San Marcos Academy (SMA) is renowned for its ability to make international students feel at home, and a pandemic wasn’t about to stop the School from doing what it does best. Just ask Manuel Kogoya, a boarding student from Indonesia.
Kogoya continued to feel safe, cared for, entertained, and academically stimulated even when COVID-19 restrictions meant he couldn’t return to his native Indonesia at the onset of the pandemic. Looking back, he wouldn’t have had it any other way; he is proud to call SMA his “second home”.
“We continued with our classes while still having fun,” he explains. “The dorm staff and teachers really care about the students and are especially interested in helping international students adjust when they arrive and also to be successful with their grades.”
Kogoya — along with many of his SMA peers — is scheduled to graduate in May, and is well equipped to take on the challenges of university and beyond. At a time where many schools are suffering a dip in academic performance, SMA proved to be more robust than ever.
Despite the global disruption brought upon by the onslaught of COVID-19, 2020 came with the highest enrollment numbers they had seen in years, with admissions inquiries flooding in daily. Many families were on the hunt for an education of a lifetime, and SMA had no intentions of denying them of it.
As closures and isolation plagued the US and beyond, here, a group of dedicated teachers, instructional technologists, and administrators were tasked to innovate a plan for asynchronous online delivery within a week. And innovate they did.
Located in the beautiful Texas hill country, SMA — a co-educational day and boarding school — became the first in their area to begin offering uninterrupted service to students just a week after spring break.
With each day of online learning, the School identified areas for improvement and swiftly addressed any areas of weakness. From lagging screens due to low connectivity to disengaged students who missed their peers due to remote learning, SMA tackled every issue that arose — within 24 hours.
Their two-pronged strategy also meant that a task force was working behind the scenes to put into place plans that would help to reopen the School as quickly as possible. “We had several physicians available for consultation along with the assembled team of parents, staff members, and nurses,” explains Bob Wiegand, Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer.
“We assigned numbers and percentages to our developed, four-stage Communicable Disease Action Plan. Specific protocols and procedures were set up for every contingency we could anticipate at that time, and we added others as the need arose throughout the year.”
Their efforts paid off. Testing data shows that students didn’t just survive during the pandemic — they thrived. Today, they continue to do so at the campus they know and love, but better. In accordance with public health planning guidance from the Texas Education Agency, SMA has implemented numerous practices to mitigate the likelihood of spreading COVID-19, or any other communicable disease, on campus. Cleaning and disinfecting suggestions published by the CDC have also been leveraged.
Students have benefited from these measures and so have their teachers. SMA Director of Campus Support, Matt McNeil — who has 21 years of experience with remote working — ensured all educators were taken care of just as well as their students. In the last few years, McNeil has taught them a variety of useful tips, from how to stay productive at home to maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
With the wellbeing of their educators in check and facilities up to scratch, the academic journeys of all students faced minimal disruption. This included their Upper School students who were able to continue preparing for college-level work within a rigorous curriculum. As a testament to their scholastic prowess, the Class of 2021 can now be found excelling at Baylor University, Cal Poly Pomona, New York University, Penn State University, Louisiana State University, the University of Texas at Dallas, and several other esteemed institutions.
“SMA has gone above and beyond to continue to provide classroom learning that successfully minimised academic gaps proven typical during the pandemic. Students maintained upward progress through the pandemic and continued to show above-average success in assessments and college entrance exams,” says Biology A&P faculty member Andria Hannum.
“The most important advantage to SMA is its continuous commitment to providing a family environment that fosters social-emotional support within the prevailing pursuit of providing rigorous academic opportunities to each student.”
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