On Wednesday, March 25, things changed rather significantly in the household of Michele and Steve Simpson.
Of course, life had already been altered earlier in the month as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Michele’s two sons, Jackson Peden and Mason Peden, were done with school in the traditional sense after Brentwood Academy had closed until further notice on March 11.
A malaise of sorts had begun to settle in as uncertainty ruled the days, but on March 25 — at 7:45 in the morning, to be exact — a certain structure came back. That’s when Jackson and Mason, a junior and a freshman, respectively, and all other students at Brentwood Academy returned to their studies through a distance-learning program the school had prepared and rolled out in a matter of days.
“There has been an exciting energy in the house this week,” Michele Simpson said a couple of days after the program had begun. “Getting back to the routine, being able to talk to their teachers and their classmates, it has really brought some much-needed normalcy to our life. They’ve both been excited."
“They jump right in, starting at 7:45 like they normally would. We’ve thoroughly been impressed by how the school has handled it, everything from the preparation, the communication, the rollout and the execution of the new distance learning.”
Brentwood Academy, a private Christian school founded in 1969, has an enrollment of around 700 students in grades 6-12 and class room sizes of no more than 20. It stands to reason, then, that pulling together an online learning approach for a relatively small school would be easier than it would be for, say, a behemoth such as Williamson County Schools.
Still, according to Jeff Bryant, Brentwood Academy’s dean of academics and a chemistry teacher, there was no template, no instruction book to follow. Administrators and teachers worked from scratch, so to speak.
“We’ve had some online teaching here and there, but by and large our teaching has been traditional,” said Bryant, a teacher at Brentwood Academy for 21 years and dean for the past three. “I have to say, I am pleased as the academic point person. I feel we’re off to a good start.
“I can’t say that it’s been perfect, but I feel that we have communicated pretty thoroughly with students and parents. I feel our teachers have been working very hard to learn new techniques and new skills very quickly, and have executed that very well.”
“We’ve received a good amount of positive feedback from parents and constructive suggestions that we’re re-revaluating. There has been a lot of creativity in how teachers are providing instruction and what kind of resources they’re providing for instruction. I think we’re off to a good start.”
In addition to academically, Brentwood Academy is making sure students are fulfilled spiritually and physically. The school is holding online chapel services and is sending out regular devotionals. Some of the coaches have created interactive videos to help students stay active and take some breaks from the rigors of stay-at-home orders.
“The school is trying to keep all the normal aspects that we normally do on a day-to-day or weekly basis,” Simpson said. “They’re really going above and beyond to see how we keep these going and how do we keep our community connected, even through an online environment.”