Charter, private schools navigate weeks of online learning

Schools maintain their individuality, community despite change in plans

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/14/20

Up until March 2020, Golden-based charter school Golden View Classical Academy relied on a mostly analog approach to education, said principal Robert Garrow. And when the school decided to transition …

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Charter, private schools navigate weeks of online learning

Schools maintain their individuality, community despite change in plans

Posted

Up until March 2020, Golden-based charter school Golden View Classical Academy relied on a mostly analog approach to education, said principal Robert Garrow.

And when the school decided to transition to remote learning and instruction in response to the spread of COVID-19, that meant taking everything online for the first time.

In a matter of days, the school set up email accounts for every student, set up Google Classroom accounts for every teacher and ensured all students had devices to use at home, with some families donating computers to the cause.

“To move online was a very steep move, and we really turned it around in a weekend,” Garrow said.

As opposed to many of its neighbors, the academy, established through the Barney Charter School Initiative, is not a neighborhood school in a larger school district. While the school has been able to look to nearby districts’ approach to remote learning, the vast majority of the process has fallen on the school’s shoulders.

Other area charter and private schools have found themselves in a similar situation, with each finding a way to tackle the turnaround and see their families through the end of the school year.

At Faith Christian Academy in Arvada, the adaptation has been a process of expanding what the school already has in place. Every year, the private school oversees at least one day of remote learning through which students go online to complete a day of school from home. The school uses the same method whenever it has to make up a snow day or cancellation, said Superintendent Andrew Hasz, and its freedom to do so as a private school has made Faith slightly more prepared to handle the current situation.

“It’s a lot different for one day versus weeks and months,” he said, however, “we’re coming together and we’ve set up a good system.”

Meredith Meyering, who has a middle schooler and a high schooler at Faith, said the prior online experience made the transition easier for her family.

“They would agree they learn better listening in class, but content-wise, they do feel like they’re covering the same amount they would be,” she said. “And the teachers have been very merciful as we’re figuring things out.”

Additionally, the staff has worked to address the most common issues students and parents are facing.

For families in need of technical help, the school’s technical support team has been making house calls to help resolve issues. For subjects that are particularly difficult for students to understand on their own, like math, Meyering’s daughter’s teacher has been available by text message or video chat to answer questions. For students who are missing the social aspect of school, each class holds a weekly video chat over Zoom to allow students to talk to one another.

“The kids can see how much work the teachers are putting into all of this,” Meyering said. “I think they feel as part of the school as they can as far away as they are.”

As the school continues to adjust its approach based on families’ needs, “we do keep in contact with Jeffco Schools, because everybody’s going through the same things,” Hasz said. “And we have a lot of talks with other Christian schools so we can all learn from each other.”

Other schools, like Lincoln Academy in Arvada — a charter authorized by Jeffco Public Schools — have been following the district’s lead more closely as they navigate these remote learning weeks.

“The district gave us a really good framework and we have made it work for our community,” said principal Janelle Johnson. “They’ve done a fabulous job and I know if there’s something we needed, we could reach out and ask.”

At the same time, Johnson and her staff have had the ability to be flexible to help families, whether that means extending attendance deadlines or changing assignment due dates. She also highlighted the school’s many resources available for struggling families, including resources for families in need of food and mental health resources,all listed on the school’s webpage.

As the weeks go on, teachers have also become more committed to posting videos and holding video chats, she said.

“I’ve been on a Zoom call with kindergarten and the teacher went through the phonics lesson and when they heard the long `i’ sound, they jumped out of their chair. It’s activities like that,” Johnson said. “They’re finding multiple ways to teach.”

Parents like Micah Gilbreath, who has sons in first and fifth grade at Lincoln, note that staff has also worked to ensure families feel close together — even though, because the charter is not a neighborhood school, families geographically may be far apart.

“Right now, my boys are doing PE through a Facebook Live chat, and our art teacher has done the same thing. It’s fun and involved,” she said. “The teachers have just been a lifeline for our kids to know they’re safe. This will be something that sticks with our families and I think it’s going to be for the greater good, in time.”

Many charters and private schools like Faith, Golden View Classical and Lincoln have announced that remote learning will continue for the rest of the school year.

Looking to the coming weeks, the schools are hopeful that they will be able to maintain the unique aspects that draw students to their schools in the first place.

“Classical education really prioritizes conversations, so anything that detracts from that really makes it more difficult,” Garrow said, “but we’re happy to do the best we can, and I think we’re doing well.”

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