Overview of Virtual Poly: From Start-Up to Up and Running

“We are not going to just hang on. We are going to make it great.” This is what Assistant Head of School, Academics Michal Hershkovitz P’16, ’18 said of Virtual Poly from the very beginning.

In early March, New York City and the nation took emergency measures in response to the quickly evolving COVID-19 pandemic to stop the spread of the virus, including stay-at-home orders and social distancing.

On March 9, as Poly planned for Spring Break amid news of 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City, Head of School Audrius Barzdukas P’20 shared news with the community. “Out of an abundance of caution and to better prepare for Virtual Poly, we will close our campuses for the week at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, March 10,” he said. Faculty used that Wednesday to prepare so that Middle and Upper School students could “attend” Virtual Poly on Thursday and Friday and Lower School students on Thursday. Spring Break began after classes that Friday.

On March 10, no one knew when we might return to our campuses, but Poly was not caught unprepared. Under the guidance of Associate Head of School / Chief Operating Officer Hung Bui P’28, Poly had been planning for this possibility with Nurse Patrice Murphy RN, BSN, NCSN P’05, heading our health services team. As it turned out, our Virtual Poly microsite was the first such site to launch in New York City by two weeks. 

We did not return to our two beautiful campuses after Spring Break, but on April 1, we came back to school in Virtual Poly. Barzdukas communicated with the community on a regular basis, with updates in accordance with the CDC, New York State, and New York City directives. 

Making Virtual Poly work took the Herculean, concerted efforts of Head of Technology Charles Polizano P’18 and Director of Lower School Technology Stacy Hunter P’15, as well as the faculty and leadership team.  Polizano and Hunter spent the two weeks of Spring Break tweaking Virtual Poly, which underwent two rounds of beta testing before April 1.  Polizano made sure it was accessible to all students with laptops and internet access available at home.

“Virtual Poly wouldn’t have been possible without Charles and his team,” said Head of Upper School Sarah Bates. “Not only did he work tirelessly to create the website itself, but offered many trainings and test sessions for faculty. He responds to every email, makes adjustments, and is readily available for any student, faculty, or staff member in the Poly community. I cannot imagine doing this without him!”

From the start of Virtual Poly, Middle and Upper School teachers were expected to present two 45-minute virtual lessons per week for each class in Google Meet. Students would submit their assignments in Google Classroom. “Both my daughters have enjoyed Virtual Poly,” said Doria Lavagnino P’23, ’25,  “I am impressed with how Poly got this up and running so quickly.”

Day to day in VP, faculty rose to the technological challenge and got creative teaching their subjects.  Parents of Lower School students pitched in to guide them through their virtual lessons. Michal Hershkovitz and division heads created schedules to provide time for meaningful class sessions while still considering how long a group of young students could stay engaged online. These schedules were fine-tuned along the way, considering things such as letting families enjoy lunchtime together, and making time for clubs and Assembly to maintain a feeling of community. 

“The biggest challenge for me,” said World Languages Department Chair Liz Mansfield, “has been feeling like a brand-new teacher again, after 20 years of teaching. We have all had to learn and master new technology. It’s exhausting, but I feel as if I am finally hitting my stride.”

Virtual Poly Screens
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Parents’ Association President Margaret Schilling P’22, ’24 told parents she had “penned a simple note to Poly’s teachers to express appreciation for their incredible work these last few weeks. They are working exceedingly hard under extraordinary circumstances.”

As it became clear we would be in Virtual Poly for a while, the Parents’ Association hosted Virtual Coffees, Athletics established a site on VP including workouts, Admissions held a Virtual College Night, Poly Arts posted Arts Challenges, Athletics coaches presented a Virtual Recruiting Night for Upper School families, Lower School conducted virtual parent/teacher conferences, school psychologists offered wellness check-ins, and the Head of School and division heads hosted three Virtual Town Hall webinars. Between 150 and 258 families “attended” each Town Hall. Hosts of some of these virtual events even considered whether in “normal times,” virtual meetings might be a more convenient way for some families to attend.

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(right) Talia M. ‘21 “Girl in Her Mother’s T-Shirt and Her Dog,” reinterpreting Mary Cassatt’s “Woman in a Red Bodice and Her Child” (1901) The first of our Virtual Poly Arts Challenges: Brooklyn Museum Art Challenge – We invite all our Poly families and friends, Poly alumni, to try this on your own! Inspired by the Getty Museum’s art challenge, whereby people seek to recreate an artwork from the museum’s collection with household objects or members of their family, students in the Middle and Upper School sections of the course “Creating and Curating with the Brooklyn Museum” embarked on their own art challenge. Having studied the Brooklyn Museum’s American paintings all semester, students chose an artwork from the online collection, then scoured their homes and imaginations to recreate it! These contemporary renderings recontextualize our understanding of history and our own visual worlds while engaging us in some much-needed creative play. Instructions: Head to the Brooklyn Museum’s Online Collection, find a work that appeals to you, and then get creating! Snap a photo of what you’ve made and share that along with the link to the museum artwork. Just send an email to Laura Coppola at We’ll post our favorites on the Virtual Poly Arts page and on Poly Prep ARTS Facebook and Instagram! @polypreparts #brooklynmuseumartchallenge #creatingandcuratingwiththebrooklynmuseum #artspartnerships #arteducation #arthistory #virtualpoly #polypreparts #polyprep #virtualpolyartschallenges #becreative #communityengagedlearning #brooklynmuseum @brooklynmuseum

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Poly’s Board of Trustees declared that despite the financial strains, Poly would maintain its identity and values and our Poly community would remain intact. Emergency financial aid was offered and at least 38 families reached out for assistance.

By the end of April, administrators and students were discussing how the Class of 2020 might celebrate end-of-year milestones such as Prom and Commencement in a Virtual Poly. In Lower School, plans for a Virtual Grade 4 Graduation were taking shape including the traditional class video. At the Town Halls, Barzdukas declared, “We are not just going to survive, we are going to thrive.”