three computers

How is distance learning at Analy, El Molino and Laguna coming along?

Three west county high school principals make their reports

At the West Sonoma County Union High School District board meeting on May 6, west county’s three high school principals gave assessments of how each school was coping with distance learning.

“I asked each of the principals to respond to a couple prompts,” said Superintendent Toni Beal, who read the principals’ responses aloud since the board limits participation at their public Zoom meetings to board members and district staff.

Her questions included: How are students doing? How are teachers doing? What are some of your challenges and what are some of your successes?

Unlike teachers, principals are not on the frontlines of distance learning, teaching to a video camera, but their reports were enlightening.

Analy High School — Report by Shauna Ferdinandson

How are the students doing?

“Our students are making the best of the situation, for the most part,” Analy principal Shauna Ferdinandson wrote. “Students are continuing to focus on their studies, and they report very much enjoying Zoom meetings or any platform that allows them to interact with their teachers and classmates.”

Ferdinandson said she gets a lot of email from students “because I’ve asked them to check in with me if they need anything,” she wrote. “Many, many students miss coming to school. They miss their friends, their teachers and all at the end-of-the year fun stuff.

“Some students have taken time to learn about subjects that interest them, like surfboard repair, cooking, painting, learning Spanish. It’s clear that their natural curiosity has not been diminished by the pandemic.

“The seniors in particular are expressing that they feel sad about missing the prom, the senior picnic, the senior pranks and all the things that they’ve been looking forward to for many years.

“Many students report increased hours at their jobs to help out their families,” she wrote.

How are the teachers doing?

“Analy staff has handled this transition to distance learning with great dedication and expertise,” Ferdinandson wrote. “They have both led and participated in staff development for platforms like Google Classroom, Padlet, Zoom, Screencastify and Flipgrid.”

“Teachers report that most of their students are working diligently, and they (the teachers) are continually reaching out to students and families when students haven’t checked in.

“For Analy teachers who are parenting young children or caring for elderly parents, this time has been especially challenging,” Ferdinandson wrote.

“Most of our teachers say that, even though they really miss their students, they are handling this pretty well.”

What are the challenges?

“The biggest challenges as I see it,” Ferdinandson wrote, “is the uncertainty that both staff and students are feeling. It’s incredibly hard to keep up the stamina of distance learning and teaching among so many issues that cannot be easily figured out: Will we have a graduation ceremony? What will school look like when we start in August?”

What are the successes?

“During the first couple of weeks, our classified staff personally called approximately 300 students to make sure that the students had what they needed to participate in online learning,” Ferdinandson wrote.

“Jennie (facilities manager Jennie Bruneman) and her crew did an amazing job distributing Chromebooks and hotspots to our families who needed them. I have no doubt that this crisis will leave us with greater capacity for teaching modalities, equity and overall flexibility as an institution," she wrote. "I am grateful for the hard work from the Analy staff and the district office.”

Ferdinandson also gave a shout out to the Analy Alumni Association, “which paid for our 2020 graduate yard signs, which has really brought lots of happiness to our grads and their families.”

“Our food service workers continue to pass out lunches and smiles every day and are supporting our students from not only our school but others as well,” she wrote.

“I’m incredibly proud of what the Analy community has managed to accomplish during this crisis,” Ferdinandson wrote. “We miss our students dearly, and we look forward to seeing everyone on campus at some point in the future.”

El Molino — Report by Principal Matt Dunkle

How are students doing?

“Overall students are doing okay. This is less than ideal for our students, but they’re coping. Some are excelling, while others are struggling. For those who are experiencing more of a challenge, we are connecting them with our therapists and counselors. Not all students want to participate but at a minimum, the services are provided,” Dunkle wrote.

“Other students are doing very well," he continued. "Some in this group of students were students who were not doing well academically in the traditional classroom setting.

“We are continuing to find ways to honor and celebrate our seniors … We’re very proud of the class of 2020 and also very sad for them losing so many of these cultural rites of passage. Thus we are working hard to find ways to let them know we are impressed with their fortitude and ability to look toward their futures and embrace the now, while knowing that the future still belongs to them.”

How are the teachers doing?

“Overall, the teachers are doing fine as well. They have done a phenomenal job of transitioning to distance learning with little or no time to prepare,” Dunkle wrote.

“I’m very proud and impressed by the efforts made by the overwhelming majority of our teachers to make this a positive and meaningful learning experience for our students,” he wrote. “In addition to the positive educational work being done. Our teachers are serving as advocates for our students, working to guarantee the social emotional well-being in this extremely challenging time.

“Our teachers have much to juggle personally and professionally during the pandemic. Like most of us there are ups and downs. However I’m fortunate to be a part of a staff that cares about all of our students and is willing to ensure their academic and social emotional success.”

What are the challenges?

“The question is, what hasn’t been a challenge? But with challenge though comes opportunity. This is what we are trying to keep as our focus. How can we take the work we are doing now and use it in the future to better benefit all of our students? Keeping students engaged is a challenge. Some students are content with their ‘hold-harmless’ grade and are not participating in some of their classes.” (Editor’s Note: Under the hold-harmless policy, grades can’t go down from the point that the school transitioned from in-person to virtual learning. Grades can go up, but not down.) “Most students are participating at some level, though. As a school that prides itself on personal connection, distance learning is a struggle, but not an impossibility.”

What are the successes?

“Although this has been challenging for students and staff, it is a success," Dunkle wrote. "There are many lessons to be learned. However, in light of the circumstances that propelled us into this situation, we have done a great job.

“An ongoing concern is the social-emotional well-being of our students and making sure we are doing our best to address this issue. We also want to be sensitive to our staff and making sure we are assisting them with any wellness issues they are encountering.”

“We’re constantly finding ways to stay connected,” he said. “Expanding our abilities and our repertoire of teaching techniques and strategies is a major success.”

Dunkle said the school had held its first virtual spirit week the week before last, as well as a trivia night. Overall, he said the school had done a great job of transitioning to virtual learning.

“An incredible effort by everyone helped to make our distance learning a success,” he said.

Laguna High School — A report from Principal Lindsey Apkarian

How are students doing?

“Students were doing well at staying connected in the beginning, however the novelty of online learning has worn off and it’s becoming more challenging to have students engage in academics, as well as even stay connected each week as more weeks go by. It is definitely a challenge not working with these students at Laguna, who need a true in-person connection and motivation on a daily basis,” Apkarian wrote.

“Teachers are continually working on creative assignments for students to give students opportunities to learn at home and continue to engage. We meet weekly as a staff to check in on things teachers are trying with their students and connections that are being made — or not — with students.

“A focus for staff is making sure that seniors have made up the additional credits that they were behind in prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a huge challenge for students that were already at a disadvantage due to whatever life challenges they faced prior.”

How are teachers doing?

“Teachers are missing their students," Apkarian wrote. "Teachers were refreshed at the beginning of the pandemic, but after this month-long break, we’d all welcome back those person-to-person interactions.”

“We were excited to hand out graduation lawn signs to all of our seniors last week,” she wrote. “It was great to see the excitement our seniors had and how it gave them the extra little push and encouragement they needed to get them to earn their credits.

“We had multiple parents accompany their children to pick up the signs and tell us in person how thankful they all were for getting their child through to a diploma and how happy they were that they’d come to Laguna, when it hadn’t been working for them for other reasons elsewhere. This in itself was a great motivation for the staff. It was a genuine recognition and validation of their hard work that they’ve done throughout the years in spite of multiple challenges this year has tossed at them.”

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