With the close of one year upon us and the beginning of the next soon, it is customary to look back on the year just completed, and we are going to follow that custom. While we were in no way spared by the events of 2020, we still managed to achieve some things we’re very much proud of.
In the run-up to the opening of our school, we had to do some lengthy prep work, including drawing our conceptual framework, defining our goals and our mission, assembling a team of highly trained professionals who would also be proficient in online learning, recruiting expert staff who would meet our standards in terms of inclusive education, preparing our website, and negotiating with scholarship program partners. Thankfully, finding a facility for our in-person sessions had never been a concern for us, since we had at our disposal Château Le Sallay, a castle hotel to which we owe our name, located in Burgundy, the heartland of France.
In the spring of 2019, we even had a pilot launch: we opened a mini version of our academy at the castle before sending the pupils home to learn online for two months and reassembling them at the castle to hold the closing events for the pilot. This way we got our feet wet, adjusted some things, and were fully ready for the actual opening.
Our first school year began in the autumn of 2019, and we had a jovial and cheerful start. Just as planned, we held our first in-person session in early September, and another one in December, things were right on track.
The early warning signs about a new virus that had emerged in China and was spreading to Europe have, of course, come to our attention, but, like everyone else, we did not fully realize how devastating it actually was. That’s why on February 29, 2020, we once again opened the doors of Le Sallay castle for pupils and teachers from all over the world. To our great disappointment, as our in-person session was in full swing, the borders were closed and air travel was shut down. However - and we are saying that in all modesty - we certainly rose to the occasion. In the span of mere hours, we managed to send our American pupils and teachers back to the U.S., and then, as various other countries were closing their borders as well, we were swiftly dispatching other kids to reunite them with their parents. In the end, everyone returned home safely, and while we were frustrated that we had to shut down before completing our syllabus, we are proud of our team and their ability to be ahead of the game.
Then, as spring set in, the world embraced the words ‘working from home’ as one of the trendiest new catchphrases. In an interview with Forbes, the co-founder of Le Sallay Academy Sergey Kuznetsov described what kind of challenges we had to face at the time:
‘We are creating a blended learning school which combines online classes with in-person sessions. Accordingly, many of the parents began reaching out to us, telling us about negative experiences they had previously had. I think it is important to note that a part of these negative experiences, rather than online learning per se, was due to parents suddenly seeing firsthand what was actually happening in school, what and how their kids were being taught. That anxiety some educators seem to have, the fear of having to look a parent in the eye, came true. I’m seeing two different trends right now. One is rejecting online learning completely, which does not happen that often. The other, much more frequent one is when parents say: “We used to think we had no problems with school whatsoever, but it’s not true. We are looking for any alternative options, including online learning or changing schools’. And this is more important when it comes to the crisis the worldwide educational system is facing now.’
Thanks to our vast experience in the field of online learning, we were one of the select few to come forewarned and forearmed. Our school continued operating as normal, even if we had to cancel our closing in-person session. However, as we realized what kind of environment had just set in, we announced a new round of admissions for the rest of the academic year – and the number of our pupils increased by a third!
Since we had already had experience with holding an online summer camp in the form of Camp Marabou, we decided to also recreate it within the scope of Le Sallay Academy. In late June, we announced two English-language sessions for separate time zones (Paris and New York time, specifically). It was a real summer camp complete with morning PT, games and quests under the guidance of counselors, evening gatherings, and art classes, not to mention lectures. Le Sallay Academy’s teachers delivered courses in literature, history, science, and math. Everyone was happy!
Here at Le Sallay Academy we teach in English. The school is primarily tailored for the kids who live in Europe or the U.S. That said, we have not failed to notice how unhappy parents are with the current state of secondary education in Russia, so in early July, we announced the opening of Le Sallay Dialogue School which would fully cover the Russian school curriculum for classes 5 through 9, but would be arranged in a completely different way.
And so, on August 30, 2020, we opened our new school.
Simultaneously, the Academy was pursuing its own academic activities, and, as incredible as it sounds, we managed to hold an in-person session in December. To our great disappointment, we were not able to hold it at our Le Sallay castle in Burgundy, but, luckily, we still found a way to pull it off.
December 6 through 18, our American pupils, counselors, and educators gathered at the Nature’s Classroom site in Massachusetts, while another session for those living in Europe took place at almost the same time (December 6 through 20) at a recreational center in the region of Kaluga, Russia.
One of the reasons we considered holding an in-person session so important was because most of our American pupils are in their first year. Thanks to this meet-up, they realized that Le Sallay Academy is not just another online school, but an awesome place where you can find new friends.
Here is a message we received from parents in America in a closed Facebook group:
‘Dear teachers, managers, and counselors at Le Sallay! Our child is as happy as a clam, and for that we extend our thanks to you. Our girl was talking non-stop about everything that happened at school, and how great it all was.
Since we initially thought the school’s concept was bordering on fantasy and almost unfeasible, extra kudos go to your persistence in its implementation and your organizational skills.’
Polina Wasserman (Newton, Massachusetts)
Holding two separate in-person sessions simultaneously was a great challenge for us, since we wanted our pupils to not only pursue the subjects, the teachers of which were able to make it to the location the kids were at. That is why we tried to find the perfect middle ground between in-person lessons, online classes with teachers currently in another hemisphere, and live games with counselors.
We hope that in 2021 we will be finally able to gather everyone at Castle Le Sallay, as it should be. But, in any event, we are still extremely happy we managed to do what we did.
We wish you a happy upcoming New Year! May it be much better than the last.