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Thanks to a Technologically-driven Strategic Plan, Students at the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur Thrive – Even During a Pandemic.

When a global pandemic led to state-mandated school closures in mid-March, the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, Villanova’s college preparatory girls’ school, moved seamlessly into a vibrant, virtual learning environment.

The foundation for this readiness traces back to 2014 when Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees and Administration committed to a robust digital environment as part of the Academy’s strategic plan. With each student and teacher immediately equipped with a MacBook Air, the Academy was on its way to achieving the prestigious “Apple Distinguished School” recognition by 2018.

We caught up with the Head of School, Dr. Judith A. Dwyer, who shares how the Academy is positioned to take on the challenges ahead.

Q: How did you stay ahead of the pandemic?

A:  Notre Dame is connected internationally through our Center for Global Leadership. With very active relationships with high quality all-girls’ schools in China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore as well as Canada, England, Peru and Argentina, we tracked the serious development and spread of Covid-19 from its earliest days. In addition, our attentiveness to directives from the Center for Disease Control and Pennsylvania’s Departments of Health and Education was critical.

Q: How did you make the transition to virtual so seamless?

A:  In 2014, the Notre Dame community created a bold and forward-looking strategic plan, “Our Time to Inspire,” that addressed “best practice” in the use of technology to create sophisticated learning environments. We have an excellent faculty and our teachers embraced a rigorous professional development program concerning these issues. Financial resources were also allocated to redesign teaching space and upgrade all administrative and academic systems.

Q: Aside from MacBook Airs, what technologies did the Academy use?

A: In the all-virtual teaching/learning environment, we used many features such as Google Meet, Google Suite, Kahoot!, and Edpuzzle to facilitate discussions and redesign feedback. Teachers employed video software with applications such as QuickTime and embedded the weekly schedule with opportunities for students to meet individually with teachers and to enjoy curricular activities such as clubs.

Q: Beyond students wearing their ND shirts, how did you create a sense of normalcy?

A: In addition to requiring students to dress in their Notre Dame uniform for their virtual classes, the Academy opened the school day with daily prayer, just as we would do on campus every morning. On Wednesday, we held our weekly community prayer that focused on a particular theme, such as service. Clubs and athletic teams held virtual meetings. Our Counseling Center also provided helpful tips concerning exercise, nutrition and stress and time management.

Q: How were lessons structured?

A:  As subject matter experts, our talented faculty structured class to fit the specific discipline and the academic needs of the students. Both synchronous and asynchronous segments were offered. The quality of our student-centered environment and project-based learning continued throughout the spring.

Q: What about student wellbeing?

A: At Notre Dame, we always consider the whole student—the intellectual, spiritual, social, emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of each student. Teaching and learning in the middle of a global pandemic calls for strength, resilience and great faith. Throughout the spring, we sought to empower our students in a comprehensive way, as they navigated this extraordinary moment in time.

Q: How did seniors handle the college process?

A: We are proud of the fact that 100% of our graduates always successfully transition to respected universities. To achieve this goal, our college counselors start the college exploration and application process well in advance of the senior year.  By mid-March, our seniors are in the final stages of making their university selections and enrolling for their freshman year of undergraduate work.

Q: What are Notre Dame’s plans for the 2020 fall semester?

A: The Academy published its Reopening Plan in July, after many months of research and efforts to create physical space that mitigates risks and enables all our students to return for in-person classes on campus, starting on September 8. Approved by the Board of Trustees, this plan complies with federal and state guidelines and requires masks at all times, social distancing, frequent washing of hands, one-way corridor traffic, the use of plexiglass and many other safety precautions. We count on our students to be responsible by using the Daily Check health assessment app each morning before arriving at campus.  We trust them to live our Honor Code and demonstrate the care for one another that is the hallmark of the Notre Dame sisterhood.

Since 1856, the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur has educated, empowered, and inspired young women for a lifetime of compassionate leadership and service to others. The Academy offers girls in grades 6 through 12 a challenging academic curriculum within a rich spiritual community. For more information, visit their website here

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