Jags Together Face the Future

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Jags Together Face the Future

This story originally appeared in the fall 2020 issue of The Jag magazine.


During a spring and summer of unparalleled historical significance, the Wellington community came together stronger, bolder, and more determined than ever to help shape those who will shape the world.

In March, when the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close their doors indefinitely, Wellington faculty and administrators quickly pivoted to a new innovative plan for teaching that opened the traditional classroom far beyond campus walls. A learning from home model was introduced with a renewed commitment to continue providing individualized attention for every student. Synchronous and asynchronous learning were complementary teaching techniques in which students spent a portion of their time together in a virtual classroom setting and also, in effort to be mindful of screen time, away from the computer for independent work.

Even while apart, in the first few months of COVID-19 imposed social isolation, Jags stayed connected in creative, meaningful ways, showing how deeply they cared for each other. Head of School Dr. Jeff Terwin, with the help of quaranteammate Duke the Jaguar, made special deliveries to students in need of essential learning supplies. Faculty made heartfelt videos about how much they missed their classes and also drove by students’ homes to give them a reassuring wave from the car window or throw a socially distant surprise party in the driveway. Sharla Starker P ’17 ’22, lower school teacher, guided 5-year- olds through meditation and breathing exercises while also hosting weekly parent support meetings. Jaime Bennati, upper school art teacher, created a huge sidewalk chalk mural to encourage seniors to “just keep swimming” when they sometimes felt disappointed or frustrated. Pete Collopy, sports performance coach, hosted workouts on Instagram, and Wellington alumna Ashley Koff ’91, a registered dietician, led a Facebook live chat about navigating health and wellness from home.

Jaguars also rallied for each other by raising $131,00 for the Jags Together Fund, ensuring no member of the community financially impacted by COVID-19 would have to make difficult decisions about their future at Wellington. Students offered their support, too, by sewing masks at home or organizing collections of surgical masks to be donated to medical professionals on the front lines fighting the coronavirus. Student council raised money for the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Fun, engaged learning didn’t end when summer began. To ensure all students were set up for success in the fall, Wellington provided small group tutoring and mini courses, both in person and virtual, in July and August to prepare every student for the upcoming new year.

The summer brought devastating loss with the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Their tragic stories ignited a social justice reckoning in Columbus and around the world, as issues of systemic racism and white supremacy were brought to the forefront of our national discourse with the Black Lives Matter movement. The Wellington community also faced hard truths in which some students shared personal experiences of disappointment and frustration while at school.

These courageous conversations about race in our community have led to a commitment to anti-racist work and a number of important changes, including broadening the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, a thorough review of curriculum in every grade to highlight the perspectives of historically marginalized voices, and greater outreach in support of voices that had been previously unheard.

After months of designing and redesigning back to campus plans for the fall, Wellington officially welcomed students to the 2020-2021 school year on Tuesday, September 8. Whether on campus or learning from home, students showed up with the same boundless excitement and curiosity that marks the start of every great adventure in learning. New health and safety protocols were introduced, asking everyone on campus to remember the 3 Ws (wear your mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance), but much of what makes Wellington so special had remained the same, like small classes and student- centered curriculum that leads to meaningful self-discovery.

From the very beginning of the return to campus planning, Wellington was committed to meeting the unique needs of every family by developing education models designed for optionality and flexibility. The installation of a Digital Presence Platform, or DPP, in classrooms provided students learning from home full access into their classes on campus by using a combination of large, flat panel TVs and webcams. The system allowed students connecting remotely to engage with their teachers and peers as if they were sitting in the room.

During The Leap, held on the first Monday of the school year, Terwin shared how proud he was to be a
part of this community and that the primary goal for this year is to take care of ourselves and each other. “There is a saying that rough seas make strong sailors,” he said. “What does that mean? It means we will all develop new strategies, we will work together as a team, and we will build resilience. We will ride these waves and get stronger because of it.”

Ingenuity and creativity have always been cornerstones of a Wellington education, with every student continually building confidence in their ability to tackle complexities in life. They are stronger than they think, never more so than when they have a community of educators and parents backing them up. Now, as our future-focused learning environment continues to evolve to meet the needs of students facing a world none of us could have imagined, Wellington’s tradition of innovation will lead the way.