Summer school is in session at Aztec High School, affording enrolled students an opportunity to recover some class credits and, this year, a crash course in the “nuts and bolts” of blended learning.

As the school anticipates some combination of on-campus and distance learning in the fall, administration felt it was vital to educate both students and staff on how to navigate a blended curriculum so that all parties involved are better prepared for success and “survival in the education world.”

“Before (when school closures began), we’d put this stuff online and that was all they’d get,” said Principal Steve Pallack. “If they had a question, they could call and ask, but just looking at it at face value, maybe they’re interpreting it a different way than it was intended. So now we’re getting the two ends to meet together. This is how we can decipher what kind of issues we’re having, because we never really had that opportunity, and some of the kids desperately need that.”

In small groups of nine or fewer, students attend either a morning or midday session for two hours Monday-Thursday. Following directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), desks are six feet apart, face masks are worn and “copious amounts of sanitizer” are used.

At their desks, students complete the day’s assignments just as they would if they were virtually learning elsewhere, but with the advantage of having their teacher nearby to clarify confusing instructions and walk them through the steps for uploading their work to an online platform. Likewise, teachers have the advantage of seeing the student side of things and gaining feedback on what’s working, what makes sense and what needs adjusting.

“We’re preparing the students and the teachers, because the teachers haven’t had a whole lot of practice with this either,” Pallack said. “So they’re using the summer school as kind of a training ground for them. They post something to Google Classroom or whatever platform they’re using, and if there’s a problem with it, the kids are right there to say, ‘Hey, I don’t understand what you’re asking or how to do this.’”

According to Pallack, it’s possible that Aztec will offer another set of these sessions in July to ensure every student who needs or is interested in participating has an opportunity to do so.

Although it’s only week one of the three-week summer school, it’s already proven to be helpful in understanding some of the nuances of working on a laptop that differ from pencil and paper, or even a cell phone.

“Some of the kids have never had a device at home, so they’re not very comfortable working online,” Pallack said. “We’re trying to help alleviate some of the fears some of these kids have because they’ve never had the experience.”

According to Pallack, the school is hoping to provide a number of hotspot devices for students to check-out this fall to further support their success in virtual or blended learning objectives.

“It’s something that we have to do for our kids,” said Pallack. “Some of our kids would be considered homeless, so what are our expectations of a homeless kid if they don’t have a stable place to go, power and WiFi and all the things a lot of us take for granted? A lot of them just want to learn — they’re just hungry, and they want to try to advance themselves and work toward graduating. As long as they’re moving in that direction, I’m not sure they necessarily care about what method it is.”

While it’s impossible to predict what the upcoming school year will look like with “things changing so rapidly on the government level,” Pallack said Aztec has four or five different plans for reopening, and the “rhetoric” from Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Education in the coming weeks will help narrow down those options. For now, the school is “just guessing like everybody else.”

“It’s an adventure,” Pallack said. “I certainly didn’t think as I’m nearing retirement again that I would be doing this right now, but sometimes life throws you a curveball and you’ve got to be able to hit it.”


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