Our first week of distance learning at the ABC School was very successful; teachers and staff worked extremely long hours to push out learning online. We distributed approximately 100 devices to families in need and assisted them with contacting local internet providers for service. We are pleased with how students, teachers, staff and families have responded to this unique way of learning in the first week.

These are emotional and difficult times for everyone. Distance instruction and learning requires a willingness to take chances and learn. Teachers and students are facing these new learning experiences and challenges with boldness and confidence, reaching new heights in learning and striving to continue forward in learning. We fully understand the limitations to this form of learning, based on the limits of technology and internet service in remote areas, personal circumstances of our teachers and families, and unknowns we have not anticipated. We will work each problem as it presents itself and do our best to provide a meaningful educational experience for each learner.

Our support staff has assisted with distribution of paper resources to complement the online lessons our teachers are providing. Teachers have daily and weekly live Zoom meetings with students so they can still make connections and keep relationships with their teachers and classmates. Core subject lessons are pre-recorded with Loom and Screencast by teachers so students can watch videos at the best appropriate time for their family. All lessons and assignments are posted to the teacher’s Google Classroom, which for many of them, was a new technology platform. Our teachers spent countless hours setting up online classrooms to meet the needs of students during school closure. Teachers and assistants have set office hours so parents or students can ask questions and receive assistance. Communication is made through Remind, emails, Google classroom or voice calls.

We are trying to blend academic core learning with our special area classes, which we know creates well-rounded students. Coach Bailey and Mrs. Chambers, our phys ed teachers, are creating exercise videos for students to access for physical activities. Ronda Verges, our art teacher is providing online activities for students to view and create at-home art projects. Suzanne Creamer is providing “The Book Nook” recordings for elementary and middle school students from the library, which students can listen to and take Accelerated Reader comprehension quizzes for AR points. We are able to use more of our online learning programs for science and social studies, which students can access at any time and do as much additional learning as they choose.

Overall feedback from parents has been very positive. As a school, we understand what a huge task this is for parents as they play a more active and critical role in their child’s schooling .We recognize staff, students and parents are at different starting points. We are reviewing and now reducing the number of lessons we are providing in a week. We have found through feedback with parents that it may take longer at home than at school to complete assignments.

We will be using Fridays as catch up days so that if students miss lessons, they can use Friday to complete assignments. We are reminding parents to complete what they can when they can. Transitioning to distance learning can keep students on track so that when they return to our physical environment, they will be ready for the next stage in their learning. Students are given credit for online completed assignments and paper packets. Whatever learning engagement activities the students are participating in, they are growing and moving forward educationally mastering new content daily. The ultimate goal of distance education during this time of closure is keeping students actively learning.

As a school and community, we understand the emotional toll COVID19 is having on families. The loss of jobs, working from home and homeschooling multiple children can be emotionally stressful on everyone. Many families may feel in crisis mode. We continue to have ongoing counseling for students through our contracted service providers and video meeting platforms. We have counseling resource information for parents. Online platforms are being utilized for providing therapy and additional educational services for our students.

School and home have always been a partnership for student educational success. In these uncertain times, we need each other more than ever to help students with accomplishing educational goals.. We are a team and will work through this together for our children. We are blessed to have a strong community and school district who work together to provide continuing education and meal services for our children in Franklin County. We thank our parents for your continued support, patience, and understanding during this unprecedented time.

Chimene Johnson, principal and CEO of the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, can be reached at cjohnson@abceagles.org.