Emily Downey

Sage International School of Boise
Boise, Idaho
Emily Downey, Parent

 Learning at Sage International School of Boise

Last spring, I would not have imagined that my children, now both high school seniors at Sage International School of Boise, would still be in a distance learning environment, almost seven months after our school abruptly closed its doors. Both are dedicated students, but also easily distracted and thrive on human interaction. So, the peace I feel right now is a testament to the values and culture of our school and the bond they share with their teachers.

I believe Sage’s remarkable shift to distance learning was in the works well before this pandemic slammed into our lives. We’re reaping the benefits of apt decisions regarding the structure of our agile, free-for-all K-12 Public Charter, the choice of our International Baccalaureate curriculum and the scrupulous hiring of our leaders and teachers. However, I believe Sage’s embracement of the IB values and commitment to creating a positive culture has been my children’s lifeline. Our Executive Director once shared with me how important it is for our entire school community to strive to be life-long learners and embody the IB attributes (open-mindedness, risk takers, reflective, principled and caring, to name a few). We experienced this firsthand as our teachers stepped up enthusiastically to learn a new way of connecting with our children. Just three mornings after closing, they responded with live, synchronous classes. My kids didn’t suffer any type of academic lag or miss communing with their teachers and friends.

Genuinely considering teacher and parent input and communicating transparently along the way, our leaders developed a reopening plan that does not sacrifice, but rather employs, our values and culture. Our Head of School once shared with me that “culture is everything.” I found this fascinating coming from her, an experienced teacher who believes in the rigorous IB curriculum that encourages students to take ownership of their own learning and challenges them to not be satisfied with “just enough.” Her belief that this be intentionally balanced with a positive culture, explains why Sage prioritizes community and inclusivity. Sage, a public charter school, believes every child, no matter their socio-economic status, race, or set of beliefs, deserves a world-class education. Reflecting inclusivity in our hybrid plan, we honor the choice of families wanting to continue distance learning by offering an interactive experience. Rather than providing “online” independent lessons, we’re utilizing large screen tv’s and computer carts with web-cams that move through the class to pull the at-home kids into the classroom in real-time. Watching this interaction and seeing the inquisitive engagement on the childrens’ faces is breathtaking.

While my children have benefited from Sage’s risk-taking approach to innovate & think outside the box, I appreciate that our leadership would never risk theirs or their teachers’ health. In addition to desk shields, touchless sanitizing stations, MERV 13 filters, HEPA air purifiers, required face coverings, and social distancing, we are slowly phasing in a return to school. This enables us to learn and adjust, gradually alleviate anxiety, and gives us the best chance of keeping our doors open. Believing that our primary years children benefit the most from in-person learning, we have cautiously brought in their full grade bands over the course of several weeks. Our middle and high school students will follow in an AB blended model, utilizing our technological equipment to provide live, synchronous learning when off campus.

So, where does this leave my children? Well, they hate everything about remote learning, but are persevering. The culmination of an IB education is an intense program with two-year courses taught by the same trusted teacher. Because our school culture values exploration of the outdoors, they’ve also shared numerous outdoor expeditions and service trips with them. Their teachers inspire them to dream big, dig deep and stay balanced. So, while they’re eager to return to school, it is these relationships built through years of nurturing that have helped my children stay motivated, embrace their situation and carry on.

Perhaps it was backpacking Mt. Adams just last year that taught them their greatest lesson in resilience when they awoke in their tents to serious weather elements that triggered quick adaptation and a change in course, skillfully guided by an experienced mountaineer, their 8th grade math teacher. My children will be fine. They have been, and are in, the right place. And, as I watch our first graders in a spacious circle, with innocent eyes peering adoringly from behind masks at their teacher, with their life-sized zoom friends right in the midst of them, my heart stops. Because, no matter what else is thrown their way in the next 12 years, they too, are in the right place.

I eagerly anticipate the return of my children to campus in a hybrid model later this month. With the mitigation efforts Sage has made to safeguard their health and our leadership’s commitment to reflect and humbly adjust as needed, I have confidence that they are in the best possible hands.

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