Making the Most of Remote Learning

When National Cathedral School initiated remote learning following spring break, the aim was to keep students, parents, faculty, and staff connected to and learning from one another in spite of the limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing.
Faculty and students alike responded to these dramatic changes in true Eagle fashion: They rose to the challenge.
Teachers pivoted quickly to preparing schoolwork that could be done at home to advance learning and to leading class sessions by video-conference. Students and alumnae have also stepped forward in various ways.
"I have been surprised by how well our students have transitioned to remote learning. In fact, the students are actively exploring new ways of approaching schoolwork and new opportunities," said social sciences teacher Mary DiQuinzio.
DiQuinzio had planned to wrap up a 10th-grade World Geography unit on Latin America by assigning and discussing news articles on the pandemic's effect in the region. After posting the materials online, DiQuinzio heard from a student. Sofia '22 said her aunt worked with Peru's Health Ministry and was on the front lines of the country's response; would Dr. DiQuinzio like a guest speaker for the class?
"Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, and our guest speaker joined us via Zoom from Peru to talk about the efforts and challenges Peru is facing in keeping their population safe," DiQuinzio said. "It is very teacherly behavior to find teaching moments everywhere, and this is a perfect example. Both the pandemic and our ability to hear about it from someone thousands of miles away exemplify the realities and processes of a globalized world, a major theme in the World Geography curriculum."
Likewise, the science department explored the impact of coronavirus with a guest speaker: Virginia Bell '09, a nurse in the intensive care unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Deborah Virtue's anatomy class had been exploring coronavirus topics such as immunity and respiratory systems, and Bell shared her perspective of the pandemic as a first responder, including her observations about supply-chain issues and trial medicines.
In Middle School, work continued what had begun in the classroom. Seventh graders have been exploring Shakespeare's sonnets to prepare to study A Midsummer Night's Dream, researching aspects of medieval life, continuing math work on radicals, learning about digestion, and conducting virtual tours of the Cathedral. Eighth graders have been discussing groundwater, learning about their own political ideologies, and writing essays about what they're doing in this moment.
The athletics and physical education department also moved lessons online, posting daily workout videos and activities along with hosting synchronous exercise classes and check-in sessions for students. In the Lower School, points are awarded to the Purple or Gold teams for every workout a student completes, to encourage participation, and for sports like Voyageur and lacrosse, coaches are sharing tips and techniques in addition to hosting online practices.
"The department, along with the entire NCS community, is being really innovative," said Director of Athletics Heather Dent.
The Washington National Cathedral has moved to online Sunday services while the building is closed. While the NCS students who sing in the Cathedral choir cannot be physically together, that hasn't kept them from making beautiful music together. The Washington National Cathedral recently recorded a video of the choristers singing "Risen Lord" together
Along the way, faculty and staff are doing what they can to provide moments of levity in these uncertain times.
Social sciences teacher David Sahr donned a Captain America outfit to deliver Middle School morning announcements, and Lower School teachers are posting daily videos for students about hobbies or activities they've taken up at home. So far, math teacher Michelle Doak showed her dog doing tricks, librarian Lori Steel baked cinnamon rolls, and science teacher Tori Frezza conducted an experiment for students. In the Upper School, Friday afternoons are reserved for community-based video-conferences to wrap up the week. The goal is just enjoying each other's company, and students have taken the chance to show off their pets or ask teachers questions about themselves.
An online Spirit Day inspired scores of students, faculty, and staff to dress up in the school colors of purple and gold. And student leaders are keeping their classmates informed, engaged, and connected to one another. We are proud to see Eagles embodying our core values of excellence, service, courage, and conscience at such an important time.
Do you have a story about remote learning or teaching you'd like to share? Email the NCS communications team at
    • Virginia Bell '09 spoke to an Upper School anatomy class about COVID-19.

    • Voyageur coach John Velosky shared a how-to video for making a wrist roller at home.

    • The Cathedral choristers performed a song together via Zoom.

    • Social sciences teacher David Sahr read the morning announcements as Captain America.