Teachers at Vista Ridge Academy never spoke of remote learning, yet they found themselves transitioning from face-to-face learning to remote learning within a two-week timeframe.

On March 12, parents received an email from teaching principal Sandy Hodgson saying classes were canceled for March 13, just one day before spring break. Parents continue receiving email communication from Hodgson, the most recent stating school will be closed for the remainder of the school year.

While the transition to remote learning has gone relatively smoothly for teachers and students, it has been a big adjustment to not be together in a classroom setting.

“When students are doing great, I want to be able to give them a high five. Now we do air high fives,” says first and second grade teacher Kenya Sanchez. “Or when a student feels frustrated, not being able to give them a tissue to wipe their tears has been a little heartbreaking,” she says.

Hodgson says, “there is a social piece of learning and collaborating that is missing in remote learning.”

Remote learning began March 30 as a partnership, dependent on the purposeful planning of our dedicated teachers, student motivation and engagement, and strong parent support and communication.

Teachers put into place a plan that combines asynchronous learning with synchronous engagements via Zoom and other methods to support both the learning and the social-emotional well-being of the students. Students work independently, engage in online collaboration with peers and communicate daily with their teachers, who continue to provide support and feedback as well as opportunities for reflection and revision.

Third and fourth grade teacher Shondra Cizek says that not being together with her students has been her biggest challenge, but “Zoom has been such a lifesaver,” she adds.

Harwell says her favorite part of the day is logging on early each meeting and getting to catch up with her students before the lessons start. “My students always have so much to share, and it reminds me of them filing into our classroom with their stories,” she says.

In the fifth and sixth grade morning meeting, Hodgson has kept their morning rituals going. “We start every day with a joke, worship and Bible class. It’s fun to watch the students show up on time to school in anticipation of our morning rituals,” she says.

Jones has seen his students rise to the challenge that comes with remote learning. “My students meet the challenges head on with positive attitudes and get it done,” he says.

The new VRA@home section on their website provides one spot for general communications and information around remote learning as well as creative and enjoyable ways for school families to connect and maintain community in this unprecedented time.

Many parents have faced the challenge of juggling their work schedule with their child’s school schedule. “Parents have really stepped up to the plate and shown their support towards their child and myself, for which I’m eternally grateful,” says Sanchez. “I try to let them know how much they are cherished.”

Harwell wants parents to know what they are doing is appreciated. “You are doing a great job,” Harwell says, “and right now this learning experience looks different in every household. Don’t get overwhelmed by what you think you should be getting done versus what your reality looks like. Keep up the good work, and don’t feel hesitant to reach out to teachers. Your children are going to cherish these extra moments they spend with you.”

Sanchez’s advice: “Give it time,” she says, “and pray for guidance. The Lord will help with adjusting to new situations like this. Enjoy and celebrate the big and small triumphs daily, and see the blessings pouring from above.”

The staff continue to find ways to adapt year-end activities, recently hosting a virtual moms night and a virtual fun run, the school’s biggest fundraising event organized by H&S leader Lisa Barton for May 4-8. Constituent church pastors Jenniffer Ogden and J. Murdock of Boulder Church and Herbert Hernandez of Chapel Haven will lead out in virtual chapels each Friday for the remainder of the school year. Staff are planning the kindergarten and eighth grade graduations.

As Vista Ridge Academy plans for next school year, Sandy Hodgson and her staff remain committed to providing a safe learning environment for students. “Vista Ridge Academy has weathered many storms, but because of an actively strong support system, we are confident we will move through this as a united community,” says Hodgson. “While our educational process is a bit different right now, we are still committed to our mission and vision and making sure our students receive the best education possible from a distance.”

Marsha Bartulec is vice principal for administration at Vista Ridge Academy.