Stoneleigh-Burnham, Academy at Charlemont opt for fully remote learning plans for fall

  • The Academy at Charlemont will start the school year with a fully remote learning model. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/19/2020 12:43:05 PM

Two local private schools, The Academy at Charlemont and Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield, have chosen fully remote learning models to start the school year, citing the health and safety of students, faculty and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic as a deciding factor.

The Academy at Charlemont

The Academy at Charlemont announced its decision Tuesday in a letter to the school community.

“Although we felt like we could be in-line with the best practices and health guidelines (in a hybrid or in-person model), in terms of prioritizing everybody’s safety, (remote) was the right move for our community,” said Nora Bates-Zale, associate head of school at The Academy at Charlemont.

Bates-Zale said the decision followed several weeks of meetings with school staff members, parents and administrators. Surveys were also sent out to gauge the opinions and concerns of the school community.

“The general sense is, this was the right move for our community at this time,” Bates-Zale said. The remote program is expected to last through the first semester.

The Academy at Charlemont shifted to a fully remote program in March after the school closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bates-Zale said the school’s fall remote program will include changes and improvements over the spring model.

“Teachers have been pursuing professional development over the summer … to continue the online program in a new and exciting way,” she said.

According to the letter sent Tuesday, in addition to remote instruction, co-curricular opportunities will be offered to students in small cohorts.

“We’ll be engaging our community to help us come up with these ideas,” Bates-Zale noted.

Some of the ideas that have already been proposed include hiking, using local trails for mountain biking, and potentially socially-distanced picnics, in which students would bring their own food.

Bates-Zale said the school is reaching out to families to determine what their needs are as students prepare for an online curriculum. In terms of internet connectivity, in particular, she said there is the potential for space to be made on campus for those families who need internet access.

“The world is increasingly moving in the way of digital instruction, and we’re wanting to position our students … for those opportunities to come,” Bates-Zale said.

Stoneleigh-Burnham School

In preparation for its fully remote curriculum, Stoneleigh-Burnham School shifted its online learning management system from Google Suite to a system called Canvas.

The shift aims to address access issues faced in the spring by international students, according to Maeve Ryan, marketing and communications manager at Stoneleigh-Burnham. International students make up about 30 percent of the student population.

In deciding on a remote start, Ryan said school administrators knew they could create a “robust” remote learning model for students in the fall.

“Our teachers went through extensive training … and adopted a new learning management system,” Ryan said. “Our program is really above and beyond.”

The program the teachers engaged in to learn about virtual instruction, called One Schoolhouse, also helped prepare them for a smoother transition from online to in-person instruction when it’s safe to bring students back to campus, according to a statement from the school.

In a video to the community, Shawn Durrett, assistant head of school for community and program at Stoneleigh-Burnham, said social-emotional learning will also be prioritized in the remote learning model.

“These connections will still be prioritized in distance teaching and learning, through office hours, synchronous class time and individualized support and feedback,” Durrett said.

Ryan noted that although the plan is to start remotely, no decision has been made in terms of the students’ second semester.

“We haven’t made a decision for the second half of the school year,” she said. “It’s so hard to know what’s going to happen.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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