Officials at the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District are providing teachers, parents and students with trainings and other resources to prepare for the first day of school on Aug. 24.
One of the biggest challenges the district saw in the spring, and will continue to face in the fall, explained Jason Hodgson, director of professional development, was having 950 physical classrooms turned into 11,000 unique virtual classrooms "with astronomical needs."
Three driving factors the district identified in the pursuit of a successful distance learning model include: communication and connection, managing 11,000-plus classrooms and engaging learners genuinely and authentically.
"If they're not successful academically and social-emotionally as individuals, then we need to go back to the drawing board and redo it," Hodgson said. "At the end of the day, they have to engage in learning and be prepared to enter this new world."
The district, like many others in Kern County, will use the learning management system Canvas this fall, which will help track daily attendance and interaction among students and teachers.
With an additional eight days added to the summer due to the first day being pushed from Aug. 12 to Aug. 24, teachers will be undergoing Canvas and distance learning trainings.
This week alone, Hodgson said around 300 teachers have been voluntarily logging into virtual training sessions focused on personalizing online pages, managing communication, customizing content and seeing what a grading system looks like on Canvas.
"If we're only providing content and say go and learn, we're getting the basic understanding from some," Hodgson said. "But if they're all required as adult learners to implement what we're providing for them, then we know we're going to get the highest level of effectiveness and we'll have reliable outcomes."
Parent trainings will also take place three times a day Aug. 13 and 14, depending on a child's school site. Makeup sessions for all schools will be Aug. 17 and 19.
Families will also be able to pick up supplies, Chromebooks and other necessary resources prior to the first day.
When students begin school, the structure of their day will look a bit different than years past. Transitional kindergarten/kindergarten students will have 120 minutes of synchronous live learning and 60 minutes of asynchronous independent work. First through third graders will have 150 minutes of synchronous learning and 80 minutes of asynchronous learning, while fourth through sixth graders will have 165 minutes of live learning and 75 minutes of individual work.
Throughout the day, students will alternate between the two learning methods, and teachers will provide virtual office hours.
Junior high students will go through six periods a day with about 25 to 30 minutes dedicated to each subject, depending on the day. They will have 185 minutes of synchronous learning and 70 minutes of independent work.
As classes get underway, Jennifer Irvin, assistant superintendent of educational services, said parent involvement will be crucial in having children be successful in their pursuit of distance learning. Best practices for parents will available to help guide them through a new education model.
"We can’t just expect TK students to get a device and set them in front of it and say 'you’re good let’s roll.' Parents are the first teacher and right now that is absolutely the most true statement," Irvin said. "We are there, we are trained professionals and we're learning as we go."
Parents with questions may reach out to their individual school sites or the district office.