English teacher Yuria Koga didn’t expect to become a distance educator overnight. She already used digital presentation resources to conduct her English classes, but only with students there in the room. Would she discover tech features to replace her handwritten edits and post-it notes at the board? Sure. Central City Value staff scrambled quickly to outfit students at home, learn how to use Zoom and Google meeting platforms, and find the best distance learning resources to continue their classes.
|Central City Value High School English teacher Yuria Koga.
|Ms. Koga helped students discover that bigotry they’re seeing in the COVID-19 era has echoes in our past.
“Our teachers did not skip a beat; we exchanged pedagogy and teaching resources immediately. There’s so much dedication at this school. Everyone was all in right away, while a lot of other schools waited for a month or more.”
Yuria worked through more than “how to set up breakout rooms on Zoom” and “how can I replace the classroom’s quick check-in glance when there’s an array of boxes on my screen?” Our students were facing huge challenges in their school and home lives, with health and economic fears looming. Classes were not just displaced, they were disrupted. State guidance was understandably slow in coming. In consultation with colleagues, Yuria decided to reteach material but repurpose it to help students make sense of what they’re experiencing. Discussing nonfiction texts and news articles helped keep their English classes relevant and allowed students to express anxieties and build resilience. Researching xenophobia helped them discover that the anti-Chinese bigotry they’re seeing in the COVID-19 era has echoes in our past.
Meanwhile, faculty in each department met to decide on strategies for spacing out homework, discuss how resource professionals like special education staff and counselors would be integrated into classes, agree on a grading policy, and identify the most important standards to cover in the remaining months.
“We’re all excited because it’s a challenge. Nobody gave up. And we don’t just teach; we check in on our students’ mental health constantly.” Sometimes that means assigning more journal-writing and less vocabulary study.Sometimes it means keeping Zoom open during lunch so students can drop by as if everyone were still on campus. Or it might be an online guitar concert by a fellow student.
Shifting to distance learning means much more than merely broadcasting what would have happened in the classroom. “I am so proud of how Central City and Value Schools pulled together so fast to make sure our students’ education kept moving forward in this new environment,” says Alvin Lamarre, Central City Value teacher and Director of Data & Technology. Staff did an immediate survey of computer resources available to students at home and quickly obtained supplemental resources to get nearly everyone connected within a few weeks.
|Alvin Lamarre with 2019 Graduates.
|Alvin Lamarre with Central City Value students during one of our We Climb fundraisers.
Department heads and school administrators had plenty to decide. What about the scheduled work on WASC accreditation renewal? Keep going, remotely. What about seniors headed for college? Get counselors lined up with appointments. How to take and encourage attendance? This was a great opportunity for temporarily sidelined staff like coaches to pitch in, and they were ideally suited to place immediate calls to parents of absent students, to identify connectivity problems or help them motivate their children to keep tuning in to school.
Together, the Central City Value staff decided on a teacher requirement of a one-hour block twice a week for each class. Teachers quickly adapted to using a lot of breakout rooms and groups for projects, allowing a continued focus on collaborative learning.
Both Yuria and Alvin share with their colleagues the downsides of distance. They miss face-to-face interaction with the students, in-person Community Time sessions, and the creativity that flows from hallway conversations and drop-in chats. Now that creativity is devoted to finding Zoom-based workarounds and even enhancements of the educational experience.
Alvin and Yuria are just two of the Central City Value High teachers who’ve demonstrated the flexibility and commitment Value Schools prizes. We are so proud of them for changing gears so cheerfully, without losing focus on developing the whole person, making sure all students get the education they deserve to reach their potential.