Principal Horne describes BC’s blended learning model

By Noell Barnidge
Forward, always forward … despite a pandemic. That is the approach – specifically, a blended learning model – that Benedictine Military School will use to start the 2020-21 school year.

“Our decision is to start back in a blended learning model where half of our student body is on campus every day,” Benedictine Principal Mr. Jacob Horne said. “As one group learns in person, in our classrooms, the other is learning online.”

Registration Day is Aug. 3. There will be orientations for Cadets on Aug. 4 (seniors), Aug. 5 (freshmen), Aug. 6 (juniors), and Aug. 7 (sophomores).

“There is a calming nature of ‘we’ve done what we can do’ and we also accept that things on the ground can change as they have over the last six months,” Horne said. “And after consulting and collaborating with many very caring and knowledgeable people throughout the summer, we feel prepared to adapt to anything that’s thrown our way.”

The first day of blended learning is Aug. 10.

“This model provides the best of both worlds,” Horne said. “We sought a middle ground that respects and considers recommendations from the science and medical communities as well as our desire for in-person learning.”

BC will begin the 2020-21 school year with an enrollment of 406. Because of COVID-19, BC swiftly pivoted in March to an online learning model, which was used until graduation in May.

“With safety as our top priority, we outlined three possibilities to begin the (2020-21) school year,” Horne said. “First, and ultimately our goal, in-person instruction; second, our blended learning environment; and third, fully online learning.”

Why did BC choose a blended learning model to begin the 2020-21 school year?

“We recognize that every school has a decision to make based upon many variables and logistics that they must consider,” Horne said. “Elementary schools have different logistics, as do K-12 schools. Student-teacher ratios may make an impact on whether they come back in full or not. And we also recognize and understand that there are different goals, philosophies and missions at every school.”

Blended learning offers smaller classroom sizes, a necessity for safe social distancing.

“It’s our hope that in the blended learning model at Benedictine the average class size will be about 10 students,” Horne said. “What that’s going to do is enable us to safely distance our students in the classroom, in the cafeteria, and in the hallways. We are blessed to have an air filtration system that aggressively combats COVID-19 and other pathogens so that, in addition to wearing masks, handwashing and other protocols and policies, we are creating a very safe learning environment, which has to be of the utmost concern.”

Blended learning will enable Cadets to receive more individual attention from their teachers.

“It allows us to quickly address learning gaps,” Horne said. “A lot of research is being done on the need for schools to focus on social and emotional learning because young people need to be able to come together to share their experiences, and to come to grips with something that is so unprecedented. We believe that the classroom environment with smaller numbers is going to enable us to move forward more quickly and build relationships with our students.”

Blended learning also has other benefits.

“It enables us to facilitate the advancement of the syllabus,” Horne said. “It also allows us to test and evaluate our own plan. We have spent the entire summer putting plans, policies, and procedures on paper. Now is the time to execute, and doing so in a blended learning environment provides a safe way for any unforeseen circumstances or variables.”

How will blended learning look? BC will divide its student body into two groups: maroon and gray. Each grade will be divided in half, meaning every day BC will have approximately 200 students on campus. Cadets will alternate, depending on the week, whether they will be in class Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or Tuesday and Thursday. There will be in-person instruction every day.

“The teachers will be adapting their unit and lesson plans to accommodate blended instruction, which will feature both in-class and at-home learning,” Horne said. “For instance, if you and I are both in the same class, on Monday you are in the classroom while I am at home either reading ahead or doing a lesson that helps me prepare for the next day. We then alternate the next day.”

BC’s goal – like the rest of the world – is to return to normal, to get back to the way life was before COVID-19.

“Our goal is normal, in-person education for all of our Cadets,” Horne said. “But because of all the variables, we felt it was in the best interest of our entire community to start in a blended learning environment. We believe this will allow us to social distance and, hopefully, mitigate whatever spread we may or may not see within the community as schools go back. Ultimately, Benedictine is going to come out better. We’re going to come out stronger as an institution.”