For over a year now, people have been struggling with the effects of the Corona pandemic. Providing education has also become more difficult. However, boarding schools and private schools have come through the crisis relatively well so far. Agile and flexible, they have quickly adapted to the new challenges and constantly changing regulations.
and constantly changing regulations. We asked some private schools and boarding schools in Bavaria about their experiences and strategies.
Landheim Ammersee: No lesson missed
Lockdown, relaxation and lockdown again – for many schools, this means constant back and forth between face-to-face, hybrid and online teaching. Having to switch constantly is a nuisance, says Rüdiger Häusler, director of the Landheim Ammersee boarding school in Schondorf. But on the whole, this was less of a problem for us because we had made two fundamental decisions from the very beginning: No lesson should be missed in any subject, and the students need a clear structure.” The structure, in this case, was the school’s current schedule. It was adhered to ironcladly. “Because of this maxim, it was clear from the start that we only had to switch back and forth technically, but not in terms of content and curriculum, i.e., regarding the curriculum,” Häusler says.
When the school closed for the first time in the spring, the Landheim Ammersee reacted immediately. Microsoft Teams was set up as the online platform. “The only unpleasant experiences we had were related to the hybrid issue,” Häusler says. This refers to the combination of face-to-face and online teaching. “We quickly realized that hybrid is a nice word, but ultimately doesn’t do justice to the situation,” says the foundation’s director. For that reason, he said, we then tried to successively teach either online or face-to-face. “We have done very well with this clarity.”
In the meantime, the boarding school is well prepared for all eventualities. “In this respect, we are now also very calm on the subject. Regardless of which incidences occur, the switch is then flipped from left to right or from right to left,” clarifies Häusler. The country home also benefits from its small classes. “We are fortunate in that respect and are therefore hardly affected by alternating classes,” says Häusler. In order to be able to offer face-to-face classes for everyone, the school premises have also been refurbished accordingly. “We have created a completely new room utilization plan, including all capacities – including the lecture hall and auditorium, for example.
Some of the Landheim students were unable to go home to their families for a whole year because of the pandemic. Special additional services were created for them during the vacations. “In the area of boarding school care, we want to offer maximum reliability to the students’ parents,” Häusler explains. “We want them to know that we care that children are well taken care of during the crisis, even during vacation times.”
It’s also quite important at Landheim Ammersee that it’s just not all about the lessons there. “Why do children and young people go to school is a question that has to be asked again and again,” says Häusler. It’s not just about acquiring academic knowledge, he says, but about social learning and the experience of community. He doesn’t just mean the positive. “After all, you grow from the challenges of being young and growing up.” In any case, the boarding school was able to play to its strengths in that regard as well: By further enabling social learning.
The difficulties of the past year were overcome at Landheim Ammersee primarily “with humor, confidence and creativity,” Häusler said. Where opportunities were lost, new spaces were created. Spaces that were filled “with new highlights, with new stories, with exactly what the students were missing.” For example, he said, the young people did a lot more sports during the crisis than before. An ice rink had been built on the grounds, he said. A special surprise was a kebab truck that the boarding school management had organized. This was a welcome change for the students. In addition, activities such as cooking together, sewing and handicrafts had experienced a renaissance. “With us, all this is possible in a quiet, almost family atmosphere,” says Häusler.
Domspatzengymnasium: Changeover quickly accomplished
The challenges associated with the Corona pandemic were also handled well at the high school of the world-famous boys’ choir Regensburger Domspatzen. “We also try to strike a balance between demand and relaxation online. Here we work hand in hand with our colleagues from the boarding school,” explains Christine Lohse, principal of the Domspatzengymnasium. It’s not just about cramming, but also about providing the necessary atmosphere for the students – “as best as we can online,” says Lohse. “As a relatively small and familiar school, we were able to make the switch to digital formats quickly,” also reports Marcus Weigl, spokesman for the Domspatzen.
“This field was also new to us, of course, but we learned quickly from the initial lockdown,” says Weigl. “All of our teachers have received appropriate training. We are well equipped digitally and quickly settled on a single, reliable technology.” Singing is part of the Domspatzen’s profile, he says. It is clear that the technology must also take this into account. It was also important to involve the parents. “We received a lot of valuable advice from them. The feedback from the last few months proves us right. They are very positive,” says Weigl. The children are busy every day and have a clear daily structure. But the truth is that this situation is also stressful, precisely because there is a lack of personal contact and social exchange.
“We try to be approachable for our students on several channels as often as possible and necessary,” the spokesperson describes. At the comparatively small and familiar school, everyone knows everyone by name. There’s also something else: “Through the joint choir performances, our boys grow together across classes. They know about each other.” The “social cement” is therefore particularly strong at the Domspatzen high school. Social exchange is highly valued, he said, and continues to be cultivated even in these times. “Especially in the case of distance or alternating
We benefit from the structure of the boarding school,” explains Weigl. After school, the educational specialists from the boarding school regularly await the students with their creative offerings, including online: From fitness participatory programs to shared tea time and cooking to individual homework support, he says, everything is included. “In this way, the students stay in contact, and the parents are relieved at the same time, as they know their children are meaningfully occupied and further supported,” says the spokesperson.
Contact and exchange take place at meals and during free time. In addition, there are generous outdoor sports facilities for the Domspatzen and also their own swimming pool. “Of course, all of this takes place under clearly defined Corona rules, always in consultation with the health authorities. So ultimately, we have a protected school and living situation in which parents know their children are in safe hands,” says Weigl, adding, “The boarding children practically live at the school and don’t need to use public transportation.” Another plus point: “Thanks to our partnership with the renowned St. Hedwig Children’s Hospital of the Brothers of Mercy in Regensburg, the boys will soon be tested daily for corona using PCR tests. “Protective measures and hygiene concepts have been tested and established.
Music in the form of voice training, instrumental lessons and choir practice – all online – is added to the afternoon program. Music and choir are medicine for the soul. “But it also remains to be said: Singing together in a choir is not feasible online and cannot be replaced by anything,” Weigl emphasizes.
Schäftlarn Monastery Grammar School and Boarding School
Special strategies were also worked out at the grammar school and boarding school Kloster Schäftlarn. “Already at the beginning of the school year 20/21, the grammar school had prepared ready-made lesson and work plans for all expected cases, discussed them and filled them with appropriate content,” explains boarding school director Caspar van Laak. Mebis accesses had been created for all staff and students at an early stage, and staff members had been prepared and trained. This meant that everyone, including parents, already knew how to proceed in the various forms of instruction. However, the top priority has always been to keep the children and young people in the classroom for as long as possible. “To this end, the large spatial and personnel resources available at the grammar school and boarding school Kloster Schäftlarn were exhausted,” says van Laak.
It went on without a hitch: “With the start of online lessons, it was possible to seamlessly continue in the grammar school with the academic content that had been worked on in presence until Christmas,” says the boarding school director. Due to the all-day model with the corresponding class teams of subject teachers and pedagogical staff in afternoon supervision, not only were the subjects taught in online lessons, but homework was also supervised, additional practice was given and the students were supported with numerous didactic measures.
Social aspects are also important at Schäftlarn: “The class teams, consisting of subject teachers and pedagogical staff from the afternoon care, are also in constant exchange during online lessons in order to compile observations and statements from and about the students and thus obtain a clear picture of the emotional state of each individual child or young person,” explains van Laak. The after-school care staff in particular, he says, are not only present to provide homework support and help with schoolwork, but also offer extra video conferences in which individual students with their worries and problems are looked after, or in which groups play, gossip and laugh. Likewise, the exchange with parents is specifically sought, feedback to them takes place regularly. “The school psychologist basically takes part in the staff video conferences, and is always available to all staff, parents, students and pupils for advice and help,” says van Laak.
Bavarian International School – a social place
The Bavarian International School (BIS), which includes a campus in Haimhausen and a campus in Munich-Schwabing, also has the situation well in hand. “Like a light switch, we are now used to being able to switch from one scenario to the other without any problems. Thanks to the technological edge and very digital-savvy teachers, we’ve been able to offer smooth, tailored and balanced distance and hybrid instruction from day one,” describes Dr. Chrissie Sorenson, school director and board member of Bavarian International School. “But of course, like any other school, we eagerly await welcoming all students back to campus – school is a social place of face-to-face interaction.”
Whether real or virtual, everyone at BIS tries to make as much social interaction happen as possible. “For example, we work with ‘class buddies,’ encourage sports and exercise, set intentional times without computers, organize small fun events like a slumber party or a School Spirit Day, and offer so-called break-out rooms when classes are virtual,” Sorenson lists.
All in all, he says, Bavarian International School offers a professional network that is unparalleled in the region: “We have mentors for each grade level, guidance and support teachers, specialists for psychological counseling and, last but not least, nurses at each campus. This enables us to address the issues of each individual child in a very personalized way.