were told that each department was going to make a slide deck … and then the slide deck would be presented out to the community,” Secrist said. “In class, kids were assigned to a dance,[then] I would record them, and then I just put one big video together, which is way easier for parents. And I could also send the video out afterward, so that’s what I’ve done for the last several years. It’s very similar to what I’ve done in the last several years, but it’s not shown in the dance studio [this year].”

Although showing off student work is a benefit for having an open house, there have been some challenges with coordinating the event. Ella Yee, a sophomore who had her work featured for her photography class, noted that this year’s open house could have limited reach due to lack of advertising and gave ideas on how to publicize it more. 

You guys have a lot of work to show. So I think it’s really important for teachers to prepare that work in small snapshots so parents can understand it [and] so they can see your accomplishments.”

— Ame Secrist, PE and Dance teacher

“I think having a digital open house will be good. However, I do not know how many people will actually attend [or] view it,” Yee said. “I’m not sure if teachers would be willing to do this, but sharing it through them [would be good] as that’s where most students will hear the announcement.”

Along with a lack of website promotion, Buckland-Murray explained the issues involved with recreating the same amount of enthusiasm in an online setting. However, there are still positives about this format as it can reach more people from other places.

“It is hard to convey the same energy that some classes/teachers/clubs have in a slide show or short video. It is not an ideal format. Some teachers are better at working with a video or slideshow format than others,” Buckland Murray said. “On the plus side, since we were tracking visits, we had a few international visits.”

Despite the challenges of learning in a pandemic, it is valuable to celebrate the perseverance made by teachers and students. Secrist highlighted this point and acknowledged the importance of parents seeing student achievements.

“[Students] work hard all year long,” Secrist said. “In any class, whether it’s dance or biotech or English, [they] have a lot of work to show. So I think it’s really important for teachers to prepare that work in small snapshots so parents can understand it [and] so they can see the accomplishments.”

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