Teachers at Vista Ridge Academy never spoke of remote learning, yet they found themselves transitioning from face-to-face learning to remote learning within a two-week timeframe.
On March 12, parents received an email from Teaching Principal Sandy Hodgson, saying classes were cancelled for March 13, just one day before Spring Break. Parents continue receiving email communication from Hodgson, the most recent stating school will be closed for the remainder of the school year.
While the transition to remote learning has gone relatively smooth for teachers and students, it has been a big adjustment not being together in a classroom setting.
“When students are doing great, I want to be able to give them a high five. Now we do air high fives, says First and Second Grade Teacher, Kenya Sanchez. “Or when a student feels frustrated, not being able to give them a tissue to wipe their tears has been a little heart breaking,” she says.
Hodgson says, “there is still the social piece of learning and collaborating together that is missing in remote learning.”
Remote learning began on March 30. The Remote Learning Plan is a partnership, dependent on the purposeful planning of our dedicated teachers, student motivation and engagement, and strong parent support and communication.
Teachers put into place a plan that combines asynchronous learning with synchronous engagements via Zoom and other methods to support both the learning and the social-emotional well-being of our students. Students work independently, engage in (online) collaboration with peers, and communicate daily with their teachers who continue to provide support and feedback, as well as opportunities for reflection and revision.
Third and Fourth Grade Teacher, Shondra Cizek, will tell you not being together with her students has been her biggest challenge, but “Zoom has been such a lifesaver,” she says.
Here is a snapshot of how remote learning looks for each class:
Preschool Teacher, Marissa Harwell, meets with her class twice a day, through Zoom, for Circle Time in the morning, covering Calendar, Bible, Math and Language Arts. She then meets with her class in the afternoon for Story Time. Harwell says she let parents know she is available throughout the day to meet or talk if they would like more time. Lesson plans are emailed weekly with a few mandatory items; reading, structured play, and free play. The lesson plans also include optional fun activities.
Pre-K and Kindergarten Teacher, Sandy Hepp, meets with her class twice a day, through Zoom. Outside of the meetings, students work on Apps, Spelling City, SplashLearn and Raz-Kids.
First and Second Grade Teacher, Kenya Sanchez, meets with her class twice a day, through Zoom. In the morning, students meet for Math, Worship and Morning Meeting. Science and Health are also discussed. In the afternoon, students meet for Grammar and Bible. During, in between meetings, or following the afternoon class, Sanchez helps students, one-on-one, needing extra assistance. Once a week, her class takes a virtual field trip; where students get to experience new places or places they miss.
Third and Fourth Grade Teacher, Shondra Cizek, has three Zoom meetings a day and additional individual Zoom meetings if needed.
Fifth and Sixth Grade Teacher, Sandy Hodgson, starts each day with worship and Bible, followed by separate math classes for grades 5 and 6. Hodgson is online twice a day (morning and afternoon) for zoom meetings and at other times if needed for one-on-one assistance.
Seventh and Eighth Grade Teacher, Andrew Jones, meets with his class daily in the mornings, through Zoom. Students then do their work as outlined in Lesson Plans. Students are given projects, i.e., find out how much paint they would need to paint their room, mail letters, and call grandparents. Jones is available through email, text or Zoom to help answer questions.
Harwell says her favorite part of the day is logging on early each meeting and getting to catch up with her students before the lessons start.
“My students always have so much to share, and it reminds me of them filing into our classroom with their stories,” she says.
In the Fifth and Sixth Grade morning meeting, Hodgson has kept their morning rituals going.
“We start every day with a joke, worship and Bible class. It’s fun to watch the students show up on time to school in anticipation of our morning rituals,” she says.
Jones has seen his students rise to the challenge that comes with remote learning.
“My students meet the challenges head on with positive attitudes and get it done,” says Jones.
During the transition to remote learning, the school developed the VRA@home section on their website. The goal of this site is to have one spot with general communications and information around remote learning as well as creative and enjoyable ways for school families to connect and maintain community in this unprecedented time.
Many parents have faced the challenge of juggling their work schedule with their child’s school schedule.
“Parents have really stepped up to the plate and showed their support towards their child and myself, for which I’m eternally grateful,” says Sanchez. “I try to let them know often of how much they are cherished.”
Harwell wants parents to know what they are doing is enough.
“You are doing a great job,” Harwell says, “and right now this learning experience looks different in every household. Don’t get overwhelmed by what you think you should be getting done versus what your reality looks like. Keep up the good work, and don’t feel hesitant to reach out to teachers when you need to. Your children are going to cherish these extra moments they got to spend with you.”
Sanchez’s advice, “Give it time,” she says, “and pray for guidance. The Lord will help with adjusting to new situations like this. Enjoy and celebrate the big and small triumphs daily, and see the blessings pouring from above.
The staff continue to find ways to adapt year-end activities. The school recently hosted a Virtual Moms Night In. Home and School Leader, Lisa Barton, organized the school’s biggest fundraising event, the Virtual Fun Run, for May 4 through May 8. Constituent Church Pastors, Pastor Jenniffer Ogden and Pastor J. Murdock of Boulder Church and Pastor Herbert Hernandez of Chapel Haven will lead out in Virtual Chapels each Friday for the remainder of the school year. And, staff are planning the Kindergarten and Eighth Grade graduations.
As Vista Ridge Academy plans for next school year, Principal Hodgson and her staff remain committed to providing a safe learning environment for students.
“Vista Ridge Academy has weathered many storms, but because of an actively strong support system, we are confident that we will move through this as a united community,” says Hodgson. “While our educational process is a bit different right now, we are still committed to our mission and vision and making sure our students receive the best education possible from a distance.”
Vista Ridge Academy is a private Christian elementary school north of Denver, operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It offers wholistic Christ-centered and values-driven education to children from preschool through to the eighth grade.
Article by Marsha Bartulec, Vice Principal for Administration