Needles Unified is a high-poverty, Title 1 school system. The community is very sports oriented, having won multiple state titles in football, basketball, and softball. Academics has traditionally been secondary to the pursuit of glory on the field. “Pre-pandemic, 90% of the calls we received were tied to athletics,” said Principal Amy Avila. “They focused on things like, ‘Why can’t my child play? Why did the coach take my child out of the game?.’ “
“But now, we’re getting phone calls about academics, about progress, about assessments. It’s really nice to have those conversations about getting students back on track and focused on what they want from the future,” she said. “Having parents involved in that has been refreshing. We weren’t having these conversations before because they were overshadowed by athletics.”
With athletics canceled in 2020-2021, school was now in the family living room, at the kitchen table, on the sofa with them. This brought the kids and parents together, and brought a new level of transparency and accountability to all sides. And, because the district provided a cell phone to every teacher, and then gave the teachers’ phone numbers out to the community, they opened the lines of communication. Parents could call and solve issues right away so that students didn’t miss class time. They got to see what was happening and the work that was due.
A partnership that helped support change
Having largely solved the hardware issues, Needles Unified needed to turn its attention to finding an established digital learning platform that could meet the needs of a diverse student body. Principal Nicole Wilson used to spend her time tracking down assignments. Wondering if and how printed packets had gotten lost. Now, with online school, she can see exactly if and when work has been handed in. “I’m able to log in in real time along with a parent and review work and see if a student has logged in, for how long, and completed their work. That made a difference in my discussions with parents.”
The pandemic opened the school’s eyes to the different ways in which their community lived, and consequently, needed school to fit into their lives. That’s why the partnership with Pearson worked so well for Needles. Some students split time between households. Some traveled to other states. The solution that fit most students was to have mobile devices that connected them with school.
Marie Armijo, Principal, has students who needed the flexibility that online school gave them. “One of my students traveled the US with her father, a long-haul trucker. She did all her work, got to see the country, and spend time with her dad. There are other students who’ve had to care for siblings, or work. They can still do the work and make progress.”
The goal for partnering with Pearson was to have a structured standards-based program so teachers didn’t have to invent a new curriculum or try to translate their existing one to an online environment. They could spend their time offering differentiation to meet the needs of students. While the class learns asynchronously, teachers can meet one-on-one with a student who needs extra help. Or, they can meet as a group in a live session to learn from peers with their teacher guiding the learning experience.
Online school offers a playbook of the future
As the community looks to Fall of 2021, the question becomes how to continue the successes gained from the pandemic into our new world. Needles Unified intends to continue offering an online school option for their students, perhaps in a hybrid implementation. They know now how useful it can be to keep families engaged and to keep students who are struggling with additional commitments enrolled.
And they love the curriculum. “Our math teachers are very particular, and they have been impressed with the Pearson math curriculum,” said Avila. While they don’t have data to report yet, they look forward to measuring how effectively their student body has learned. Their hope is that they can use the inroads made with families and students during the pandemic to drive future successes.
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