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Subiaco students move out early to study from home

Catholic boarding school shifts to online learning for the rest of the semester

Published: March 30, 2020   
Adam Fleetwood, Subiaco Academy
Sophomore Jeffrey Isbell, of Orlando, packs up his dorm March 18 to move home after Subiaco Academy announced it would close for the semester, switching to online instruction.

On March 16, the 142 students at Subiaco Academy heard the bell ring one last time as classes switched to online instruction for the remainder of the school year given the threat of COVID-19.

The next day, most students at the Benedictine boys’ boarding school were picked up by parents or traveled back home.

Headmaster Dr. David Wright said the decision was made on Sunday, March 15. The original plan was to take off between spring break and Easter, reevaluating on April 15. Wright said if things do improve by April 15, they could reopen for the semester, with students returning with only essentials.

Graduation, scheduled for May 16, is not yet canceled, but the school might delay it if necessary.

“There’s just a greater propensity for sharing germs and things like that. So we were keeping our eyes on higher education,” Wright said, who worked in higher education for more than 30 years.

Because it’s a boarding school environment, it mimics a college campus, many of which have shut down and switched to online instruction.

“I think the realization hit me that number one, the greater chance of sharing it amongst our community would be when we got back from spring break with people traveling far and wide.”

The school has 13 international students, from Mexico, Curaçao, Vietnam, South Korea and Turkey who returned home. Two students from China cannot fly back until April 15.

“We have local families who are kind enough to step up and be host families for these young men until they fly home,” Wright said, staying with fellow students.

Subiaco Academy has given each student a Google Chromebook and twice a semester, they have online classes on Saturdays, to cover days without instruction during the semester, including a school-wide retreat. Wright said this made the transition to Alternative Method of Instruction (AMI) classes easier.

Teachers are recording lessons and providing live video with Zoom. Students in different time zones can watch a recording.

Father Cassian Elkins, OSB, who teaches English, oral communications, music, drama and religion, said teachers have had to adjust their curriculum to the “nuts and bolts” of a lesson so students do not have to focus just on a 45-minute lecture.

Teachers were in the classroom until March 20 and upon returning from spring break can work remotely.

Wright said in regard to a refund for room and board students who live on campus, the school is studying the issue.

On the final day of classes March 16, a school assembly was held, with Father Elkins leading a prayer for safe travels and spiritual protection from pestilence. 

“Sometimes you just can’t find the words because you remember how many experiences we remember from our high school days,” including prom and games that the students will miss, the priest said.

“It’s almost as if they’re in a daze. Quite a few of them the past days have been walking around like zombies not realizing this is it,” he said of students. “… My heart definitely goes out to them. If anything I hope this can be a learning experience of life doesn’t always go the way you want it and where can we find God working in the mess we have to deal with.”

While so far online instruction has run smoothly, Wright said leaving was emotional for both students and faculty. On March 17, while running with his dog at 7 a.m., he passed the upper classman dorm, hearing “Good morning Mr. Wright.”

“It’s two seniors who have been roommates since seventh grade, six years. I looked at their faces and you just saw the intense emotion in their eyes and they were welled up. It hit me really hard yesterday when I saw them. I asked them how they were doing and they were really struggling,” he said, adding of all Subiaco students, “That bond of brotherhood is extraordinary.”

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