Home Articles Arizona schools step up online learning options in wake of coronavirus pandemic

Arizona schools step up online learning options in wake of coronavirus pandemic

Local schools are trying to roll out online learning options in the wake of school closures due to coronavirus. iStock photo

This week’s sudden closing of all Arizona schools has left school officials rushing to find ways to keep students on track for the academic year. In the meantime, local parents are growing anxious about their children’s education.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced the closure Sunday amid heightening concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Schools and classes shut down on Monday through at least March 27, leaving no time for contingency plans.

Editor’s update: On Monday, March 30, Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Schools Kathy Hoffman announced schools will remain closed through the end of the academic  year.

As a result, more than one million Arizona students, along with concerned parents, face a major gap in this school year. Schools’ preparedness for restarting classes is varying widely from within a few days to no definite plans. But what they all share is the viewpoint that some form of remote, online learning is the solution.

Saguaro High School in Scottsdale has announced it will implement an online instruction program as early as next Monday.

“I’m hopeful that classes will start next week,” said Risa Shaver, mother of a Saguaro sophomore. “I think we’re all feeling the uncertainly of ‘How long will this last?’ or ‘What exactly will be the impact?’ It’s just so many unknowns.”

Teachers and staff from Saguaro and other Scottsdale Unified School District schools are training this week for the program roll-out. It will offer “an opportunity for teachers to plan and post online lessons for their students,” according to a statement.

At private high schools Xavier College Preparatory and Brophy College Preparatory, instruction is slated to restart Thursday. Their “distance learning” program will use the schools’ existing course-management system. Students will be expected to check in online for daily attendance and classwork between 8 a.m. and 2:45 p.m., following their current class schedule.

Brophy’s communications to parents underscored the untested territory that schools are entering.

“We’ll be creating this new virtual experience as we go, so I can’t say with 100 percent certainty what it’s going to look like. … We are committed to working through whatever hiccups we encounter, and we appreciate your partnership, which will be crucial to our success,” Principal Bob Ryan wrote in a March 17 letter.

Arizona School for the Arts, a Phoenix charter school, shared its contingency plan with parents late last week. In the event of a shutdown, ASA would “move immediately to digital platforms using Canvas, G-Suite, Discovery Ed, etc. to deliver curriculum to students” with the faculty requiring a week to prepare for the online program launch.

School disruption has left students as well as parents off-balance. “It’s just sort of abrupt and weird, how it’s happening,” said Raymond Cusick, an ASA sophomore. “But I think the online education could work. Much of our curriculum is online now and there’s strong communication with the teachers through the internet. It’s just hard to be so isolated socially.”

Parents of Gilbert Public Schools students are waiting for their district’s game plan. “The district is currently investigating possible long-term options for remote learning for our students should they be needed,” according to a Monday letter from Superintendent Shane McCord. “In the meantime, we have created a resource that includes a wide range of enrichment resources for all grade levels.”

As schools try to fill the education gap with online solutions, access to technology poses a hurdle. Some families do not have home computers or internet service. School districts with a supply of classroom laptops are allowing students to check them out for home use. But some students may fall through the cracks.

The seismic shift in the school environment in the last 48 hours has left all affected with questions that will take time to answer. Is this virtual reality the new normal? If not, for how long?

“We’re just concerned about how this will shake out,” said Molly Sanborn, a second-grade teacher and mother of two in the Chandler Unified School District, which is on break through March 20. “How can you hold kids accountable with online learning? And we have important state testing coming up that the kids need to prepare for. We’re very unsure and uncertain as to what the future will hold.”

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