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Temporary Virtual School

Virtual School Policy (Version 1.1)

In response to the COVID-19 crisis which has led to the closure of San Diego area schools for a minimum of three weeks, SET High is moving temporarily to a Virtual School experience that is designed to retain the qualities of the SET High learning experience as much as possible.  SET High is not a Virtual School but the staff is committed to continuing the education of our students during this national emergency to the best of our ability. The SET staff has been preparing for the possibility of school closure for the past three weeks, but the policies outlined in this document are necessarily fluid because none of our staff have ever been in this situation and we will be learning and improving daily as we gain experience with what does and does not work.

Why a Virtual School Instead of Independent Study

SET High is not an Independent Study (IS) school and does not have the curriculum nor the expertise to deliver a high-quality IS program.  In addition, the staff does not believe that IS is an approach that will work for the majority of our students. SET students and parents could have chosen an IS school instead of SET but we believe that they chose SET because of our unique learning environment, emphasis on relationships, and our caring and compassionate teachers who are dedicated to holistic teaching.  We are committed to ensuring that those qualities are maintained while we enter into this temporary Virtual School program.

The SET Virtual School is not Independent Study.  The distinction between IS and a Virtual School is one of synchronicity.  IS is asynchronous but a Virtual School, like a traditional seat-based program is synchronous.

In a synchronous program, the students will be working independently at times, but the expectation is that during the defined hours of the class, the students are present and are working together with the teacher, co-teacher, special education staff, administration and other students on whatever activity the teacher has planned for that particular time.  The synchronicity of a Virtual School class does not necessarily mean that the teacher is lecturing during this time, although they could be. Just as with a regular seat-based class, the Virtual School class could support synchronous discussion (via a conference call, videoconference, or group chat), group projects using shared resources supported by tools such as Google Docs, Google Present or Google Sheets, group research, or independent work.  Students will be able to get assistance from teachers, support staff and other students in real-time by engaging in one-on-one voice, video or chat sessions and by working on shared documents.

As with a traditional seat-based program, there is still an expectation that some of the work be done independently either during class or as homework.  Even with these, though, there is still an expectation that the work be produced synchronously. Quizzes and tests may have a specific due date that is only a short time in the future (minutes or hours), for example.  The teacher always has the flexibility to have longer term assignments just as they do in seat-based schools, but the expectation in a Virtual School is that the teacher and the students are working on the same class (category of work) together at the same time.  This allows a teacher to provide guidance to all students if there is a common stumbling block, it allows students to work together, and it focuses time, helping students with time management.

There are certainly benefits to Independent Study and SET will continue to support short-term IS contracts for students who are temporarily unable to connect to school (on a flight, out of internet service, or involved in a non-school activity, for example).  IS also benefits students who learn or work better during non-standard times or on their own schedule. Seat-based programs have been able to accommodate some of these time-shifting needs by having teachers make certain allowances to students who meet deadlines to work on other work during class time.  The same allowances can occur in Virtual School assuming the teacher agrees to it. The benefit of Virtual School is that for those students who need help with accountability, the rigid schedule is helpful to keep them on track. If an essay is due at the end of class, for example, a student who struggles with time management can be aided, assisted and nudged to make sure that the work is completed.  With IS, it is possible for weeks to go by with no work completion and no short-term consequence.

Attendance

Attendance in Virtual School during these emergency times will be handled in a way similar to that used in a seat-based school.  Teachers will take attendance at the start of the virtual class and update the attendance as the class period progresses. Teachers will have attendance checks throughout the period to make sure that the students are actively participating in the class.

The Google tools that are already used at SET (Google Classroom, Google Docs and now Google Hangouts) all uniquely identify a student using their SET email address so we have a reasonable assurance of the identity of each student.  Many students will also be connecting to the classroom using videoconferencing, so that will help with the positive identification of students.

Students who are not present during the class period will be marked absent even if they later connect with the teacher and make up the work.

The same rules for excused and unexcused absences apply and parents will still need to call into school if their child will be absent.

For extended absences, the parent and school may agree to an Independent Study contract for the length of the planned absence.

Tools Required

There is an additional burden placed on the family to support Virtual School, but in this time of crisis we do not have a choice and we will be doing everything possible to make sure that no student is excluded from this program because of a lack of tools.  Since SET already issues a laptop to every student and since those laptops belong to the student and already go home with the student, the majority of students already have all of the tools they need to be successful in SET Virtual School.

There are some students who do not have access to the internet at home and with libraries and coffee shops likely limiting access due to social distancing policies, we will need to find a solution for those students who do not have internet access.  We have reached out to families to see who may be affected so that we can work out alternate arrangements that are best for that particular family. In some cases Independent Study may be the best option and in others, a donation of internet access by a benefactor may be possible.

Our current best guess of the software/internet access that the students will need is as follows:

Minimum Virtual School Experience

  • Google Classroom
  • Gmail
  • Google Docs
  • Google Hangouts (Text Chat and see video) or maybe Zoom instead

Better Experience

  • YouTube
  • Google Hangouts with 2-way video or at least 2-way audio (maybe Zoom instead)

Full Experience

  • Access to all child-appropriate internet (Teachers may want the students to look up information on the CDC website, for example)

Special Education and 504 Accommodations

SET is committed to supporting students who have special needs to the best of our ability during this emergency situation.  All IEPs will be in place and teachers and education specialists will continue to accomodate students according to their IEP needs and goals where appropriate.  The academic coaches and education specialists who support the standard SET classroom will continue to support students virtually. In addition, students will continue to receive pull-out services by their existing service providers in the best way possible.  It is important for us to ensure that students are receiving continuity of services during this emergency time so that gains that have been achieved are not lost.

Education Specialists will maintain close contact with the student and the parents/guardians to make sure that all issues are identified early so that we can best find a way to support the student.

Expectations for Students

Students are expected to follow the rules laid out in the Student Parent Handbook.  Special attention should be given to the sections on cyberbullying, but really, most of the school rules still apply to Virtual School.  Even the dress code should be enforced for those students who will be videoconferencing.

The newness of the tools and the excitement that comes with discovering the limits and functionality of those tools will likely lead to some poor choices.  We implore students to pause and think before doing something that they may regret. Humans naturally lose some inhibition when we are not face-to-face with someone.  We somehow gain strength and feel empowered when there is no immediate physical consequence for our actions. It is going to take great discipline to avoid being mean or hurtful.  It is also going to take discipline to not be offensive. To help you make good choices in Virtual School and anywhere else on social media, it helps to assume that everything that is ever posted or done online will be screenshotted and shared with your grandparents.  Know that everything that you do using our tools is recorded and archived as is required by law.

Just as there are standards and norms in a regular classroom where students raise hands to speak, listen attentively to others who are speaking, stay seated and focus on the lesson at hand, there are similar norms in a virtual setting.  We ask that students start from a place of structure and then move to more natural interaction modes as the teacher relaxes rules.

The virtual structure looks as follows:

  • Cameras are expected to be on unless you are asked to turn them off.
  • All microphones are muted unless the teacher calls on you.
  • When you are finished speaking, mute your mic.
  • When asked, turn off your video without asking why.  There may be something distracting going on behind you, or the teacher may simply want to have all students focused on what the teacher is doing.
  • If you get disconnected for some reason, simply reconnect quietly and without comment.
  • If in a group chat, do not engage in side conversations that distract the rest of the students.  When the teacher gives a signal (maybe our usual “waterfall”), stop typing immediately and do not type again until you have instructions from the teacher to do so.
  • Keep in mind that parents may be looking over the shoulder of one of your classmates, so if you don’t want an adult seeing what you are doing, don’t do it!
  • All chat sessions are archived and searchable by admin, so if it’s not appropriate to be said in school, it’s not appropriate to say in a chat.
  • This is new and will probably be exciting at first.  Try to get the fun, giggly stuff out of the way early, so that we can use this as a productive tool.

 

Please do not use Google Hangouts to contact teachers outside of normal school hours.  Use email instead. It will be tempting to text them at 1 AM to get help on an essay, but please let them spend time with their families.

Expectations for Parents and Guardians

Parents and guardians, please support the educational process during this time.  The more that you can recreate the school experience at home and maintain the expectations that we typically have for students in school, the smoother this transition will be.  The students will have some extra free time since they will not have to travel to and from school, so please do everything you can to make sure that the students are prepared for school and ready to do work between the hours of 8 and 3.

Parents, please communicate with us to let us know what is and is not working on your end so that we can work to improve the experience.  This is a new experience for all of us and we are going to be making changes and modifications quickly as we learn from our successes and failures.

Some parents will be home with their children and others will be forced to leave their children home alone.  We recognize that for some of you this is not a desirable situation, but are hopeful that if at least the students are engaged with students and staff at school we can help keep the students focused on academic pursuits.  If your child is home alone, please try to limit tempting distractions like game devices. We expect the students to be engaged in their work, but our only way to know if they are engaged is by their work product and their participation.  Teachers will report to you if the student appears to not be engaged, but it is going to be up to the parent to levy a consequence. Good communication in both directions will help.

Recommendations for Teachers

  • Classroom management takes work.  So does virtual classroom management.
    • You cannot expect everything to go smoothly on day one.
    • Establish rules/norms and practice them just as you would/did in your physical classroom.
    • Let the students get the silly stuff out of their system.  Maybe allow 10 minutes of free chit chat in the beginning just as you might do on the first day of school.
    • Tell the students up-front that it will feel chaotic initially.  The mature students are going to get upset with their peers and they will not be able to see that order will eventually prevail.  Don’t let them add to the chaos by screaming louder than everyone else in their frustration.
    • Just as with physical classroom management, you will need to have the students practice norms like turn-taking.
  • Start slowly.  Start the first five minutes of your class with chat instead of jumping straight to video conferencing.
    • Practice turn-taking.
    • Establish a “waterfall” kind of thing that makes everyone stop talking.
    • In both video and chat, your voice is equal to all of the students, so you will get drowned out if everyone is still talking when you are trying to issue instructions.
    • The democratic flavor of Hangouts should eventually be a benefit, but initially it will be frustrating.  Your voice is not louder. Nor should it be. Just as with your classroom, the voices of other students, their opinions and their research are just as valuable to the classroom experience.
  • Do not let technology barriers limit/dictate your class.
    • The tools are designed to enhance the class.
    • If they are detracting from the class, drop them and go back to basics.
    • For example, video chat with all participants may better mimic the classroom experience, but if you are spending your time dealing with connectivity issues, fall back to group chat.  If group chat is causing problems, fall back to one-on-one chat.
    • Remember that turning off the camera may help with connectivity issues.
  • Find ways to check in with your students to keep them on task.
    • For example, you could have a shared Google Doc with them where you can pop in to see their progress on an assignment. If you are not predictable, you can hopefully keep the student on task and be able to tell the difference between writer’s block and time-wasting.
    • Reach out to students individually via video or chat to see if they need assistance.  Don’t just say: “If anyone needs any help, I’m here.”
  • Make sure that your class retains your flavor and that the students who you have built a relationship with know that you are still there.
    • Don’t let canned lessons replace your personality as a teacher.
    • Students want to hear your take on the content that they are learning.
    • Teaching without relationship is less engaging and may just be words to the students.  Even if your content doesn’t have the same production quality as professional content, your voice will help students learn.  Kahn Academy originally worked because it was that student’s uncle who was teaching her. The faceless quality of the teaching translated to others because Kahn became everyone’s uncle.  Kahn Academy has super-low production quality (no crazy graphics and attention-getting animations), but it worked because of relationship.