The arrival of COVID-19 in the United States has faced educators with new challenges as schools have closed to help protect the health and safety of students and staff. School districts across Arizona are working diligently to minimize disruptions to the learning experience of their students. Charter schools like Vista College Prep have found ways to prepare and implement new online instruction opportunities to help meet this goal and continue vital educational programs.
Arizona’s Recommendations for Online Education
At the end of March, Governor Doug Ducey declared that the state of Arizona was under a public health emergency. This action opened further opportunities for state officials to confront the COVID-19 pandemic. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has since developed a strategy for schools to follow in an effort to create a rewarding online learning experience for students throughout the state.
This strategy also strives to create a level of equity so that all students can access their teachers and school programs online during this time of uncertainty. ADE recommends learning institutions follow their four Cs of Education Equity when implementing virtual classroom programs:
It is critical to communicate often with students and their families. Determine what needs they might have and how you can be supportive.
Remember to consider that the pandemic affects the needs and circumstances of us all in different ways. Meal security, financial stability, internet access, and tech literacy are just the start of the list. In all cases, these circumstances are new and unfamiliar, requiring extra patience and flexibility.
During this time, teachers and families must collaborate to support their students and one another. This means that teamwork, compassion, and determination are critical when transitioning to an online classroom setting.
Networking with local and national leaders and resource providers for everything from housing assistance to educational activities to keep students actively learning can help provide stability and foster a home environment full of learning and discovery.
Neighboring states like New Mexico and California have also closed their schools for the rest of the school year and expect their districts to provide online instruction and resources instead. While every state seems to have its own course of action, the well-being and continuing education of students and staff are a top priority for all.
In accordance with the ADE's recommendations, VCP has approached remote learning with our own three key priorities that encompass the objectives above: connection, access, and rigor.
In an effort to feel connected and to support our community, we have served nearly 17,000 meals to VCP families and community members. We have made thousands of phone calls home to check in on our families and ensure they have what they need. Additionally, we have virtual social lunches, weekly celebrations, office hours, and intervention supports to ensure our students and their families can participate in routines and connect with their teachers who love and miss their scholars.
Access to technology, internet, and tailored instruction have been top priorities. To ensure there are no barriers to access, we have handed out nearly all of our 450+ Chromebooks. We have contacted all of our families to ensure they have access to the internet, and we have provided hotspots and worked with Cox to provide internet access to over 100 families that previously did not have it; our goal was that 100% of families were able to access online learning. This commitment included not just our general education students, but our students with special needs as well. In particular, our team worked diligently to identify, connect with, support, and motivate some of our most vulnerable students.
Our students deserve to build on what they have learned this year. That is why we have used this time to close as many gaps as we can, set clear learning expectations, and work to ensure our students are ready for next year. We have done this through our online education platform, Vista Virtual. With over 200 videos uploaded for our K-2 students, daily new content across grades 3-7, and book clubs for our middle school students, our goal has been to have over 90% of students engaged in online learning.
What Can Educators do to be Effective Online?
Educational institutions throughout Arizona recognize that learning doesn’t only happen in a physical classroom. Teachers can provide a rewarding student experience despite social distancing and school closures.
Consider some of the following tips for conducting a successful online class lesson:
Use the Right Tools
It may feel overwhelming to not have the physical interaction with your students in the classroom, but remote conferencing software like Zoom or Google Classroom helps maintain your teaching style. These programs allow you to simulate an in-person class environment that provides students with the audio and visual connection they depend on for meaningful learning.
Create an intuitive user-friendly online learning environment by using a methodical approach to your organization of class material and activities. Ease of navigation helps students to focus on class content rather than feel confused or overwhelmed.
Technology not only keeps students engaged, but it also provides teachers with opportunities to expand their skill set. Virtual teaching experience will also help teachers and schools prepare to provide a quality education to scholars in the event of future school closures.
Online Teaching Opportunities At VCP
In these uncertain times, feeling overwhelmed about teaching in a virtual classroom is understandable. The change in teaching style and environment only adds to the pressure of learning new software and tools to conduct a class. At Vista College Prep, our charter school offers a comprehensive, quality online learning experience as well as the teacher support needed for our students to succeed, even while working from a distance.
VCP will continue to focus on advancing the quality of classroom instruction, improving school performance, and providing targeted professional development for all of our team members despite the impact of COVID-19 on our communities. If you are interested in joining a team of passionate educators, contact VCP today!