Though lacking physical learning spaces following statewide closures, education continues at Flagstaff schools, with teachers and administrators confronting new instruction and access challenges.
Flagstaff Unified School District will make a transition to objective-based learning Monday, after launching a “Digital Learning Hub” this week that lists external educational resources. In addition to ongoing updates to the digital hub, teachers will be releasing complete lesson plans each Monday through the end of the school year. These lessons will be fairly consistent across district elementary schools, but will vary by teacher and grade level for middle and high schools, said FUSD spokesperson Zachery Fountain.
These activities can be used to improve students’ third quarter grade, which were posted in gradebooks by March 13, but there are no penalties for not completing them. Grades can only improve through the activities. Students can also resubmit past assignments from the third quarter.
“We always encourage students to learn more,” Fountain said. “Learning is a skill that does not stop with a grade and we really want our students to maintain their engagement and further their education.”
In a special meeting of the FUSD Governing Board Monday, Superintendent Michael Penca said the closure is a good time for students to explore other educational interests and hobbies, such as taking online courses from other providers.
Families that have limited or no access to the technology needed to view and submit assignments online can opt for paper activity packets, which will be mailed to students — but won’t be accepted if returned to the district when completed.
In a letter to FUSD families Thursday, Penca explained this is a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Teachers and school administrators will individually determine how these assignments can be remotely graded, such as by photo or phone conference.
Teachers will be available during normal school hours to speak with students and parents regarding coursework and grading.
Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy is scaling up its remote learning until it reaches fully online classes in a few weeks. Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment classes have already transitioned to online format. Performance-based classes such as music, dance and theater will also be included in the online format, using live video sessions to hold class.
This week, students worked through an independent study led by Dean Jed Hayes and next week will begin an “expeditionary learning project” that asks students to develop practical solutions to questions with a worldview. Every day, students will virtually meet in small groups, with a teacher facilitator, to work on creating products such as hands-on service projects or proposed models to improve public services such as education.
Hayes said this week’s independent project has given school staff a chance to not only convert their classes to an online format, but also to see who has access to the material, in preparation of the upcoming online classes. The school sent out a survey to families more than two weeks ago to similarly determine needs for alternative access.
“We got a huge response and overwhelmingly most of our community does have internet access, but we did find some pockets where they didn’t have it at all or where they had bad, spotty internet service,” Hayes said.
The school is reaching out to these families to determine needs for paper materials prior to the start of official classes, which will be required, though Hayes said how upcoming activities will directly affect grades is still to be determined. For families with limited devices, FALA is coordinating a curbside pickup of school-owned Chromebooks for use at home. With a student technology ratio of about one device per three students, Hayes said there should be plenty of devices for those who need them.
A week into the new learning model, he said FALA students have already embraced new delivery methods, especially “office hours” being hosted by all school staff via phone call or videoconferencing.
“That interaction with your colleagues and your peers, that’s as important as any content we can give them,” Hayes said. “I don’t think there’s enough we can do in terms of making sure emotionally and mentally they are supported right now as much as they are supported academically.”
At San Francisco de Asís Catholic School, teachers have already released both paper and digital content, which were widely received by families. Monday morning, all but about five of the 175 students and their families picked up paper activity packets. A handful of iPads purchased by the school earlier this year — complete with data needed to access internet content — were also loaned to students in need of them.
Although students are being asked to complete all their online assignments as they would in class, Principal Bill Carroll said specific grading procedures remain somewhat flexible.
“A lot of our families are small business owners, so I know this is hitting them really hard,” Carroll said. “I don’t want to call them up and ask why they didn’t complete a lesson when they may be struggling to put food on the table. It’s about first making sure they’re doing alright as a family.”
Alongside the teachers who are holding daily videoconferencing lessons at every grade level — even kindergarten — Carroll continues to lead announcements and prayer from the school gymnasium twice a day, like he would normally, but now he records himself and shares the videos on the school’s Instagram page.
“I was in all the live lessons with the teachers, and although there were some troubleshooting issues, it was a very smooth first day and it’s only going to get better and a little more fluid now that we have nine weeks to perfect this,” Carroll said.
NPA and Basis
Northland Preparatory and Basis Flagstaff are both hosting required remote learning during the closures.
On an announcement posted to its website, NPA administrators instructed students to routinely check existing platforms used by teachers, such as Google Classroom and AP Classroom.
"Students are expected to complete all assignments and adhere to all deadlines. This is real school and your work will be assessed by your teacher," the announcement stated.
Basis began distance learning Tuesday, March 24, after a day of preparation following spring break, according to a letter from Basis Educational Ventures CEO Peter Bezanson and Aaron Kindel, CEO of BASIS.ed.
Since closure, Basis has remained active on social media, sharing submitted photos of teachers and students working from home.
“I'm so proud of what we have accomplished,” said Lisa Foreman, head of school, in an email. “Our teachers are all working so hard.”
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (928) 556-2253.