This school year many families were faced with uncertainty regarding their children’s education. Against a global backdrop of logistical, health, and technological challenges, the British International School of Houston created a model for the future of K-12 education, one that allows for fluidity between in-person and distance learning, guaranteeing continuity of education in a safe, inclusive environment.
Everyone has made drastic changes to their daily lives in 2020, but perhaps none more so than our children and our teachers. BIS Houston recognizes the challenges families face and has created solutions for multiple learning scenarios.
BIS Houston’s forward-thinking pedagogy has always been in service to their mission: to transform the lives of learners, while fostering an inclusive multi-cultural learning environment that nurtures citizens of the world who continue on to top universities. It is this dedication to innovation, along with the strength of being part of the world’s leading premium school organization, Nord Anglia Education that allows BIS Houston to adapt quickly and eﬀectively.
BIS Houston’s Principal Mark Wilson explains, “In these uncertain times it is important for us to provide a level of choice and flexibility for our families. We are prepared for multiple scenarios and have worked hard as a team to create opportunities for on-campus and virtual school that provides continuity of learning at the same high standards our community is used to.”
The result of careful thinking was a dynamic reopening plan that supported multiple learning scenarios. “The preservation of our core approaches to learning were central to our back-to-school plan,” says Head of Primary, Gemma Averette. “We considered several key questions; How can our students continue to collaborate given the current safety parameters? How do we ensure that every learner, regardless of their on or oﬀ-campus status, receives the support and challenge that they need? What authentic projects and inquiries can our learners engage in? How do we continue to nurture the well-being of our entire community? From there we built our strategic back-to-school plan, based on the concept of Learning Communities.”
So how does this hybrid model of learning work? BIS Houston students that choose to attend school on campus are positioned in learning communities, or what the school calls “packs,” named after the BIS Houston mascot, the Bulldog. Whether your child is in school as a virtual bulldog or an on-campus bulldog, parents have the opportunity to re-evaluate how their child learns throughout the year. The use of “packs” helps the students understand their bubble in order to minimize risk and crossover. This also coincides with the school’s modern, expansive architecture which gives each grade level the space to have a “neighborhood.” The neighborhood is a floor of a wing with a group of classrooms around a shared learning space. Students have the luxury of moving safely around their neighborhood instead of sitting at one desk all day. In addition to this, being on 32 acres of land allows each pack to have their own designated outdoor area and equipment for learning and recreation.
Chau Giang, BIS Houston Facilities Manager explains, “With health and safety as our guiding principles, we prepared for every possible scenario. We revised a number of procedures including fire drill processes, pick up/drop oﬀ logistics, late arrivals/early leavers, breaks, lunches and so much more. Of course, even after opening, we are flexible enough and are prepared for any situation in the current or future climate. We continue to communicate and refine what we do as this is a learning process for all of us.”
How students interact with each other was another issue the school tackled head on. As an Apple Distinguished School, technology for learning is intricately tied to BIS Houston’s learner-centered ethos. “Learning is at the very core of everything we do,” says Dan Franklin, Assistant Head of Primary and an Apple Distinguished Educator. “We think about learning first, and then how or if the technology needs to be used. Our mission is to transform the lives of our learners. Through the use of technology in meaningful and purposeful ways, we aim to develop students’ digital skills, behaviors, and approaches which will allow them to use technology positively throughout school and beyond. How we utilize technology continues to evolve.”
“There are areas of the curriculum that we’ve had to be creative with so that our virtual students can access the learning and we are very impressed with how our face-to-face students have adapted and collaborated with their virtual classmates. For example, during science labs, we use iPads which stream the virtual student into the classroom. The face-to-face students and virtual students interact and collaborate in order to complete the lab together,” says Dr. Sophie Hidden, Assistant Head of Secondary.
This ability to adapt and pivot between all models of learning is unique to a private school like BIS Houston who is also already prepared to transition to virtual learning if required. All of this is possible due to BIS Houston’s elite teachers. Their experienced educators are selected from a rigorous application process and the majority are recruited internationally. The pedagogy focuses on an inclusive, vibrant world view and their curriculum includes collaborations with world-leading institutions including MIT, The Juilliard School and UNICEF. This oﬀers BIS Houston students unique and unparalleled opportunities.
Their parent company Nord Anglia also provides a number of resources for families to help support their children. The school also places a heavy emphasis on well-being as this is another important part of the puzzle. Samantha Schlanger, School Therapist says, “Well-being is one of the core areas of our curriculum and it’s infused in everything we do. Every staff member has a heightened level of awareness of how we need to collaborate to support one another. Check-ins and observations are more important than ever as we are mindful of the intense and constant level of transition that we are all experiencing at this time.”
Catalina Sanclemente, a parent at the school echoes the sentiment that parents feel. “We are very impressed with the effort and amazing work that the teachers and school staff have put in to make the return to school incredibly smooth under the circumstances. As parents you do not see all the complexities that the school faces, but we understand how incredibly privileged we are to be able to have our son going to BIS Houston everyday.”
BIS Houston oﬀers enrollment all year. The BIS Houston hybrid model of learning communities and virtual learning can be found nowhere else. Parents should consider the British International School of Houston this school year for their child, especially when taking into account the disruptive learning continuum and challenges many families are facing.
Learn more about the future of education by joining the next BIS Houston Virtual Open House.
This article was featured in Chron.com, StoryStudio. Click here for the article.