Tag Archives: Distance learning

Benicia Superintendent Charles Young on school classes to start August 17

Vallejo, Benicia school districts getting ready for start of fall classes

Solano County on watch list

Vallejo Times Herald, by Thomas Gase, August 5, 2020
Dr. Charles Young is Benicia Unified School District’s superintendent. (Chris Riley – Times-Herald file)

Zoom accounts. Masks. Decent WiFi. It’s not the typical back-to-school shopping list, but then again 2020 has been anything but normal due to COVID-19.

With the start of the school year right around the corner (Aug. 17 in Solano County) teachers, administrators and school board members are currently working quicker than The Flash to make things run smoothly when students return back to class.

When the students do return it won’t be on campuses as the Solano County Office of Education announced three weeks ago that local schools will start the new school year with distance learning. This is because Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in July that that schools in counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list begin the school year via distance learning. Solano County is on that list.

“It’s definitely different preparing for the start of the school year in the digital age,” Vallejo High principal Jarrod Bordi said. “We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming this week and we’ve had a lot of professional development this week. We will have three more days next week with our staff. We want to make sure that our teachers have all the right tools they need.”

Kids and parents walk on to the Widenmann/Solano campus on the first day of school in 2019. (Chris Riley–Times-Herald)

Newsom has said that once these “watched” locales meet requirements (including being off the list for 14 consecutive days) campuses may reopen, but as of now, Dr. Charles Young, Superintendent of Schools for Benicia Unified School District agrees with Newsom’s plan.

“We have a phase-in model approach,” Young told the Times-Herald. “We would like to be able to do in-person teaching when it is safe for students and staff as outlined by the Governor’s Directive. … Everyone is doing their very best getting ready for the year. BUSD is very fortunate to have amazingly talented employees in all parts of our system who work together in ways that are supportive and student-centered.”

Solano County Superintendent of Schools Lisette Estrella-Henderson said in July that educators “are working tirelessly to design and implement solutions to meet a broad range of unique needs for thousands of students.

“Bottom line is equity for every student is critical,” Estrella-Henderson said. “Our districts and charters schools will continue to be flexible, resourceful, and innovative no matter where instruction occurs on the first day of school.”

Young said that one of the most important issues was to make sure every student is prepared.

“Students will be provided with Chromebook for home learning,” Young said. “Some specialty classes at the secondary level will also have supply kits for students.”

Young as well as Bordi said that Benicia and Vallejo will keep a regular grading policy for the fall and not turn to a pass, fail system.

The Benicia superintendent said that there will be challenges to the new school year but that his staff and himself learned a lot during the spring semester when distance learning was first put into effect.

“Challenges include not being in the same space with our students;” Young said. “Keeping students engaged; how it’s difficult to do small group work and collaborative/hands-on work; and creating and keeping culture, community and connection, these are all challenges.

“That being said, I’ve been impressed with our teachers commitment to students,” Young continued. “I’m impressed with their ability to adjust and learn and create new “system” within 48 hours; our teachers partnership, positivity and collaboration to do what needs to be done to support students. We learned a lot in the spring such as teaching online in smaller groups works better for some students; creating a set schedule and being as consistent as possible; finding additional support curriculum that works well online; creating connection is key and that learning and teaching takes longer online.”

Bordi also said that Vallejo High will switch some things up in the fall due to what the school learned from distance schooling in the spring.

“I think this time around it’s going to be a little more robust and more direct with how we communicate with the students,” Bordi said. “For some this will be easier, while for some this may not be easier. But we want to provide a more rigorous, robust semester for kids this year.”

Bordi said one of the biggest challenges is “meeting the needs of everyone” involved. As Vallejo High moves forward he said it will take a “team effort.”

Young said that BUSD is always listening to community feedback on what they can improve on and what they should continue to do.

Some parents expressed their hopes and concerns about the school year to the Times-Herald online on Wednesday.

Iona Morgan has a student who will be a senior at Benicia High as well as an eighth-grader at Benicia Middle School.

“My biggest concern is the greater uncertainty around the college application process,” Morgan said. “Biggest hope is finding a way to protect students’ mental health. Challenges are having kids miss their friends and teachers. But I did enjoy the flexibility that distance learning provided.”

Parent Debbie Lamb said her biggest concern was funding.

“AB77 and AB98 base this year’s funding for schools in California on last year’s numbers,” she said. “But for charter schools with a growth plan, this means new students won’t be funded and the schools aren’t allowed to disenroll students either.”

Robert Alexander also weighed in on the issue on Twitter.

“Biggest hope: Pandemic=road to school vouchers. I want VJO families at @VCUSD to have choice-ability-resources to get their kids into best learning environment for their kids (SPSV-Justin-DLS-etc). If they like @VCUSD, they can give their vouchers back and stay in Vallejo public school”

Bordi said that high school is important and stressed that giving incoming freshmen the great experience of finally getting to high school is on the minds of staff.

“One thing we’ve been talking about is orientation,” Bordi said. “We want to give incoming students that great welcoming experience. It won’t be physical where a teacher shows you around the school personally like in the past, but we still want to provide a welcoming experience.”

Incoming freshmen at Vallejo High will be picking up textbooks and other materials on campus on Thursday, Aug. 13. The distribution will be spaced out and done alphabetically while staff shows up to make sure social distancing is being followed.

Newsom said the pace at which counties on and off the monitoring list resume in-person classes this fall is incumbent upon people following state health mandates and guidelines like wearing masks and face coverings, practicing physical distancing, hand washing and minimizing contact with people outside one’s household.

“The more we do … and we do it at scale, the quicker all those counties are going to come off that monitoring list, we’re going to mitigate the spread of this virus and those kids are back in school,” Newsom said in July.

Newsom also outlined the state’s requirements for distance learning. Schools must ensure that all students have access to the requisite technology and internet service for at-home classes and that students and teachers interact with each other daily. Schools must also lay out plans to modify their lessons for English language learners and special education students.

“Safety is foundational and safety will ultimately make the determination of how we go about educating our kids as we move into this fall and we work our way through this pandemic,” Newsom said.

Mitchell Romao, Vallejo Unified School District interim superintendent, as well as VCUSD President John Fox, did not return phone calls to the Times-Herald for this story.

Benicia Schools publish Distance Learning Plan

Distance Learning Plan – Update 4-23-20

Apr 23, 2020 | Latest News, nCoV

Dear Benicia Community,

I hope this communication finds you well and managing the stay at home order as best as possible.  There are many unknowns as we move forward, in particular, what school will look like for all of us next year. We will keep everyone updated as we hear more from the Governor, the State Superintendent of schools, and the Health Department and how their guidance will affect our planning.

In the meantime, in our ongoing effort to provide clarity regarding our efforts with Distance Learning, I have attached the BUSD Distance Learning Plan, knowing it is not perfect, but does reflect our intentions, the good work to date and the Memorandum of Understanding with the teacher’s union.  I am very proud of where we are, knowing we were quick in our response to distance learning and that we continue to reflect, learn, and refine our processes as we go along.  Teachers and all staff care deeply for their students, are striving to support them in the new Distance Learning model, and are looking forward to seeing them again in the hopefully not too distant future.

Thank you so much for your patience and support!

Dr. Charles Young

Click here to read the BUSD District Distant Learning Plan >

Benicia teachers and students work together during COVID-19 pandemic to succeed at distance education

The Benicia High School graduating class of 2020 is concerned they will not get to participate in a graduation ceremony. Ideas are in the works for a potential virtual ceremony.

Benicia Herald, by Emma Goularte, April 8, 2020
Emma Goularte is editor of the Benicia Paw and a member of the Benicia High School graduating class of 2020. She is currently working on an internship at the Benicia Herald.
The Benicia High School graduating class of 2020 is concerned they will not get to participate in a graduation ceremony. Ideas are in the works for a potential virtual ceremony.

Last week Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that schools will be physically closed until the end of the school year.

“While schools might be physically closed, class is still in session,” he said. “This agreement is good news for students and parents, and the announcement means that more Calif. kids will have tools to learn at home during this crisis.”

Distance learning was made possible for Benicia schools after the high school and middle school received chromebooks at the beginning of the year to ensure the 1:1 learning ratio. These devices make learning outside the classroom possible with multiple outlets that are being used to continue educating students.

“It’s definitely uncharted territory for us as teachers but luckily for Benicia we have a really fantastic pool of teachers who have done an excellent job adjusting and providing a great variety of activities and enriching learning experiences,” said Benicia High School teacher Kristen Grubbs.

Teachers continue to post assignments and hold office hours online to make the transition between classroom and distance learning seamless as possible.

“I miss my students daily but we live in an age of technology where it is still relatively simple to connect through online classrooms and video chats,” said Bay Christian School teacher Jaime Freisen. “I’m trying my best to accommodate each of them, their various learning levels, and still provide the best education I can remotely.”

Although this has not been an easy adjustment, school time will not be added on to the end of the year going into summer. However, a lot has been lost for graduating seniors – losing milestone events with the fear there will be no graduation.

“It is an awful decision to have to make because the lives of so many students are being disrupted and so many precious senior memories taken away,” said BHS parent and Benicia Planning Commission Chair Kari Birdseye. “However, it is absolutely the right decision to keep our community safe. And our teachers have done a phenomenal job at continuing coursework online. While these times are difficult for all of us, we are saving lives by staying home. And we will all be stronger for it.”

School counselors are reaching out to students to make sure they know how they are feeling is normal and they have someone to talk to.

“I do think it’s the best decision for the wellness of our town and nation, but it really sucks because there were so many things I was looking forward to this year,” said Benicia High School senior Richard Mealey. “My senior prom, grad night, graduation, my senior baseball season, and so much more. It’s a horrible situation, but I think we are handling it the best we can and I think it’s the right thing to be doing.”

This situation has never happened before and it is important to remember that no one has to go through it alone. Benicia High School Principal Brianna Kleinschmidt has reached out to the class of 2020 multiple times in an attempt to provide support for students and to make sure the graduating class gets to enjoy milestone activities.

She ensures that she will do all she can and that a graduation will be held as soon as social gatherings are allowed, but that may look different as well. Word is the administration is sharing ideas on how to hold graduation, with the potential for a virtual ceremony.

“I miss the routine that being in school provides,” said Grubbs. “I miss seeing my students, athletes, and co-workers. I’m sad for the seniors that had their last year cut short and had many senior activities put to the side. However, I feel that situations like we are in now provide us with time to look beyond ourselves, look at our individual priorities, and realize we are all part of a bigger societal entity.”

In high school a lot of students are taking AP classes and at the end of the year students are supposed to take the AP test for that class. When school was first released, many worried about the test and how students could take it if they weren’t present, considering it is a handwritten, hours-long test.

College Board, is “the College Entrance Examination Board to expand access to higher education.” In regular language, College Board offers college prep classes and by taking these classes you can earn college credits by how well you do on the test.

Due to school closures and social distancing, College Board is recreating the test so it can be taken at home. There will be two dates for students to take the tests and the test will only include the material learned in class up until March. Anything students learn online will not be on the test and it will be shortened as much as possible due to some of the material not being taught in school.

During this time colleges are being very understanding because this is uncharted territory and it is a stressful time. Many colleges are reaching out to potential students for 2020 and reassuring them that the fourth quarter of their senior year will not be counted. During this time, the work that is being assigned to students is mandatory, but colleges understand that there are different circumstances for everyone and they don’t want it to count against students.

This situation is stressful, but teachers and administration are doing everything they can to make the transition smooth. Since the school closure, everyone has been very helpful and supportive of students.

“Although distance learning is not ideal, I think Benicia Unified got out in front of the school closure with the launch of Google Classroom for all classes through the district,” said Grubbs. “Benicia Unified has done a great job of communicating with all stakeholders and reiterating that everyone needs to be patient, caring, and safe.”

As a student, it can be hard to keep your focus, but teachers have made changes so nothing has to be done all by yourself. Teachers record themselves doing classwork and offer support by not overwhelming students with piles of work.

“While I wish we could be in the classroom, I prefer this to not completing the school year,” said Friesen. “I can’t imagine this happening when I was young – knowing that one day I was with my friends in school and then we suddenly aren’t together and can’t communicate with the ease of today’s world. I feel like this is the best option we have to survive, maintain control, and excel in a situation that is completely out of our hands.”

We can take this as a time to decompress, try new things and focus on mental health. Even though this situation isn’t great, we can try and make the best out of it by taking care of ourselves.

Emma Goularte is the editor of the Benicia Paw and a member of the Benicia High School graduating class of 2020. She is currently working on an internship at the Benicia Herald.