Message from the Executive Director

Mark Iver Sylte
Executive Director

Dear Members of the ASF Community -

I want to thank the 1,200 parents, almost 800 students, and more than 200 faculty members who answered our first round of surveys last week. The takeaways were extremely rich and the senior leadership of all five schools (ECC, Lower, Middle, Upper and A&EL) are working through the data and the pages and pages of comments left by respondents; thank you.

Before discussing the most important impressions gathered from the surveys, here is a quick overview.

  1. While we have valuable data from ECC - Gr 2 teachers and parents, we are holding off on reporting on these until we have more time to go through the results.
  2. We are going to postpone asking about individual classes in a second survey until we have a little more time to read through your comments and see what adjustments should be made based on those suggestions.
  3. Any changes will be based on evidence at hand and best pedagogy as we understand it from our experiences at ASF and at peer schools around the world. While we appreciate suggestions and letters from the community, they are strongest and most persuasive when based on evidence and best practice.

And now back to the surveys and what picture they showed. Extracting the most revealing questions for the survey, we noticed the following:

  1. Residence outside CST zone - While the majority of students, teachers and parents are on CST, even those individuals are not necessarily residing in Mexico City (e.g only 71% of Gr 5 students are in CST). As a community, we are spread across the globe with students from Tokyo to Berlin. This certainly complicates the planning of online meetings, but adds immeasurably to the safety and well-being of our community. For those of you outside Mexico, we miss you and look forward to being together in person again soon.
  2. Personal Devices - While we tend to think of all our students as having a personal computing device all to themselves, we see that this is not always the case, especially in the lower grades (only 85% of Gr 5 students report having their own device). We are taking steps to address this in the event that we have to return to distance learning in the future and will share these steps with you in the Fall. On the faculty side, the fact that 100% do not report having a device to themselves stems from the participation of Teaching Assistants in the survey. Every faculty member is issued a laptop by the School.
  3. Connectivity Issues - We suggest that parents have a conversation with their children about connectivity as students report almost twice as many issues with connections as parents do (50% of Gr 8 students report some connectivity issues). This may be a result of the very differ online activities in which they engage. We note, too, higher than expected reports from the faculty of connectivity challenges and are now looking at services in Mexico City to see how we might address this once the pandemic abates. When this is over, we will prepare some white pages on connectivity for our families and faculty (best services, best hardware, etc.)
  4. More time on classes - About half our students report that they are spending more time on their classes than before we began distance learning (65% of all 9th graders). This percentage rises in the higher grade levels. In the comments we also note student frustration with the types of assignments they are being given in some classes. A significant number of teachers report spending more time on their classes than before (90% of all Gr 6 teachers), reflective of the difficulties in a sudden shift from face-to-face teaching to a distance model. Teachers have already begun a great deal of professional development in a TTT model (Teachers teaching Teachers) as they experiment with new tools and new ways to deliver curriculum and we will continue doing even more of this when we return in the Fall. We all hope to be on campus come August, but we also need to be prepared in case there is a return of the viral threat at some point in the next school year.
  5. Learning Less with Distance Learning - Students (54% of Gr 10 students), teachers (84% of Gr 3 teachers), and parents feel that the ability to cover foundational knowledge and content has dropped off with distance learning and the evidence we have supports this. In fact, no group is more concerned about this issue than our teachers. While we want to improve in the six weeks remaining in the school year, we are aware that we will have remedial work to do in the fall. A student in pre-calculus today will need support going into an AP or IB class next year. A lower school student may need support with reading or Spanish as a Second Language.
  6. Like distance learning better - It is not surprising that a few individuals seem to be thriving in this new reality and even feel that it suits them better than face-to-face classes (highest results were 22% of Gr 7 students). The numbers are small, though, and fall dramatically with our Class of 2020 (only 3.9%). For them, the year is as much about the relationships they have built with each other as the learning and they both want, and need, closure.
  7. Spending too much time online - As we progress through the grades, from Lower School to Upper School, an increasing number of students feel that they are spending entirely too much time online (64% in Gr 6, 89% of Gr 12). Teachers are largely overwhelmed with this feeling as well (91% of Gr 7 teachers). As one teacher wrote, she plans online, teaches online, and then spends hours more online each day tracking down students who missed class or assignments to make sure they are OK. There are some parents who want us to have online classes that follow the regular day schedule and have students in front of their computers from 08:00 - 14:30. While there may be schools that are doing this, we have not found evidence that they are better able to sustain learning by doing so. As one senior wrote, her eyes are bloodshot at the end of the day from staring at her screen for hours at a time. For a significant number of our students, they want less time online, not more.
  8. Grading ASF's response - How were our distance learning efforts graded by the community? Well, I do not know any student who has ever received less than 100% and not wanted to improve and we are no different. What was interesting was to look at the individual scores and then look over at the comment sections. Students who rated us the lowest universally complained that the workload was simply unrealistic with distance learning. Parents who rated us the lowest wanted full day, online classes. Teachers who rated our response most harshly were concerned about their students and wanted to serve them better.

Student High by Year Level: 80.6 Student Low by Year Level: 70.9

Teacher High by Year Level: 88.8 Teacher Low by Year Level: 78.1

Parent High by Year Level: 74.5 Parent Low by Year Level: 64.5

  1. Feelings of stress - With the exception of Gr 4 students (65% of who are also reporting themselves quite stressed), the level of stress rises with the grade levels and is highest in the Upper School. This is not surprising as older students are usually more conscious of what is happening around the world. Also, as we expected, the level of stress amongst our parents is much higher than last year. While we struggle with education in a distance learning world, we know that our parents are juggling childcare responsibility, care for parents, distance learning for their children, and saving businesses, all at the same time.
  2. Having a good work/life balance - This comes out, as well, with a school/life or work/life balance. While Lower School students may generally be better off, I am struck by the lack of balance reported by students, teachers and parents (only 20% of Gr 9 students feel they have a balance; only 9% of Gr 3 teachers; only 8% of Gr 7 parents). For students, things begin to get worse in middle school and are most out-of-balance in Upper School. They are worried about grades and assessments, what their education will look like now and in the future, the crisis as it unfolds around the world, university applications (and not just for our seniors!), their friends and family, their teachers, and wanting it to all go back to normal quickly. We'll continue to reexamine our distance learning models and the types of assignments and teaching that we are doing.
  3. Hanging out with others
  4. Have someone to talk to

These last two questions were added to the survey to gauge the support that students, teachers, and parents have around them. While hanging out online and having someone to talk to are not necessarily the same as having social-emotional support, we all need to be aware that at every grade level there are students, parents, and teachers that could use a word of appreciation, encouragement, or just friendship. Every few days my phone will ring with a call from an ASF family that checks in on me and my family from time to time and that sense of caring is priceless to me.

Finally, we have shared with you the parent answers to our questions on communications. Thank you for this feedback and we will try and keep improving what is working and try to improve the rest.

Parent Satisfaction with attention given to students:

Highest satisfaction in a year level  - 81%, Lowest satisfaction in a year level - 55.3%

Parent Satisfaction with teacher communication:

Highest satisfaction in a year level  - 91%, Lowest satisfaction in a year level - 54.4 %

Parent Satisfaction with division and all-school communication:

Highest satisfaction in a year level - 95%, Lowest satisfaction in a year level - 78%

There may be more takeaways and some changes in the works based on these surveys and we'll share more reflections in the days and weeks ahead. For now, please accept our appreciation for sharing your experience with us.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Iver Sylte, Executive Director