We are excited to announce that we have adjusted our class schedule in order to make the best use of time during the 2020-2021 school year, allowing students deep and meaningful learning, the opportunity to earn more credits, and the convenience of being able to select in-person or virtual learning by term.
We are implementing a block schedule divided into three terms. Each student will take two 3-credit courses each term, totaling six classes (18 credits) in a year.
Additionally, each student will take a 1-credit course during the Mercersburg Intensive, between the fall and winter terms.
Students can designate by term whether they’d like to learn remotely or on-campus. This gives each family maximum flexibility to customize the student experience this year based on preference, travel restrictions, health considerations, comfort level, and finances.
These changes allow students to engage in deep, meaningful learning in classes designed for the experience they have chosen for that term, whether online or in-person.
Each student can take a sixth course in a manageable schedule that doesn’t leave them feeling overloaded. This reimagining of time will result in a more robust academic transcript. Whereas in a typical year, students can earn 15-18 credits, this year students will earn 19.
Students may be able to accelerate their learning. For example, a student could take two courses in their math or language progression in the same year (Spanish II and Spanish III or Geometry and Algebra II). Students could potentially add an elective of interest (history term classes or a series of arts electives). They may be able to finish graduation requirements sooner in a particular discipline. (For example, students may opt to take both chemistry and physics.)
Each term will have nine weeks of uninterrupted instructional days, which is equivalent to what we have delivered in previous years.
The Mercersburg Intensive will add another credit to each student’s transcript. We are also considering another intensive after the winter or spring term, adding opportunities for learning and credit. We will make this decision as we monitor the situation with COVID-19 and consider the best way to maximize learning virtually and on campus.
Beyond the Classroom
During the time that students were initially quarantined in their own rooms after their arrival on campus, the Office of Student Life provided a schedule that offered extensive programming for all students, balanced with time for students to relax and become comfortable in their rooms. This schedule included virtual student activities, safety protocol training, dorm and wing meetings, advisory meetings, and class meetings. Students are encouraged to contact their adviser with any questions.
Students new to Mercersburg Academy participated in virtual Inbound sessions. Inbound is Mercersburg's new student orientation. While usually conducted in-person, virtual sessions helped orient new students to life at Mercersburg, while introducing them to student leaders and other new students. In addition to these virtual sessions, additional sessions took place following the on-campus quarantine to help our new students connect in person. Along with Inbound, the Peer Group and Mentor Leader program met with new junior (ninth grade) and lower middler (10th grade) students during the on-campus quarantine. These sessions were designed to strengthen relationships among students across grades.
During the quarantine, meals were delivered directly to students’ dorm rooms.
As we’ve designed the online option—otherwise known as Virtual ’Burg—we have been especially mindful of two principles:
- We must provide an equitable, dynamic experience for all online students by ensuring that they have everything they need for success, including daily meetings with teachers that are set at reasonable times.
- It’s essential that we serve students well without placing unreasonable expectations on our faculty, because the better rested and prepared our teachers are, the more equitable and dynamic the teaching and learning will be.
How Will Students Access What They Need?
This summer, we adopted a new learning management system (LMS) called Canvas. The LMS is among its industry leaders, serving students from kindergarten to doctoral programs. With this system, students online will have easy access to all assignments, supplementary texts, and announcements from their teachers. In addition, Canvas has made submitting work very simple, whether a student uploads a file from their computer’s desktop or their Google Drive, or creates their work in the LMS. In addition, Canvas, if needed, can be used via robust iOS and Android apps.
When Will Students Learn?
Weeks of thought and implementation have gone into creating an equitable online schedule. Below you’ll see the standard version, which will serve the timing needs of the majority of our online students.
Most students at Mercersburg are taking two classes this fall. In Virtual ’Burg, each class is scheduled into Rotation 1, 2, or 3. Each of the three rotations is scheduled twice a day. But if online students have a class scheduled during Rotation 3, they don't have to attend both Rotation 3 sessions. They will choose just one session.
Therefore, students in time zones that are several hours ahead of Eastern Time (in the U.S.) can attend the earlier of the two options. Students in other time zones can also choose which of the two class meetings works best for them. Whichever rotation a student chooses, their attendance will be expected each class day.
Although each student will only attend one-hour of synchronous class time for each of their classes each day, they can expect up to 45-60 minutes of asynchronous classwork, and an additional 45-60 minutes of homework for each class.
There are students in special circumstances that require them to attend classes that meet during Mercersburg’s regular, in-person schedule. We’re calling these classes “blended classes.” If a student is in a blended class, we will communicate to them and their families about effective ways to keep all students significantly engaged and well taken care of.
What about Mercersburg Outside of the Classroom?
There are teams of faculty working together to create virtual but vital school life and extracurricular programs. Updates about those programs are coming soon.
What is Mercersburg Intensive?
The idea of an intensive course being offered during a time when we planned to go virtual is an exciting one, giving Mercersburg faculty the opportunity to develop relevant, fresh courses for the weeks between the Thanksgiving and winter breaks. All teaching faculty will teach, facilitate, or advise a Mercersburg Intensive course, with the option of leading the course alone or with other members of the faculty and staff. This summer, all faculty have been asked to engage in meaningful professional development related to virtual-learning environments. These new courses give our teachers the opportunity to develop courses specifically designed to be delivered with a virtual component. With everyone participating, we anticipate that 3-6 students will be enrolled in each course, which gives us a chance to work in-depth with a small group of students. The Mercersburg Intensive provides a great opportunity to create courses that fit with the theme of the 2020-2021 school year—“Making a Difference.” Intensives will be offered that give students the opportunity to explore an area of interest to them within a specific topic or theme, like a mini-Springboard or MAPS capstone course.