The Corona virus has forced all of us to reinvent ourselves and in the schools, it was virtually overnight.

From one end of the Bay to another, bilingual classroom-based education shifted to e-learning in a few days. This affects more than 3000 students, from kindergarten to 12th grade who are part of the AEFE bilingual schools circuit in the peninsula.

The school closing was announced on Thursday, March 12th, and the following day students were briefed and trained to start e-learning which started on Tuesday, 17th. Those who had no screens at home were able to borrow some from school.

The different schools’ management saw the storm coming and had started to anticipate with their teams, but still …

Less than two weeks after this radical change in teaching method, things are happening in a very positive way for the three schools that we have joined remotely, of course.

Fabrice Urrizalqui, the principal of the college of the French American International School (FAIS) is satisfied and tells us “we had no big surprises, very few parents showed panic and we had positive feedback from students”. He nevertheless specifies that “e-learning requires a great deal of organization on the child side, and it is easier to build autonomy where it is already present”. In two words, it is easier with middle and high school students than with young pupils.

Same story from Emmanuel Texier, the head of school of the Lycée Français de San Francisco (LFSF): “We have been overwhelmed with very positive feedback”. He also confirmed that the organization for the youngest must be adapted “The division and the length of time when children work alone or with the teacher, will differ mainly depending on the age of the pupils. By consequence, for kindergarten we offer live sessions with the teachers four times a week, but also short videos recorded by the teachers. Added to this, we provide pedagogical support. It makes it possible to keep a service of quality to children while providing a flexible timetable which can be more easily adapted to the needs of families.”

The director of the Berkeley Bilingual School (EB), Mehdi Lazar is just as positive as his two colleagues for his students from 6th to 8th grades. He reinforces the message that there is a real difference between teaching to teens or younger kids.

And he gives us a little more into the details regarding cycle 1: “In kindergarten, they are young and it’s more complicated. They need “scaffolding” as we say in our jargon, and this requires that we mobilize the parents. From a dynamic to three, program-students-teachers, we must add the parents component; for example, children find it more difficult to manage tools independently.

By consequence, we publish the online program every day. Pupils get all together by Zoom at 8:45 am with the teacher, then they are separated into smaller groups. We therefore alternate synchronous times (teacher-children) and asynchronous moments when the child is on its own, but can find the support of short videos to help or deepen a topic. This is when the parents have a real role. After that, the pupils all come back together, in “class”. Obviously, we are aware that we have to balance time with and without a screen”.

“From grade 1 to 3, we have adapted the program by dedicating Wednesday to activities other than traditional learning. We grouped together music, recreational activities… It also gives breathing time to language teachers”.

For FAIS, distance education is the opportunity to put into practice a method that is still somewhat experimental; Fabrice Urrizalqui says “we started applying the flipped classroom process ten years ago now. This has enabled us to create best practices over all these years, and today we can apply them on a large scale”. The flipped classroom involves asking students to start by learning their lessons on their own, and to use the time with teachers to practice and apply exercises. This method is mainly used for middle school students.

Asked about this topic, Emmanuel Texier replied that “The programs remain the same but indeed the way of delivering the course or of bringing students to understand a new concept, will necessarily change with this specific environment. The teachers therefore worked in order to find new teaching tools adapted to this situation”.

And when we asked these three school leaders if it was difficult to find educational tools online, the answer was unanimous: the problem is not availability of good tools but selecting the solutions matching the class needs!

Although positive after this fast acceleration, schools are ready to adjust as needed by collecting feedback from parents and teachers. For example, FAIS tells us that “For the current period, our college students receive almost three hours per day of e-learning. We do not rule out reviewing our agendas and adding hours. We will see in a few weeks”.

The LFSF does not forget that teaching is a whole and that extra-curricular activities are a good complement to the academic program: “Based on a new online format, we will be delighted to resume extracurricular activities next week. It will allow students to continue benefiting from these different types of activities”.

EB and LFSF will even offer online camps for Spring break. EB has already planned a focus on STEM (Robotics, Minecraft…).

It is important to underline that the schools’ management sing the praises of the teachers who do a work of “remarkable” adaptation. But everyone understands that sustaining the current effort will be an ongoing challenge. The energy deployed to succeed in this flawless start will have to last until the beginning of May. It’s a marathon, not a speed race.

This “out of the ordinary” experience will have consequences for the future. Mehdi Lazar highlights that “we are learning so much right now about the marriage between face-to-face education and e-learning, that our professional practices will undoubtedly have evolved when we return to the “normal””.

We say bravo and thank you to our bilingual schools, both at the management and at the teachers for having reacted so quickly and with such positive energy. And kudos to children of all ages, who visibly show impressive adaptability.


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