The COVID-19 pandemic has created some big changes for the American education system. Here are how some OC private schools have adapted.
The coronavirus pandemic has transformed California’s classrooms in an unprecedented way.
Kids are home. Parents are moving into a much more active role in education. Living rooms have become classrooms.
Orange County’s private schools have had to adapt along with the rest of the education system.
And while challenging, the community has risen to the challenge.
“Our teachers have been nothing short of outstanding, making sure that all the children are comfortable and they have done this, in some cases, by not spending as much time with their own families,” said Greg Cygan, president of Heritage Oak Private School in Yorba Linda. The campus has been providing online instruction since March 18 due to the government shelter-in-place mandates.
Heritage Oak serves preschoolers to eighth-graders. Age plays a role on how well kids can adapt to online learning. Cygan said parental guidance is essential for younger children to make the initial transition.
“The older children are much more self-sufficient and are grasping the technology really well and showing some amazing responsibility in behaving appropriately during classes, turning in work, communicating respectfully with each other,” Cygan said.
The school is working to ease the difficulties for families with younger children at home by keeping the same daily openings and breaks to maintain the structure of “regular” school as much as possible as well as offering virtual tutoring to ensure students do not fall behind, Cygan said.
LePort Montessori Private School in Irvine has similarly been able to pivot quickly and offer a distance learning program for their preschool, elementary and middle school students. Throughout the closure, LePort Montessori instruction has been relying on online platforms like Zoom for one-to-one tutoring, and Google Classrooms for group lessons and projects, according to LePort Montessori Regional Director Marriah Pearson.
“Despite the uncertainty of this current situation, I have been really impressed with the creativity and ingenuity of the entire LePort school community,” Pearson said. “Teachers are collaborating on best practices and exploring new ways to present material to their students. Students are continuing the Montessori practice of independence and navigating these new technologies successfully.”
According to Pearson, parents are actively posting pictures of their children completing lessons and sharing helpful tips on the Facebook community pages while the staff has been working together to provide rich experiences for students, including recent virtual field trips to the San Diego Zoo and various museums.
“The school community as a whole is focused more on what we can do rather than what we cannot do, so I think one of the major challenges was navigating the uncertainty of the situation and not knowing when we can safely and effectively resume classes back in the schools,” Pearson said.
To address these challenges, LePort Montessori has been focused on frequent communication with the entire school community and providing guidance and support to parents on how to best explain the complicated circumstances to their children, Pearson said.
Fairmont Private School’s Historic Anaheim Campus also immediately moved to distance learning and has been able to offer a remote learning experience for all grades using Zoom along with their online learning management system, according to Fairmont’s Director Matt Calabria.
Fairmont has made the well-being of the community a priority by providing open Zoom office hours for teachers and guidance counselors as well as individual sessions to support students with language and learning differences, Calabria said. The school also hosted their first-ever virtual Spring Camp at no cost to parents.
Despite the challenges of changing to completely virtual classrooms nearly overnight, Fairmont has offered some form of online learning for 10 years and looks forward to being able to sustain this type of learning, maintain engagement and prevent “Zoom burnout,” Calabria said.
“Our teachers have been wonderful during this time,” he said. “They have been very flexible and have adapted to changes very quickly. Our students are happy to see their teachers and classmates. Of course, nothing can replace the sense of community afforded by in-person interactions and on-campus involvement.”
According to Fairmont President Chad Jackson, once the school is reopened they will provide a comprehensive plan informed by the CDC and appropriate government agencies. Jackson also said remote learning will continue to be available for students who do not feel comfortable enough to return to campus.
“Remote learning gives learners who aren’t on campus access to materials through an online, digital platform and allows for personal support, social interaction and engagement,” Jackson said.
Heritage Oak and Fairmont noted some positive results of remote learning: fewer absences. At LePort Montessori, students and teachers are engaging in new ways.
“It has been encouraging to see the adaptability of our students and they have really embraced this new online format,” said Pearson.
Cygan said that some students are actually enjoying the new learning paradigm due to the lack of social distractions.
“My fifth-grade son absolutely loves going to school online,” said Cygan. “He likes rolling out of bed a bit later and being able to complete things on his own. He has actually come to the conclusion that not being distracted by his pals in the class has made him more productive and is very surprised how fast his work gets completed.”
Although private schools are waiting for local, state and federal approved guidelines for planned campus reopenings, administrations are confident education will return to normal with the hope that some things will change for the better.
“Many of the lessons learned will serve us very well while on campus,” Cygan said. “Closely monitoring those that are not feeling well and ensuring, with the full support from families, a child doesn’t need to come to school. We have demonstrated that we can keep them ‘up to speed’ from home so that parents will feel more comfortable and less anxious about a child missing a day or two of school as we can readily connect them to their classroom, wherever they are.”
—By Madison Amirehteshami