Caroline Christie

talks to Jil
Caroline Christie, New York City
COVID-19 has changed the world forever. No matter where you are or who you are, life is different. Teaching and learning are different. How we work and interact are different.

Caroline Christie, Technology Integration Specialist at Regis, New York, USA talks to Jil about life in New York City in July 2020, being a teacher at Regis, about living Zoom and going virtual; virtual teaching, virtual conferences, virtual choirs, virtual graduations, virtual speaker invite for a South African virtual conference and how it all works now.

Regis High School is a top-rated, private, all-boys Catholic school in New York. The school has approximately 530 students in Grades 9 to 12 and a student-teacher ratio of 8 to 1. Tuition is $0.00 for the highest grade offered. After graduation, 100% of students from this school go on to attend a four-year college.

Jil and Caroline in Q & A

In March 2020, COVID-19 turned Regis into a virtual, private school with a team of virtual teachers. On the Regis website, it says “Regis has gone remote, Regis goes virtual”, what does that mean to students and to you?

It means we never go into the building. We are functioning remotely. Some students have moved to holiday homes (their second homes) in upstate New York or other States.

What was your preparation for virtual teaching?

We had very little notice about going virtual. The school put a plan in place on March 13, 2020. We had one day of training on March 16, 2020. We were then at home until the school year ended on June 10, 2020.

We use Moodle for sharing files with the students. They upload their homework for grading. We use Zoom for teaching. Moodle makes a huge difference for submitting and sharing homework. I have a teacher friend in Scotland where they emailed homework back and forth which he found exhausting.

When using Moodle, you organize everything in advance and so the students can download and upload work in their own time. The other advantage for the teacher is the classwork is available for the next year, it just needs to be updated. Moodle is a learning Management System like Google classroom. We might move to Google classroom in the future.

How do students get help from you?

The students are able to ask me to open the Zoom room if they need help after virtual school for a one-on-one chat.

I found the Microsoft OneNote software useful for teaching as one can draw all over the content like a white board. It accepts a variety of content types. One can have all one’s material in one place ready for the lesson. It also has pages and sections with tabs that one can see at a glance which section one needs.

How did you get Zoom skills?

Regis sent us a set of instructions of how to set up Zoom in advance. Faculty are issued with computers by the school with the same software loaded. The Tech department can then push any extra software we need to all the computers. That is how we loaded Zoom onto our computers.

We are allowed to add software if we wish. I set it all up and practiced in advance of the training session. On the training day we were grouped according to our skill set. Those of us who felt we were advanced enough to use Zoom already, formed one group.

There was another group for Staff since they had different requirements than the teaching Faculty. The Faculty who needed more help went to another group where they would get more intensive training.

After that, I spent a weekend with my South African friend who also works at Regis. We practiced Zoom using both of our computers and alternating between being student and Faculty.

What are Zoom skills and what do you need to be able to do to give the best Zoom lessons to your students?

The required Zoom skills for teaching are having the lesson plan easily accessible. I used OneNote. One can share a screen shot of the file so one can draw and talk. I also shared the required material, via Moodle, with the students so they could follow along and take notes. I had a class list so I could check them in at the beginning of the lesson.

Sometimes a student had trouble logging in and his classmates would text him and let me know what was happening. I found great photographic software on a website called https://pixlr.com/e/ as they needed a Photoshop type program for their image editing. Normally they have access to Photoshop at school so this website was a great alternative as there is no installation required. It covers all the basic Photoshop topics.

As you will have read, we are a Scholarship school and many of the students are not financially well-off and as a result they do not have top-of-the line computers. We do supply them with a computer if they need it. Some of the students’ WiFi was sketchy too.

One of my students had a Chromebook and it does not let one install software at all. He needed Notebook type software for the website and I spent time on Zoom with him finding compatible software.

Another challenge was that some students have multiple family members living in one or two rooms and as a result there were family members around while they were at Zoom school. The younger members of the family were fascinated by the school session and liked to pop in too. Sometimes the mother and father were also working from home in the same room.

Is going virtual easy for learners?

Regis students are very bright and are motivated to learn. It was still a bit of a learning curve for them but they adapted quickly. Fortunately, the school year was two thirds over when we began remote learning. The students ended the year successfully. For the coming school year in September it may be harder for the incoming freshmen as they come from a variety of levels of computer skills. It takes a while for me to get them up to speed on using the computer. It will be much harder to do that remotely.

There is usually a formal graduation ceremony for the Seniors in the Church of St. Ignatius across the road from Regis. The students wear dress suits with white jackets. Sadly, they had to miss that this year. We held a virtual ceremony instead.

How do you keep the learners’ sense of belonging to your virtual world real?

One has to be engaging. The tests are run on Moodle and their homework is uploaded to Moodle. I send their grades out via a MailMerge from Excel to Outlook. I write a comment for every error.

The student knows exactly what they did wrong and can then consult me if necessary. I try to use real world examples where possible. They stay motivated because they know exactly what was wrong and they receive their grade in a timely fashion.

The students are very motivated and so getting them to work hard is not an issue. The Faculty each handled this according to the subject they were teaching. What made it a bit easer is that all the students take the same courses until their Senior year. They can choose between four foreign languages, one of which is Mandarin Chinese. They are grouped in Maths classes according to their Maths ability. Other than that all their courses are the same. Since all the students are gifted it is easier to manage the virtual teaching.

You are a technology integration specialist in New York City. What does that mean?

When I joined Regis in 2005 many Faculty and Staff did not have computer skills. My job was to teach Computer Science and to help the Faculty and Staff improve their skills. Today we have many new Faculty members who are much more skilled and I spend less time teaching them computer skills.

We are all in this COVID-19 story together. How is life in New York? How are you coping?

Life in New York is as good as it can be right now. I live outside the city on Long Island in a small town called Port Washington. It is a 40-minute ride to New York City on the Long Island railroad. I heard today that most of New York City has been reopened but with strict isolation rules, social distancing and masks. Governor Cuomo has managed it well. The states in the USA are run independently when it comes to State matters.

You are an American and a South African. Your love of both countries is passionately communicated every time we chat. For our South African readers, please give us a quick you-and-SA history. born, school, choir, work life, social activities, what you loved to do in SA, loved about SA and about winning the lottery to the USA.

My grandfather emigrated from Greece to South Africa. My father was raised in Johannesburg. My mother emigrated from Holland to South Africa. My mother was a nurse and my father a Pharmacist. I was born in Johannesburg. I attended Parktown Convent in Oxford Road. The nuns have since sold it but it is still run as a Catholic school. I was a pupil there from Grade 1 to Matric.

While I attended Parktown Convent, singing was an important part of our education. We sang Christmas carols; concerts and at masses. I actually did not like it much at the time, however we performed the Handel’s Messiah when I was in Std 9 and I learned to love the music so much that I joined the Wits Choir while I was studying at Wits University. An interesting thing that I learned from that experience is that sometimes one needs to be forced to learn things that one does not like at the time as it sows a seed. It is amazing how it can become a passion later in one’s life.

Wits Choir was a wonderful university society as we toured each year, even to South America, and became close friends with others who also loved music. Most of my friends to this day come from that choir. Most importantly, unlike other societies, one had to attend every week and so the members all became fast friends.

Once I left Wits, I joined the SABC choir under the direction of Richard Cock. He was, and still is, a great innovator on the music scene in South Africa. I only left that choir when I moved to the States.

I now sing in a community choir in St. Ignatius Church in New York City across the road from Regis High School. We sing at concerts and at some masses. The church has an amazing music program. They have two choirs for younger people called the training choirs, they have a paid Pro Choir. They sing at the high mass every Sunday and then the community choir to which I belong. At the moment, we are in recess and are having a virtual choir session every Sunday.

‘How did you get into computers’ is a question often asked of those in the IT field?

I originally qualified at Wits with an M.Sc in Zoology and became a Biology, Maths and Science teacher. I taught for the TED for 7 years. As I taught, I began to get repeated questions about computers and I received the message that computers were becoming important. As a result I decided to take a COBOL course at Van Zyl and Pritchard. After a few years of programming I was asked back to teach COBOL there. Teaching is my passion and I suddenly realized I could combine my two passions and use my teaching skill to teach computers too. I taught at Van Zyl and Pritchard for 8 years and then moved on to Damelin Computer School. I taught Computer Software there for five years before leaving for the USA.

Your love of South Africa…

While I was in South Africa, I loved hiking, reading, sewing, knitting and jigsaw puzzles. I was a master at organizing social events for my choir friends. I love dogs especially my feisty Miniature Schnauzer who has since died. Reading is a great passion. It paints a picture in one’s mind that movies often cannot achieve, as they create their own picture for you and I find that if I have read the book first, the picture is not always the same. What I loved and still love about South Africa, are the game parks and the oceans. The waves in South Africa are spectacular, there are always 10 or so in a row. Here on the East Coast of the USA there is mostly one wave at a time. There are beautiful beaches in the Hamptons on Long Island and on the Jersey shore.

What I love about South Africans is their unique style. We love to help each other and that applies here to South Africans in the USA. We are open to people just dropping to say Hi. This is not the case in the USA. To be fair, work takes up a lot of one’s day.

Keeping in touch with South Africa …

The NYNJ Springbok Club meets once a month at a pub called O’Hare’s. We have a braai once a year. It is great to “praat die taal” once in a while. Wits Alumni Club meet once a year or so.

The South African Consulate holds events. One event I went to was when Ahmed Kathrada launched his book. I have also met the newly elected South African Consul at a reception.

About winning the lottery to the USA …

All I had to do was type out my name and address on a letter and post it to the USA. I then received an envelope filled with paperwork to complete. I decided I would follow the process to the end and that, if accepted, I would emigrate to the USA. Later I heard how careful one has to be when filling out the Green Card application form. When I met the USA Consul all he said was “Welcome to our country, young lady.” I sold up everything and left for the USA.

The important thing in the USA is networking, in my case with other computer trainers. I still remember what helped me to stand out was I knew DOS and had programming skills. Something else that made a difference to me, was that all the software I learned eventually needed a knowledge of programming at the advanced level, so I was quite sought after. After corporate training I joined Regis as a Computer Science Teacher.

You attended the Computer Science Teachers Association https://www.csteachers.org virtual conference. Was this your first fully virtual conference?

Yes, it was, but I am hoping they run a combined model in the future so teachers from around the world can join. Many teachers cannot afford the live version but could attend the virtual one.

How did it work? How much? What did you gain? What Internet resources did you need?

One needed a laptop with decent WiFi and the ability to add software. One gets a list of possible sessions of which there are 3 or 4 running at a time. One then selects ones’ sessions. Depending on which session one will be attending, one is told in advance which software to install. Some schools do not allow installation of extra software on their school-issued computers and so the teachers have to bring their own device. Normally the cost is the cost of the flight, plus accommodation plus about $300 for the conference. The virtual conference cost was $65.

What did you bring back from the conference for us?

I have added some useful websites which are excellent resources. We also had many discussions about racial injustice which is a big issue in the USA right now.

Is remote teaching the future of teaching? I think online teaching has created new opportunities for all teachers, but especially those with vast knowledge and experience in teaching learners from all over the world. Do you also think so?

Yes, because everyone can now be exposed to academic expertise without having to be physically present. Many teachers in other countries do not have access to meaningful learning material and could benefit from virtual learning.

I always remember that years ago, in Australia, if they lived in the Outback, they had lessons broadcast through the medium of audio only. What a difference Zoom would make for them. Many parents home school their children in the US. That would be another good resource for them. If a student is in a school with poor resources they could add to their knowledge by attending virtual classes.

When you visit SA again, what would you love to do first?

With my family, first Kruger Park, then Cape Town and the beautiful Cape. The restaurants in South Africa are unparalleled. I love the Portuguese restaurants, especially the prawns. Overall, I love the South African restaurants as so many of them prepare fresh, unique foods.

Covid-19 – the world, life, communication and connection thereafter. What are your thoughts?

I think Zoom is here to stay and that we will have a combination of Zoom and live teaching from now on. An example would be a student we had who had a brain tumour. He could not come to school while he was having chemo. We could now help him keep up by using Zoom.

There is much pressure on South African private schools and some schools have already become COVID-19 casualties. Regis has a different, unique financial structure for school fees. How does it work? Could the Regis system work in South Africa?

Regis High School is a Jesuit-run School and is the only tuition-free school in the USA.

Yes, the Regis model could work in South Africa, if there was a benefactor who could keep the school running financially. It would be important to combine that with a REACH model so that all gifted students have an equal opportunity to attend the school once they have reached the required academic standard in Grade 8.

We have twinned with a Jesuit-run school in Kenya called St. Aloysius Gonzaga. It is run on the same model as Regis. The students are gifted and many of the students are from the slum in Kibera. They have lost family to AIDS so this gives them a chance to get an excellent education. The students are held to the same high education standard as the rest of Kenya.

The Regis story is a long read but it is worth reading to get a feel for the history of a financial model such as the one being used by Regis and how, over time, it has modernized and remains doable.

Here is the Regis Story past and current.

Ignatian Educational Legacy

St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, had an abiding faith in the power of education to transform students’ lives. Writing to Philip II of Spain in 1556, the early Jesuits expressed themselves clearly: “All the well-being of Christianity and of the whole world depends on the proper education of youth.” Ignatius desired that Jesuits run tuition-free schools available to all students who were qualified — “for everybody, poor and rich.”

Regis’ legacy began with the will of a generous parishioner of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola and with the dream of its pastor, Rev. David W. Hearn, S.J.

On Christmas Eve, 1912, Regis’ Foundress presented Father Hearn with a gift to purchase land and build the school, along with a promise to continue financial support to ensure tuition-free education. In Rome, the authorities of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) responded enthusiastically to the establishment of Regis and gave approval for construction to begin. Moreover, they gave the Foundress of Regis special recognition by declaring her a Founder of the Jesuit Order.

From its origin in 1914 to the late 1960s, Regis was regarded by the Foundress and her children as their private charity. Only in the late 1960s did they reluctantly agree to allow the alumni of Regis to contribute to the school’s financial support. Today, Regis continues to flourish due to the legacy of the Founding Family and the generosity of its alumni.

Additional money is donated by those parents who are well-off financially. We do not discriminate between those who are well-of and those who are not. The selection is based on academic prowess and leadership qualities. These days the grant alone is not enough, but we always want to offer a free education. We want gifted Catholic young men to be able to get an excellent education no matter what their financial circumstances.

Our prospective students apply when they are in Grade 8, which is their final year of middle school. High school begins in Grade 9. They apply by filling in a form and writing an essay. They also need to have a recommendation from their current school. Their grades also need to be submitted. They do not need to be attending a Catholic middle school, but they must be Catholic. They then take an aptitude test and we interview them.

Our students come from anywhere in the Tristate area, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and as a result we have a very diverse student body. We end up with 128 students for our freshman class and they stay for 4 years, Grades 9 to 12, freshman, sophomore, junior and senior. We never accept another student after that.

Regis is a collegiate prep school which means we prepare students for college, that is why we are so selective. Most of our students get financial grants from the colleges they attend as they have shown great academic prowess during their high school years.

REACH Programme

Regis High School runs this program to help young, gifted Catholic men from Grades 6 to 8 to advance their knowledge, especially Maths and English, to bring them up to speed so that they can enter either Regis High School or another Catholic high school in Grade 9. At the school they currently attend, they are often very isolated as the standard of teaching caters to the average student.

The students attend Regis once a week every Saturday and for six weeks during the summer. The families are financially needy. The program is free. What is wonderful is that the REACH Alumni (now at college and beyond) help to mentor the new REACH students.

To give one an idea of what a prospective Grade 5 student is like I asked the question “How will you feel about giving up your summer holidays to study when all your friends are out enjoying themselves?”  His answer was, “Well by the end of the summer I will know more than them and be ready to move on up”. He will be joining Regis this year in Grade 9.

REACH History

Founded in 2002, REACH (Recruiting Excellence in Academics for Catholic High Schools) is an entirely free educational and leadership enrichment programme that prepares Catholic, middle-school aged boys to earn scholarships to Regis, as well as other top Catholic high schools in New York City.

Designed as an access program, REACH serves students whose families demonstrate significant financial need. With an understanding of how critical the middle-school age years are in determining the trajectory of secondary as well as post-secondary education, REACH is devoted to making substantial gains in academics, leadership potential, and a commitment to service. In alignment with the founding mission of Regis, REACH strives to attract highly motivated students from predominantly immigrant and disenfranchised backgrounds.

How does the programme work?

Every year, REACH works in partnership with parochial, traditional public and public charter schools, as well as parishes from the New York City metropolitan area. REACH accepts nominations of boys currently in the 5th grade who display early signs of academic and leadership potential.

After they apply in the 5th grade, admitted students begin their REACH journey in the summer before 6th grade. With three years to work with, REACH’s value-added model is set out to cultivate the potential demonstrated in the elementary school years. It is important to note that REACH is not a school; rather, it is a supplementary programme designed to work around the student’s normal middle school schedule.

Our programming takes place on Saturdays throughout the school year and during the summer. Over our first 18 years of operation, our 14 graduated 8th grade cohorts have received over $21 million in 4-year high school scholarships. In those years, we have graduated approximately 32 students annually. With our recent expansion in 2015-16, REACH promises to graduate approximately 46 students annually by 2019.

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Useful Website Links from the CSTA Conference:

Java – https://www.jetbrains.com/idea/

Python – https://www.jetbrains.com/pycharm/

Google video – https://www.loom.com/

Google JamBoard – https://gsuite.google.com/products/jamboard/

Cybersecurity and robotics – https://cyber.org/

Robotics – https://ubtecheducation.com/

All Subjects and Binary – https://nearpod.com/

Binary – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewokFOSxabs