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Students at Ridgefield Academy and Landmark Preschool are looking forward to joining their classmates and teachers for the start of another school year next week. Enrolled families have the option of sending their children to the school for on-campus, 5-day-a-week, in-person instruction or their child can attend the same class remotely through the school’s innovative Parallel Remote Learning platform. Classes for all students begin on September 1.

In March, like most other schools around the nation, Ridgefield Academy moved to what administrators have referred to as “crisis remote learning.” Since that time, Basil Kolani, Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, and school administrators explored ways to improve the delivery of remote instruction so that it could better replicate the in-class experience for students. “Students who attend Ridgefield Academy and Landmark Preschool expect a personalized experience in the classroom,” states Kolani. “Parallel Remote Learning, which uses high-definition cameras, microphones, and screens in the classrooms, allows us to provide a more personalized experience and fully reach students regardless of where they are learning. Our remote students will have opportunities to connect with their teachers and classmates in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Over the summer, Ridgefield Academy and Landmark Preschool invested in the technology to offer any teacher in the preschool through grade 8 institution the ability to project a live feed of the classroom to students who are working remotely and have remote learners join and interact with the in-person class via a 55-inch monitor. Remote learners can ask questions of the teacher, make presentations, and engage with their teacher and classmates similarly to the way this would happen naturally if the student were physically present. “One of the best aspects of Parallel Remote Learning is that it offers a much more engaging experience, which is important in keeping a child’s interest when working remotely,” comments Kolani. “It allows our students to continue learning if they need to remain at home for any period of time.” Another added feature of this multi-modal approach? Lessons can be recorded and posted for all to reflect on.

During the summer, Ridgefield Academy and Landmark Preschool faculty worked with Kolani and the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning to master the new technology and create lessons for this new style of teaching. “Students will benefit from these newly designed experiences that our faculty have been creating all summer,” says Kolani. For remote learners, the day will feel very much like it would in person. ​Parallel remote students will be following the same schedule of classes as their on-campus classmates, with natural screen breaks occurring when on-campus students transition between classes.​ Labs and collaborative group projects can be conducted in live time with students engaging in group work that mixes in-person and remote students, breakout discussions that smaller groups of students can have, as well as sharing individual work that all students will complete whether they are on campus or at home. “Our teachers will be teaching both on-campus and remote students at the same time, helping ensure that our students know that they are part of the same close-knit community wherever they are.”

Once the important curriculum work was complete, the faculty tested the equipment and demonstrated it for parents during an online community forum. Initial feedback from parents is positive, and they are grateful for the choice of in-person or remote learning this fall.

While we know we could never replace the educational experience students have when they are on campus at Ridgefield Academy and Landmark Preschool; parallel remote learning provides parents flexibility to choose remote learning and the confidence that their children will not miss important educational milestones. And at a time when there is so much uncertainty, parents can certainly find comfort in that.