Learning on the fly

San Benito High teachers share experiences on remote instruction

San Benito High School teacher Blake Toro is one of several instructors that has to teach through distance learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (contributed)

San Benito High School is now at the halfway point of its first six-week semester during the ongoing era of distance learning.  

Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum said on Sept. 9 in a newsletter that he was pleased with the progress they’ve made despite having to jump over the hurdles of remote instruction. 

“We are all working daily to support our students and parents, and appreciate their support and input,” he said. 

San Benito High began remote instruction six months ago as schools in the county began to shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The school board adopted the Remote Instructional Model with the goal of returning back to campus using a Hybrid Learning Model, which allows students to return to in-person instruction part time.   

Each student was provided with a Google Chromebook and hot spots were given out to those without internet access. Teachers and students are expected to engage in Zoom and Google Classroom sessions on a daily basis.   

Tennenbaum mentioned there’s always room for improvement and they are still confident that students will be at the top of their list, no matter the circumstances.

Kathy Picchi, coordinator of the New Teacher Academy, has utilized both synchronous and asynchronous learning approaches to prepare teachers for their first year at San Benito High School.

The asynchronous approach allows students to learn and engage with the content at their own pace, while synchronous instruction provides face-to-face interaction.

Picchi said in the newsletter that the newest teachers participated in professional development with themes from creating relationships in the remote classroom, teacher clarity, building asynchronous learning and ways to take care of themselves during the shut down. 

“These teachers have been working to create lessons to deliver the best possible education given the circumstances,” she said. “We are in a unique position because we have teachers and students doing something together for the first time and they are helping each other. The new teachers went into this with a positive growth mindset and, although they are tired, they are enjoying our students and the work they are doing.”

San Benito High School teacher Tom Sullivan is one of several instructors that has to teach through distance learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (contributed)

Tennenbaum asked some teachers at San Benito High to share their stories of challenges and successes of remote instruction. Biology teacher Blake Toro reflected on his co-teaching experience with Tom Sullivan, noting how students are learning how to engage through Zoom sessions.

“As opposed to the trials and tribulations of distance learning in the Spring semester, during remote learning this Fall there have been days where we have had 100 percent attendance in our class with students having their cameras on, if able, and all students are actively participating in the Zoom lecture by using the chat feature,” he said. 

Toro and Sullivan introduced and helped students with relevant technology such as EdPuzzle, GoFormative and Google Classroom. They also used Zoom breakout rooms to facilitate student engagement and give students the option to choose the type of instruction that they receive. 

“Although there has been a learning curve for both staff and students during the process of integrating new technologies into the classroom, I feel that the students who are participating actively are adjusting well to the online curriculum,” Toro said.

According to the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” schools may not reopen fully for in-person instruction until the county has been in the “Substantial” tier, or red zone, for two weeks. Local school and health officials may decide to open elementary schools, and school officials may decide to conduct in-person instruction for a limited set of students in small cohorts.

Social science teacher Becky Bonner said the remote instruction is something that is still new for them even though most teachers had transitioned during the last school year in the spring.

“Just like any new endeavor, there is a learning curve for students and teachers,” she said. “But through this experience I have learned new technology and teaching platforms to deliver content to my students and to keep lines of communication open between students and parents.”

Bonner said that the social science department has always had a collaborative, supportive team. She mentioned some challenges include building curriculums, making and adjusting pacing guides and teachers, by trial and error, finding out what works best in this new teaching model.

Bonner added that remote instruction brings not only challenges but opportunities, as well. 

“In a lot of ways, it is like being a new teacher again,” Bonner said. “I think it is important during this time to remember that no one is going to be perfect but that teachers are doing the best they can to support students and to create an online environment that fosters personal and academic growth.”