The Covid-19 crisis has in many ways challenged the way of thinking of our society. Among international schools in Brussels, Montgomery International School – EIM has developed a unique strategy, a blend of flexibility (thanks to the reduced size of its classes), quality (the internationally recognised International Baccalaureate programme) and safety (they have detoured from the official Belgian policy whenever they thought it best for their students and families).
The closing of school
EIM decided to go on lockdown before the Belgian government ordered it. They had already cancelled all outings to protect their children, while others saw the spread of the virus with incomprehensible scepticism. A rapid consultation with their families and a dynamic implementation of an e-learning programme brought its management to a clear decision to close before anyone else in Brussels. “The community at Montgomery International School is smaller compared to others, and from that point of view we are already more protected,” says the Managing Director David Gerone, “but the example of China and Italy showed us that we could not waste any time; we are an independent school and therefore we were not compelled to
wait for the Government to act. On the other hand, our local administration at Woluwe-Saint-Lambert was the strictest in all of Belgium against the virus.”
EIM staff was trained in one week for the Google Education Suite tools, as well as students in their ICT and Design courses. Hardly any reduction of schedules was necessary for learning at home in real time and the school committed to delivering the whole programme by June. Last but not least, the whole of EIM community decided to close for grounds of solidarity, not just for the sole interest of their own families but for their role within society; this is a very relevant value in the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.
Phase 2 of Deconfinement
The Belgian government decided to reopen schools on May 18. “We were not convinced,” says Danielle Franzen, the Secondary School Principal. “First of all, everybody was very excited about our e-teaching and the curve was still on the rise. Furthermore, we did not like the approach to consider some classes as preferential in the original Belgian regulation, where some years could come back and others could not. We want to offer all of our students the same degree of quality and excellence.”
The IB curriculum immediately guaranteed recognition to all students, so there was no formal pressure for anyone, a point which is very relevant in the Brussels area, as some international programmes are not officially recognised. The Belgian regulation imposed a maximum of 10 students per class, which was no problem either for EIM, due to the low teacher-student ratio. But safety came first and the EIM community did not see May as fit for a return, particularly taking into account that cases of contagion had been produced both in France as well as in Belgium during the first week of reopening.
However, in order to maintain the high level of requirements and preparation before university access, EIM management decided already at that time that the upper secondary school students would indeed take exams at the school premises by the end of June. In the primary school, extra-classes of dance, cuisine, sports, drama and yoga were added to the core competences as the spring and good weather got on.
Phase 3 – June
On the evening of May 27, the Belgian government announced a 180° change of strategy. All pre-primary and primary students could now be allowed back to school during the last three weeks of the school year.
The following day, EIM management decided once more to take action immediately. “We launched a consultation with all of our families,” says the Primary School Principal Miguel Toledano, “and by the weekend we were ready with a blend of presidential courses plus our ongoing e-teaching. We wanted to respect both the rights of those wishing to come back to school as well as those preferring to stay at home and follow the programme online. We understand that in an international community there are different views, and technology nowadays can provide for both simultaneously. Our teaching staff was ,of course, key once more in developing what our Parent Council was looking for.” The new regulatory framework is still quite restrictive: no students should contact students from other classes during recess, lunch should take place in the classrooms and not in the canteens, outdoor classes are promoted. But EIM has made sure that all sanitary measures are in place and
taught to their students in a principled, balanced and caring way, as the IB philosophy recommends. During the summer, as the school experiences growth and refurbishes its classical campus next to Square Montgomery, the EIM community gets ready for the new school year in September.