There are students, after years of schooling, adjusting to the new world of virtual education. Coronavirus has forced districts to re-imagine the learning process, as the 42 schools across Peoria Unified School District that began with the first day of school on Aug. 5 have done.
On the other hand, there are students who don’t know any other way, and are jumping right in.
Welcome to kindergarten.
“Since our learners have never been to school before, this is going to be a huge piece to helping our classrooms run smoothly the next month, and beyond for us long-term virtual teachers,” Porscha-Lynn Harper, who teaches kindergarten at PUSD’s Sahuaro Ranch Elementary School, 10401 N. 63rd Ave., Glendale, said on the first day of school. “We also want to keep the lines of communication open as much as possible. We know that this is a team effort and students will succeed if we teachers and families communicate accordingly.”
Ms. Harper got a leg up on the process by teaching two-and-a-half weeks of online learning during summer school. The extra planning to prepare for the fall semester made a difference, she says, compared to the quick transition during the spring’s urgent school shutdowns in communities across the country.
“This time around is totally different from the spring,” she continued. “First off, this was not a complete curveball thrown at us. We have been planning and preparing for weeks. We took days’ worth of training to become fluent on these virtual platforms, prepare kits, and have a virtual platform to have students work on. We have a scope and sequence, standards to meet, attendance and high expectations for our new classes.”
The Peoria Unified School District last month voted to postpone in-person classroom instruction at least through Labor Day Weekend, from which students would potentially return on Tuesday, Sept. 8. The district will monitor coronavirus trends and benchmarks before deciding about school beyond that to “allow the data to guide us,” board president David Sandoval said.
While opinions vary regarding stay-at-home learning versus reopening to live instruction, the first day of school under any circumstances -- but particularly considering what teachers, students and families have experienced in 2020 -- seemed especially welcome on Wednesday.
“It was different and made me feel a lot of emotions,” said Adrianna Volkman, math teacher at Peoria High School, 11200 N. 83rd Ave. “The one feeling that stood out the most was a unique experience. Meeting my students for the first time not in person through a screen has made me realize how strong our relationship building needs to be. My goal is for the students to feel the same way they would when they come into my classroom at Peoria High School, at home.”
Going through the spring semester experience, however, did come with an advantage this around in the fall: a familiarity with the approach that has now become a modern model.
“I felt much more comfortable with the online platform, meeting live with students, utilizing communication tools, and helping families navigate the technology,” said Holly Holgate Krieger, who teaches Jobs for Arizona’s Graduates (JAG) at Peoria High School. “The students also seemed more comfortable with the online platform as well and were committed to reaching out, signing in, and asked for help.”
Some of those online methods, though forced by circumstance earlier this year, may prove valuable.
“Live lessons hold students more accountable than asynchronous learning,” Ms. Holgate Krieger said. “They will have assignments that they can choose to work on offline, however we will be live 3-5 times weekly and I will hold live office hours on the off days so that they can choose to log in while working. A number of classroom techniques also work online such as raising their hand, writing their answers on a piece of paper then holding it up for a check for understanding, and counting down such as ‘please mute your mics in 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.’”