Teaching at R-MA During COVID-19: A Conversation with Stephanie Wagner

Stephanie Wagner teaches computer science and robotics to students in both Middle School and Upper School at Randolph-Macon Academy. Since classes at R-MA resumed earlier this semester, a variety of guidelines have been put in place to keep all school community members safe. As such, Wagner has found her experience teaching in-class to be a balancing act between following new guidelines and restoring relative normalcy, all while teaching in ways that are engaging, interactive, and student-centered.

Although adjusting to social distancing and new safety measures isn’t easy, Wagner believes this experience will be a source of strength for the R-MA community, and that everyone will get through it together. Here’s a look at her experience teaching thus far during the Fall 2020 semester.

How Stephanie Wagner Is Helping Our Private Boarding School Return to Normalcy

Randolph-Macon Academy has reopened its doors to students amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This means multiple safety measures have been implemented to mitigate the potential spread of the novel coronavirus on campus. These measures include daily screenings, physical distancing (staying a minimum of six feet apart at all times), frequent hand-washing, masks/face coverings, and staff thoroughly disinfecting rooms. Both students and faculty also tracked their temperatures in the week prior to classes resuming. Although travel restrictions have caused some students to continue doing their classes remotely, most students have returned to campus.

Students must wear masks/face coverings at all times on-campus

This change in routine has meant that teachers like Stephanie Wagner needed to flex their creative muscles and think outside the box to help give students the best possible in-class experience under the new circumstances. She and other R-MA faculty are aiming to provide the most normal year on-campus they can possibly give to students. “Normalcy is so important,” she says. “The faculty are dedicated to strict adherence to protocols so that we can have as close to a normal school year as possible. We know that it’s important for learning, but also for the emotional and mental health of young people during the pandemic.”

Why R-MA Is Returning to In-Person Classes, and Why Stephanie Wagner Thinks It’s Important

As students at our private boarding school return to classes, there are several new guidelines in place for how each class is carried out. Students are expected to wear masks at all times during class, as well as wash their hands frequently, stay six feet apart from each other, and avoid shaking hands. All have been working hard to adapt to these new challenges. Stephanie Wagner notes that both students and faculty have “embraced” the new normal, and that teachers have been “quite creative” in coming up with different ways to incorporate the new guidelines.

“Children need structure, communication, collaborative groups, and the social dynamics of in-person school,” she says. “When school was 100% virtual, it was hard to provide them with social interactions virtually with peer groups. Learning is social and being in person is key to that. Even though we can’t sit close together in pairs or small groups to work and collaborate, we can still share our ideas, feed off of each other’s ideas, and learn deeper than if we were on Zoom. There is just no replacement for in class learning.”

How R-MA Students Have Been Handling the New Normal

This year has been a challenging one for students as they adjust to the pandemic. Stephanie Wagner admits that “It’s not fun to be a teenager and have to stay 6’ apart from your friends and wear a mask all day long”. However, she adds that “they are handling these protocols very well and are following them with little to no complaints.” She also praises everyone at our coed private school for abiding by the guidelines during the school’s new normal.

“Everyone is wearing masks, doing their best to stay six feet apart as much as possible, and are accepting of the new expectations and procedures that have been put in place to keep us all safe. We are all pulling in the same direction,” she says. She adds that the school has been regularly communicating with students and families on updates regarding safety protocols. This includes holding town halls for families and faculty to discuss any questions and concerns.

Stephanie says all students are complying with new guidelines during the pandemic

The Positive Outcomes for Students

Even with the challenges that the pandemic has brought, Stephanie Wagner believes that this experience has a silver lining. “As we maneuver through this period in time, we will all draw strength and new ways of getting through this together,” says Wagner, “I believe there are several positive things coming from the pandemic that will change how everyone views education. One such thing is the ability to always offer a class to a student regardless of circumstances.”

“We hadn’t thought about that option before, even though it isn’t new technology. But from this point on it will be used to ensure all children have an opportunity to attend class,” she says. “We know if they are present, then learning can take place, and students won’t be exposed to the stress of playing catch-up because they were unable to attend school in-person. School is challenging right now, but we will press forward and find solutions that work in the best interest of the success of our students.”

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