By JENNIFER OSBORN
Distance learning. A month ago, this phrase was not a familiar one to most of America. But in just a matter of weeks, almost everyone with school-age children is not only aware of the term, but they are likely experiencing it in their own homes. With the shut down of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, districts, schools, and teachers across the nation are working to ensure children are still learning. Professionals in the education field are also learning, as they explore and innovate to find ways to continue to connect with students from afar.
Transitioning to an exclusively distance learning environment poses many challenges, especially when students are in need of computers or other devices that allow them to stay connected to their school and their educational program. Helix students and teachers have been working in a one-to-one environment for the past five years — all Helix students have school-issued Chromebooks and teachers have been incorporating technology into their curriculum during that time. While the transition to distance learning has been far from easy, having this infrastructure in place did ease many of the pains and has allowed Helix teachers to continue to provide academic work to their students.
Helix returned from Spring Break on March 30 and started distance learning with two weeks of enrichment activities, designed to reconnect to school and develop new habits related to the online educational systems, while at the same time allowing staff to determine the needs of families and reach out to students who were not engaging in the activities.
After two weeks of transition time, coursework has resumed. Teachers are posting assignments for students on Monday of each week, and all work is to be completed by the following Sunday. Teachers hold “office hours” during the week via Zoom meetings to allow students to check in, get additional help with assignments, meet with classmates, or participate in optional activities. Helix’s Academic Coaches are also available throughout the week to provide academic support to students who need it. Students have been provided with a tutoring schedule and can sign up for an on line session with one of the coaches.
The ASPIRE after school program has also gone digital. The ASPIRE program has been a staple on the Helix campus for many years, providing after school activities for more than 300 students every day. Not even a school shut down can stop ASPIRE! The program is offering fitness classes, tap dancing, robotics, creative writing, baking, gaming, money management, academic support and Club College (assistance with anything having to do with applying to college), all through online platforms.
Behind the scenes, staff continue to collaborate. A recent Zoom staff meeting had more than 200 members in attendance. Staff emails abound, containing helpful resources, tips for using technology, updates from the tech team on how many students are engaged in online activities, encouragement from the administrative team, and much more. While the physical campus is quiet, the virtual campus is buzzing with activity.
It is not a perfect situation. Teachers and staff miss their students and coworkers. Students miss their friends and, yes, even their teachers. Athletes are eager to get back to their sports. Students involved in performing arts are missing their time on stage. Seniors are finding creative ways to celebrate their prom. The rest of the school year will certainly look different than any other we have experienced. Helix students and staff undoubtedly will be working to ensure there are still achievements and celebrations to make it memorable.
Highlander Open cancelled
It was with heavy hearts that the board of the Helix High School Foundation announced the cancellation of the annual Highlander Open Golf Tournament. With all of the uncertainty, it was next to impossible to plan an event of this size.
The Highlander Open is the Foundation’s biggest fundraiser each year, raising thousands of dollars to provide Helix graduating seniors with scholarships to help them on their college journeys. The cancellation of this year’s tournament will make it very challenging to provide the level of support we have come to enjoy. Last year, students received more than $50,000 in scholarships.
With this in mind, the Foundation is asking for community support to build this year’s scholarship fund. Donations can be made on line through their website (helixhighschoolfoundation.com) or by mailing a check to The Helix High School Foundation at 7323 University Ave., La Mesa, CA, 91942.
— Jennifer Osborn writes on behalf of Helix Charter High School.