Shady Side Academy: Delivering an Exceptional Education, In Person or Remotely

This year, in the face of a global pandemic, schools faced an unprecedented challenge – and a profound opportunity – to reimagine the way they deliver an education to students.

Shady Side Academy was one of a few area schools that opened this fall with in-person instruction five days a week, welcoming 1,108 PK-12 students across four campuses. The administration worked tirelessly over the summer to craft a comprehensive reopening plan grounded in safety, flexibility and academic excellence.

“When it is safe to do so, we believe children are at their best academically and socially when they attend school in person and form close relationships with their teachers and peers,” said SSA President Bart Griffith Jr. “However, in these uncertain times, we recognize that a successful return-to-school plan must be flexible enough to adapt. Our plan not only provides a safe, in-person learning environment, but also an effective distance learning environment.”

SSA’s reopening plan fully aligns with federal, state and county public health guidelines, and was designed in consultation with infection prevention experts at UPMC. Extensive health and safety measures minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Each morning, parents complete a COVID-19 screening via mobile app, which generates a “green pass” for the child. Students and employees undergo temperature checks upon arrival and wear masks throughout the day. Classrooms were renovated to meet CDC social distancing guidelines, and outdoor learning spaces abound. Hallways and stairwells are one-way, with hand sanitizer stations everywhere. Revamped academic schedules keep students in small, consistent cohorts, and lunches are delivered to classrooms or served grab-and-go.

A live remote attendance option is available to students who are unable to learn on campus. Classrooms are equipped with Meeting Owl Pro 360-degree smart cameras that integrate with Zoom, enabling remote learners to attend classes live alongside their peers.

Throughout the fall, Shady Side’s students and teachers found creative new ways to learn, play and engage on campus safely – from a socially distant, restaurant-themed second grade “book tasting,” to a herpetologist visiting a sixth grade outdoor science class, to seniors enjoying lunch in Adirondack chairs on the quad. Fall sports teams successfully competed within new safety protocols, and music and drama classes found safe ways to rehearse and perform.

When it is not deemed safe to learn on campus, Shady Side’s plan provides for flexible toggling to distance learning. Every K-12 student has their own device, with a 1:1 iPad program in K-8 and laptops available for 9-12 students who do not have their own. During distance learning, an age-appropriate mix of synchronous Zoom classes and asynchronous lessons are presented every day in every grade, and teachers and support staff host virtual office hours. Community time is preserved through virtual assemblies and gatherings.

Whether classes are on campus or online, Shady Side Academy continues to deliver the challenging, engaging curriculum for which it is nationally renowned.