Commentary: In an era of caution, consolidation ill-advised
As a visual arts teacher at Mingus Union High School, I am feeling energized at the thought of being back in the classroom working with students in-person again.
Since the school year began, my job has been predominantly to focus upon the remote learning goals and activities of a group of 22 incoming freshmen. It has also been to reach out and meet the needs of these learners, along with their families.
This cohort of 22 is unique to me in that they will settle in as my advisory students for the entirety of their four-year high school career at Mingus Union High School. Due to this present pandemic, I feel that I have had the unusual opportunity to really get to know these families more deeply than in any of my prior years at Mingus.
From the time our programs began back in mid-August, these new high schoolers have been engaged in a standards-based educational program called Edgenuity, which is one of the leading providers of online and blended learning solutions for middle and high schools.
Initially, at the onset of the 2020-2021 school year, my Freshman Advisory Students spent several weeks learning to work in Edgenuity from their homes, many with Chromebooks and wi-fi hotspots, which had been programmed and distributed by our hard-working administration.
Because of the strength of our technology, I’ve been able to hold scheduled Zoom meetings with students and many parents, as well as maintain daily office hours on camera so that my kids could stop in and ask questions or request technical assistance. There have been hurdles along the way, but over all we have made the best of the situation.
Since most all schoolwork in Edgenuity has taken the form of virtual computer lessons, most of my time each day has been spent communicating and it has been a pleasure. Whether via email, zoom, or phone, Mingus Teachers have been searching out students to connect with them and nurture learning.
We are taking requests, logging difficulties, and following up until solutions are found. I feel that during this unprecedented experience, I have been able to find meaning in being a liaison and friend to my students and their families in ways that I normally would not have had the time to engage in if I was teaching 130+ students per day and grading a mountain of homework each night.
Approximately a month ago, MUHS implemented an on-campus, hybrid learning plan and schedule that brought participating students a bit closer and into the classroom in a limited capacity. This was especially helpful for students in need of individualized tutoring, motivation, and socialization.
Daily tutoring was a big success during this time with accessibility playing a major role in bringing students up to speed in courses they may have otherwise been struggling with.
Each day many of my freshman students came to campus to work on their Edgenuity coursework, share conversation during walks around the track, and get a free breakfast and lunch meal.
Tours of the campus were given, and students began to feel a part of the community as they learned where the nurse’s office was located, or what types of services are offered thru our “Hope Closet” Outreach.
This week, our students and staff members will transition back to campus to officially begin in-person learning - five days a week, with full class schedules led by content teachers.
It is an interesting time filled with anticipation as air cleaner machines arrive and extra hand sanitizer dispensers are mounted to walls to keep our school healthy and compliant. Health, safety, and innovative practices are on the minds of the entire staff and everyone is working together in anticipation of our students.
This is a return, but it is not business as usual. We are living in the era of the new normal which includes masking-up, hand sanitizing, washing stations, and all the best efforts to social distance, when possible. It means thinking of others, and to do so with sincerity, empathy, and authenticity.
Amid this COVID-19 pandemic, I must admit that it has taken a tremendous amount of effort and thought to communicate and implement all these new measures. Particularly those related to establishing good habits and adjusting to online learning paradigms.
This is not just true of adolescent learners but is especially true for me - an art teacher who works predominantly with project-based, hands-on learning modalities.
The new normal has required an increased amount of stretching, flexibility and patience for students, parents, staff, and educators. Quite frankly, it is a lot to embrace and overcome. In addition to the new hygiene models, there are also more intuitive processes taking place with regard to all the new and nuanced dynamics of social-emotional awareness and strategies necessary to engage and nurture our new and returning students, particularly when there are still so many unknowns.
Like everything in our world today, we are looking at very different scenarios than our previous norms and that includes the annual school-year startup. We have been so thoroughly shaken in both our lives and our worldviews, and we are cautious.
So, let's talk about the future and what we can possibly expect will be the outcome in our post-pandemic lives. When will this virus end? How will we know? What happens when people refuse a vaccine? Will it linger then? Will we live with this for a couple more years as some are speculating? What will become of our economy in the aftermath?
Should we be cautious toward uncertainties? Should we be prudent as we proceed in the months and years to come? What will the educational ramifications be for us as we adjust to potential lost learning that has been stymied because of pandemic quarantine? These questions may breed anxiety for some, and to others they remain judicious.
To be honest, the desire for normalcy, comfort and stability is on my mind a lot lately, and on the mind of every student and parent whom I have met or talked with since this whole thing started.
Caution is a word used a lot by the medical experts and scientists who attempt to guide us through these narrow straits. The definition of caution is “care taken to avoid danger or mistakes.”
If ever there were a time to be cautious, it is now. With over 220,000 lives lost, we are wanting safety in our school and our community. We want this for our students, their families, ourselves, and our own families.
Caution in the days of COVID 19 requires commitment, Camaraderie, and a like-minded effort to keep all members of a community safe and healthy.
This is what I have experienced at Mingus Union High School and therefore I feel it is necessary to use caution and “VOTE NO” on Consolidation in this upcoming election. Preserve our Independent School Districts. Preserve our thriving Mingus Union District, legacy and community.
Beth Detwiler has been a resident of Cottonwood, Arizona for 22 years. She is mother to 2 amazing young adults and teaches Visual Arts at MUHS. In addition to teaching Art, she is also a contemporary artist, working in a variety of art mediums at Word is Art studio in Jerome.