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Educational innovation

Holland Hall’s commitment to in-person classes is paying off

Article by Kacie Brown

Photography by Chris McConnell

Originally published in Tulsa Lifestyle

At Holland Hall, Tulsa’s only PreK through Grade 12 independent Episcopal school, 90 percent of kids showed up for school on a brutally snowy day. 

The school offered students a choice between staying at home and going to school. The students’ choices reveal the power behind what Holland Hall's teachers and administrators have been up to throughout the pandemic. 

After a difficult end to the 2019-2020 school year, Holland Hall committed to in-person education. 

“Everybody was thrown into crazy town when COVID hit . . . but we all wanted to be back in person if at all possible this year,” upper School Teacher Phillipa Kelly recalls. “It’s just so much better than being virtual. You can engage in higher level conversations and discussions when you’re actually together.”

Holland Hall took extensive safety measures to make that happen. They secured their ventilation systems, spread desks six feet apart, required students and staff to wear masks, implemented block scheduling and even created outdoor classrooms. 

Holland Hall Student Molly Gilmartin, whose mother is immune-compromised, says she’s happy with the measures her school has taken against COVID. “Being back in the classroom was nerve-wracking for me, but I could not have been more at ease once school started back up,” Gilmartin says.

They didn’t let precautions obstruct learning

Because of the school's new block scheduling system and increased supervision, teachers spend more time in class with the same students. Middle school teacher Becca Parker says the safeguards created a silver lining. “It feels like a more intimate experience. We’re getting to know our students much better.” Her largest class has 13 students. 

Given longer class periods, teachers have adapted to make sure their students stay engaged. Kelly says teachers break up activities and come up with creative ways for students to work in groups while distanced. Holland Hall’s surrounding 162 acres has been used to create a dynamic learning environment. Parker takes her students on a walk outside during every class. 

Primary School Head Vanessa Jones acknowledges they’ve made curriculum adjustments to accommodate last spring’s unfinished learning, but have been able to recover much of any lost ground just by eliminating field trips and other events they couldn't have had during a pandemic anyway. “Students are learning at deep levels, and sometimes in different ways. Timing of units and methods of delivery may have changed, but the learning and growth is still 100 percent intact,” Middle School Head Jennifer White says. 

Holland Hall prioritizes emotional health, too

“Our administrators have done an amazing job encouraging us to recognize the benefits of self-care,” Parker says. “I can only imagine the things they're dealing with, but they’re so optimistic and encouraging.” 

Holland Hall operates its educational schedule on a six-day cycle. This year, they’ve decided not to assign homework on two of the six days to make sure students have time to relax with family. “It’s not to lower the expectations, but to be really reasonable given the circumstances,” Kelly says.

Traditions run through Holland Hall’s history and they’ve stood strong through the pandemic

Most years, you can find students gathered at the commons at 8 a.m. listening to announcements, celebrating birthdays and enjoying camaraderie. This year, they’re preserving the morning meeting tradition by streaming the meeting in small groups. 

Students haven’t had a boring social life, either. They’ve held food and clothing drives, pep rallies and outdoor movie nights. They even hosted a holiday party, complete with food and entertainment.

“Community is a big part of Holland Hall. Even with COVID, we’ve found ways to celebrate each other,” Kelly says. And the students think so too. “We hope to end out the school year better than ever with more events to bring our community closer in a time where physical togetherness looks different,” student Nayna Nambiar exclaims.

Visit HollandHall.org or call 918.236.5371 for more information.

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