Editor's note: Paid content by GTA.
When face-to-face learning stopped abruptly in March 2020, students and teachers around the island were forced to act quickly and figure out ways to ensure learning continued, primarily in a virtual setting.
At Father Duenas Memorial School, students and faculty had already been using Google Classroom accounts prior to the pandemic, but the complete shift to a virtual learning environment brought its share of challenges and the need to adapt to technology.
“Our teachers have pivoted as much as possible. Teachers have really put work in to master what they’re trying to get done and those teachers who had a real hard time with technology worked twice as hard to learn it,” said FD Principal Ismael Perez.
Teachers underwent various training sessions and workshops to help them learn how to connect and use different resources effectively.
The school began using Khan Academy for Math and Science and SAT and PSAT preparation, Google docs and spreadsheets, Cahoot for interactive quizzes and other digital tools like Google Jam board, an interactive white board that students can use by sharing their screen or logging in.
Perez said the school has been focused on using whatever resources they can to ensure mastery and comprehension.
“We wanted to make sure that learning would resume as quickly as possible with little interruption as possible, so it was very vital that we had connectivity,” stated Perez.
Virtual learning meant teachers were no longer able to see and interact with the students as they’d previously done in the classroom, making it more difficult to see who was comprehending the lessons and who needed help with their studies.
As with most educational institutions, online learning versus classroom learning has produced less than desirable results as compared to face-to-face instruction, he said.
“It has been very limiting. I’ve got kids banging the door down to be on campus asking if they can come every day of the week,” Perez said. “It’s not been effective for a lot of kids. They need that face-to-face interaction and to be held accountable in person.”
When in-person learning was permitted to resume in January, FD was one of the first schools to reopen. Adjustments were made to ensure half of the school population wasn’t on campus at any given time to encourage social distancing and reduce exposure to COVID-19.
About 20% of students elected to stay home for the rest of the school year, while 80% returned to on-campus learning.
Even at that, Perez said the school decided to split that in half so 40% of the students are on campus on any given day.
“We have about 150 students as opposed to 400 boys. It’s staggered. We split them so we wanted half of the students to be on campus two days of the week to limit the number of students and the possible exposure,” he stated.
With the help of GTA, the school has had internet connection for every class and a dedicated set of network IDs for teachers and the administrators.
“We make sure teachers and faculty are allotted better bandwidth,” said Perez. “Service by GTA was very crucial for better connectivity on campus.”
Gone are the days of dial-up internet, which the principal said he is grateful for, as students are coming to the campus with multiple electronic devices like tablets and laptops.
“That internal connection is helping to continue that online presence.”
The telecommunications company is also assisting the school with a distance learning center that will be open in the evenings to give students access to WIFI and laptops and a teacher who will be on campus.
“This will be crucial going forward. We’re relying on GTA to continue providing that internet connectivity for online learning during or after school,” stated Perez.
Administrators and teachers noticed that students’ physical and mental health had been negatively impacted by the lack of social interaction during virtual learning.
“They felt so isolated and were not doing anything during the school closure,” he said. “We’re still trying to connect, even if from a distance. We’re trying to rebuild that culture.”
With a student population involved in a myriad of sports and extracurricular activities, the cancellation of various sports and competitive games was another huge disappointment for students who were looking to do anything to stay active and be part of a team.
“I’ve got kids trying out for cross-country and they don’t run. They just want to get out and do things. They long for it,” he said. “They’re hopeful.”
And while traditions like prom and senior retreat aren’t happening, the school is still trying to find ways to make it a memorable school year.
“We’re thankful for the ability to stay connected to our students. That is most important. Connecting with them on a personal and social level and make sure they are around good people and are able to wade through the waters of the pandemic,” stated Perez. “It really helps when we have all the support we get from the community, parents and students.”
Content sponsored by GTA.