Creating community in an online school

Posted on 21st Sep 2018 in School News, Online Learning, United States

Dwight School in New York City, US, connects students within and beyond the digital classroom...

When Dwight School, a leading private school founded in 1872 dedicated to igniting the spark of genius in every child, expanded into the cloud, the Dwight Global Online School was born. One of its goals was to ensure that its students feel connected to one another and to the school community while learning virtually. This may seem challenging, but Dwight Global made it a priority by bringing students and faculty together in various ways beyond their real-time classes. These include invaluable in-person experiences several times a year, distinguishing Dwight from other online schools.

Community-building experiences begin with orientation before the academic year kicks off. Online and blended learning students convene in New York City where Dwight School is headquartered, to meet their teachers, deans, and one another.

Meeting and collaborating face-to-face

Orientation includes a full complement of academic, cultural, and social activities that build community and introduce students to Dwight life and to their peers. A theater improv class helps to “break the ice,” and over the course of several days, students meet the college counseling team, returning Dwight Global students who share their tips for learning online, and discover a range of extracurriculars and international trips they can take part in. Along the way, they explore New York City sites together and spend quality time building friendships.

Several times a year, Dwight Global students have the opportunity to return to campus to participate in special programs, such as a STEAM learning session in which they dive into rigorous academics bridging the sciences and arts. While immersed in their program this year, they were visited by am education researcher who is conducting a dissertation study on personalization in a blended learning program. He was duly impressed by what he saw and shared his thoughts:

“As an education researcher, I selected Dwight Global as a uniquely promising combination of digital technology and personalization. Much more than merely a school gone digital, Dwight Global has so far shown me a blend of academic challenge, social connectedness, and programmatic flexibility. That blend allows Dwight Global to not only ignite sparks of genius but also fuel students’ personal passions.

“Through my research on the Dwight Global program, I am learning a new story of school – one in which programmatic flexibility is able to support personal passions without sacrificing curricular challenge or social connectedness... I have learned about the affordances of digital technology for academic engagement, I have witnessed the seamless transition from online to face-to-face socialization, and I have heard how program flexibility supports personal excellence. Such a combination is a rare accomplishment for any school regardless of bricks and mortar, and it leaves me dually excited for both the future of education and the future of each Dwight Global student.”

The week-long STEAM session that Mr. Ongaro witnessed culminated with a musical celebration of Dwight Chancellor Stephen Spahn’s 50 years in education at Carnegie Hall. Talented Dwight Global students performed in a tribute to the Chancellor, alongside those from Dwight campuses in New York, London, Seoul, and Shanghai on the world’s most iconic stage, creating life-long memories.

Additional means of building community

Dwight Global students are invited to serve as Dwight ambassadors by participating in the annual European Global Issues Network (GIN) Conference. Based in Luxembourg, this conference draws hundreds of young people from around the world to develop strategic action plans to solve global problems such as the lack of access to clean water in underdeveloped countries.

Within the Dwight Global community, camaraderie among students is forged through:

  • A house system: At the start of the school year, all Dwight Global students are assigned to one of four houses, providing an increased feeling of belonging and instilling a sense of tradition. Student house captains welcome and encourage their schoolmates to become actively involved; friendly house competitions throughout the year engage students and build bonds.
  • Group projects: Technology, including Google Docs, enables classmates to collaborate on written pieces; and students team up through Adobe Connect real-time web conferencing software to work on projects together, just as they would in a traditional classroom.
  • Student-run newspaper: Like other Dwight Global extracurriculars, the online newspaper forum forges connections. Students around the world interact and learn about each other’s cultures, ideas, and successes expressed through the power of the written word and camera lens.

Sharing milestone moments

As seniors approach the end of their Dwight Global journey, they return to New York to attend the prom – the final social gathering of students as a class – and graduation. Dwight’s Commencement exercises are held at the beautiful Metropolitan Museum of Art, capping off an unparalleled private school experience.

Upon graduating, Dwight Global students attend some of the finest colleges and universities in the world and join a large community network of Dwight alumni with whom they can reconnect for the rest of their lives.

Read more information about Dwight School...