Classroom at home
Nicole Higaki helps her son with assignments as teachers and students learn how to learn all over again. Photo courtesy Nicole Higaki

Five weeks into remote learning, Cabrillo Unified School District educators are settling into a groove. Thanks to hard work, flexibility and lots of coordination from students, staff and parents, they say online learning is going better than expected.

Now their greatest worry isn’t academics, but the welfare of their students.

Most teachers say students were quick to adapt to the new schedule and expectations. High school science teacher Joseph Centoni said, overall, he’s been impressed by the quality of work he’s receiving and that his students have stayed positive through road bumps like canceled lab time and field trips. He’s staying focused on reaching out and keeping his students connected while they shelter in place.

Rebecca Jeffs, who teaches second grade at Farallone View Elementary, has been working to get parents on the same page so they can support their kids’ at-home learning without burning them out.

After Jeffs heard from some parents that they are struggling to keep their kids motivated, she created more specific goals for her students to work toward. She said she expects some learning to be lost this year, but said she isn’t worried as long as students are continuing to read and socialize at home.

“I am actually shocked by how much we are able to do,” Jeffs said. “... The kids are still engaged and getting the support they need, and that’s really the goal.”

High school math teacher Amy Treanor said streamlining communications, like creating a schedule of office hours and limiting the number of platforms to work with, has been key to keeping things simple for students. Also important has been coordinating among teachers and administrators and staying flexible to disparate student situations. Treanor is setting due dates for Fridays to give her students the weekend off and is allowing late work.

“It’s been pretty cool to see how quickly everyone has pulled together and to see how the kids have adapted,” Treanor said.

But teachers worry about their students who have yet to get online or who aren’t consistently completing classwork. Few have been able to get 100 percent participation in their classrooms. Sixth-grade teacher Nicole Higaki said teachers, administrators and office staff are all working hard to reach out to parents and students to check on their wellbeing and to get them the technology they need to participate in online school. She says some of her students still haven’t connected or are online inconsistently.

Higaki said absences from online learning are happening for a variety of reasons, not just technological ones. Some students don’t have parents at home to support their learning and others face language or learning barriers to online school. Many are grappling with responsibilities and challenges — like having to support their now-unemployed parents or take care of their younger siblings — that come before school.

“We’re trying so hard to connect with students, to make sure they are safe,” Higaki said. “That’s the priority. … There are just so many levels of where kids are right now.”

Centoni said some of his students are struggling with the task of managing their own time for the first time. He is preparing for a fall semester in which school may continue to be nontraditional. But starting remote learning at the beginning of next year could be difficult, and not just because students will be behind in their instruction.

“Everything we’re doing right now is based on the relationships we built over the first three-quarters of the year,” Centoni said. “And trying to jump in at the beginning of the year into a situation like this would be really, really tough.”

Treanor agreed that the likelihood school will go back to normal by the fall is slim. She said she is taking what she’s learned and built online this semester and preparing for an uncertain future.

“It’s going to be an ongoing conversation,” Treanor said. “It’s not over. We’re going to try to get through this school year and see what school is going to look like in the fall.”

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