As 2020 continues to evolve, social good organizations are working creatively to navigate the new landscape. In this series, the Blackbaud Institute shares stories of organizations that are focusing on resilience, weathering these many changes while still positioning themselves for future growth. For more insight including quarterly giving performance updates, visit the Blackbaud Institute Index.
As schools around the nation approach the fall term, they face big questions about how to manage new needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Based outside of Seattle, International Baccalaureate World School Annie Wright Schools, which includes day and boarding options, is embracing the same creativity they encourage in their students to navigate the path ahead.
From the beginning of the year, Annie Wright has relied on innovation to stay agile in responding to the pandemic. “Our team started planning for the possibility of remote learning back in January as we saw schools in Asia and Europe close and begin to go online. We also had international students whose families were being impacted back home, so we were hearing first-hand about the pandemic. We knew it was a matter of when, not if, we’d go online,” said Jen Willey, communications director at Annie Wright Schools.
Since they already used technology like gradebook and attendance platforms, they were able to quickly develop an online continuity plan to provide much-needed consistency with the in-person classroom experience. Professional development has long been a focus and expectation across Annie Wright Schools, positioning them well to embrace a new professional challenge. Willey noted, “Our faculty didn’t seem to blink and quickly adapted, but also remained flexible in changing what wasn’t working…[They] naturally seemed eager to learn new technology platforms, processes, and ways to engage our students.”
Throughout the year, Annie Wright has also focused on strong communication to its community, providing weekly newsletters and regular updates to parents, teachers, and faculty. As they developed plans for the fall term, they have been offering virtual Town Hall events. These events allow them to answer parent questions live and offer current information in an engaging manner.
That same focus on engagement has been extended to Annie Wright’s alumni and donor community. While they consider themselves fortunate to have hosted their annual auction and complete most of their annual fundraising before the pandemic began to impact their community, they had not yet launched their alumni giving campaign. Instead of proceeding with the same online fundraising campaign, they adapted their focus. They developed a new Facebook group and began monthly e-newsletters to share with their alumni how students and programming were adapting to online learning. “As we look to the future, we are planning for virtual fundraising events in the 20-21 academic year, and have no doubt that our community will continue to support Annie Wright Schools just as they have pre-pandemic,” shared Willey.
Looking ahead to fall term, Annie Wright is currently planning to reopen with modified, physically-distanced, in-person instruction for all students at the end of August. “Given our size and structure we feel we can be flexible and nimble in our ability to both keep our community safe and deliver the high-quality Annie Wright program our families have come to expect,” said Willey. They continue to keep the spirit of agility at the core of their plans. Their school nurse has been in discussions with European schools that have reopened, and they are closely following the advice of the CDC and local health officials to form expectations around masks, social distancing, and other health protocols. As Willey shared, “Though our current plan is to open with on-campus, in-person instruction, we are poised and ready to pivot to online learning, should it be necessary…Our team continues to monitor the local situation, consult with health and education experts, and consider the research coming in from around the country and world. We are ready to open in-person, online, and/or a hybrid.”
While the evolving nature of the pandemic is sure to bring new adjustments, Annie Wright Schools is embracing innovation and agility to ensure they can continue to serve their community no matter the challenges ahead. Willey notes that the trust and flexibility of the Annie Wright community has been key over the past several months: “Our students, parents, faculty, and staff are in a true place of strength, and we continue to align with Annie Wright Schools’ motto: From Strength to Strength.”