When the world was alerted of the first cases of COVID-19, few people would have predicted the current world-wide crisis, yet now we are living in it! Whilst navigating uncharted waters, many are encountering various emotional states of anxiety, depression and financial strain, and it was incumbent on the College to remain committed to mobilising platforms to ensure that quality education continued from the start of the Academic Term on 14 April.
In a very limited time period, the challenge was to mobilise our teaching staff to deliver a virtual experience across all learning areas. Ashton’s Head of IT and staff, as well as Head of Computer Applications Technology, trained, facilitated and assisted our staff, who confidently started Term Two on a completely different teaching platform at both the Ballito and Benoni campuses. This has been successfully instituted by our specialised autism unit, the Grace Wing, and grades 0000 through to our Matric students. As we have moved forward, the platforms have been tailored to become highly efficient. So far, students of all ages have been coping well and we have managed to continue with the curriculum.
“The Grace Wing, our autism unit, has daily Zoom classes and three sessions a week with their Speech and Occupational Therapists. The Ashlings are taught on Zoom and WhatsApp videos. Daily, between four and six videos are sent on WhatsApp, and Zoom classes are done with five students at any one time, three times a week. These include PE sessions and music rings. “The work our students have showcased daily has been wonderful, but we do miss these little people on our campus. All Assessment Centre Therapy was available at no cost to parents throughout May. The Occupational and Speech Therapists and remedial teachers have continued working with the students throughout the Junior College who require intervention on various platforms,” said Mrs Germare Buys.
The Foundation Phase, from Grade R through to Grade 3, uses various teaching platforms. Zoom lessons as well as online videos ensure effective and interactive teaching on a daily basis. “The responsiveness of our students has been extraordinary, and no academic time has been compromised,” said Mrs Sandy Erasmus, Head of the Foundation Phase.
MS Teams was very successfully implemented from Grades 4 to 7 in the Intersen Phase, and the academic programme has continued without a hitch. Core subject lesson content is uploaded, assignments and homework are marked religiously and feedback is given to the students. “Every aspect of school life has continued as normal, except in a virtual campus. Students start their day with ‘Quiet Time’, read their daily Bible verse and pray. They are then given the opportunity to make the most of the exercise time until 09:00 before starting lessons. Students enjoy their core subjects online and live lessons, but also have creative art, drama, music, IT and PE lessons!” said Ms Nikki Hamman, Intersen Phase Head
With the implementation of the MS Teams before the lockdown in the Senior College, the results have been phenomenal. Staff uploads their videos and other work on a week-in-advance basis, with 432 live lessons taught weekly. Our teachers have adapted their instruction for the online format, choosing content carefully and then building rich activities that keep students engaged while they’re working on their own. “Our students have engaged with the rich instructional materials by creating similarly rich products, for example digital stories, presentations and blogs. On every second Wednesday, teachers have a themed session with their whole register class, either paying tribute to frontline workers, for example “Socks for Docs” where students all wore funky socks to show their support for these workers, or they have a session focusing on motivation and the emotional wellbeing of each student,” said Mrs Jenny van Buuren, Senior College Head.
“Ashton is blessed with incredible parents who have been so willing to change their homes into virtual classrooms. It is a typical triangle of parent, teacher and student collaboration that has been tested at the highest level, and we congratulate them on ensuring that the education of their children has continued in these testing times,” said Mr Joe Erasmus, Managing Director. Throughout the lockdown, Ashton has made available to our families a cost-free service of our Wellness Team made up of three qualified psychologists, counselors and pastors.
In addition to keeping up with their school work virtually, the students at Ashton have still found time to help others. What started off as a small idea by Rouxle and Duncan Johnston has grown into an incredible story. On 3 May, God’s 7 Day Plan was launched in partnership with Grace Family Church. The aim was to feed 7 000 families in seven days. Teams took on the task of raising sufficient funds to enable them to carry out this mammoth task. The project was launched on Wednesday, 6 May at 8:00 and was due to end on Friday, 15 May at 8:00, but continues as long as there are people who need food during these tough times.
This has been a uniquely different term, but we look at our Ashton College Prayer that begins with the words: “Father God, this College was founded on faith in you…”
Words by Jeannie Habig