It was a first day of school unlike any before for students and teachers in Deer Valley Unified School District, whose 38 schools opened the 2020-21 academic year on Monday, Aug. 3.
While campuses shut down in mid-spring and families, students and teachers -- and the world -- scrambled for new footing as coronavirus swept through communities, this time around everyone had a summer’s worth of time to prepare for a new school year presented online from the outset. DVUSD will feature all district classes online through at least the end of the first quarter, Oct. 14.
Emphasizing the importance of engaging her online students at the start, Debbie Moore, who teaches marketing at Mountain Ridge High School, 22800 N. 67th Ave., Glendale, was playing “Let’s Get it Started” by the Black Eyed Peas as her students entered the Zoom room Monday morning.
“The process this time was much better because I had a feeling we might be online to start,” Ms. Moore said via email at the end of the first day of school. “The cases started to rise in July and I figured I better start looking for best practices. I attended virtual conferences to learn more. I took our district tech courses, which are on demand and a great resource. I joined chat groups to see what other teachers in other states were doing. I had a better feel for how to engage students this time around.”
Union Park School, at 25700 N. 21st Ave., was expecting a different kind of first day of school from when it first broke ground this past October. A brand-new campus within DVUSD, the K-8 school was gearing up for its inaugural academic year in 2020-21.
Instead, students and teachers opened the debut year at Union Park in a virtual setting from their own homes.
“Being at a new school, the students seemed excited to meet me and talk about Union Park. They were full of smiles and were very happy to see their friends,” said Jackie McCormick, who teaches seventh and eighth grade math at Union Park. “Some of these students knew each other and many were new to the neighborhood.”
Some of the preparation this time around involved establishing “Zoom protocols,” says Paul Strauss, eighth grade science teacher at Sunset Ridge School, 35707 N. 33rd Lane, within DVUSD. That means showing up for class on time and having supplies and work ready, as well as having laptop cameras on and focused on their faces, keeping microphones muted unless speaking, and even maintaining school dress code attire.
“You cannot wear pajamas all day and expect to be a true school ‘mindset,’” Mr. Strauss said. “Students need to treat each class online as if they were in our physical classroom.”
Although technological preparation proved smoother to begin the fall as opposed to quickly pivoting online during the spring semester’s urgent transition, one aspect requires time to grow, he added.
“When we did online learning in the spring, I had already established a strong relationship with each child so they felt comfortable with me and asking questions or letting me know if they need help on something. But now starting the year online is more challenging because we have not yet formed those relationships, so I am needing them to be braver than they may normally be and to trust me,” Mr. Strauss said. “I have to work extra hard to establish that trust so I can help them both academically and also with any social-emotional issues they may be going through with this new learning environment.”
At least 16 new coronavirus deaths and 1,454 new cases were reported in Arizona on Aug. 2. Over the past week, there have been an average of 2,347 cases per day, a decrease of 22 percent from the average two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database.