On March 13, 2020, Governor Newsom enacted Executive Order N-26-20, which was the catalyst for school districts closing throughout the state. As Visalia Unified learned more about COVID-19 and new state safety mechanisms were established in the ensuing months, the criteria for reopening schools became more defined. As time has progressed and districts remain closed, the focus on reopening, addressing learning loss, and meeting students’ social and emotional needs has become Visalia Unified School District’s priority.
When schools closed, the dedicated team of instructional and operational leaders immediately collaborated on how VUSD could best provide for its students and families with continued services. Instructional and operational leaders knew that these services would be different in light of the pandemic.
The development of learning packets for all students in grades preschool to twelve was the first step in ensuring that students continued to learn. These packets were developed to focus students’ learning on what we call priority standards. These are the learning standards used to measure what students must know to be successful.
VUSD knew that not all students in our district would have access to the internet; therefore, this posed a digital inequity for many of our households. This is why we focused on packets in K-8 and if needed at the 9-12 grades. This digital divide was a ubiquitous issue at the national level.
As packet learning was ensuing, we also were accelerating access to the internet and devices to all students in our district. VUSD acquired and installed WiFi towers, which increased access to the internet for our students, including in some of our more rural areas of Goshen and Ivanhoe. We were also able to acquire a large number of hotspots, which allowed students to have access to the internet. Finally, we were able to obtain enough Chromebooks to allow students to engage with hybrid learning for the 2020-21 school year.
During the summer of 2020, we provided access to credit recovery and original credit courses for our students in grades 9-12 to which they did not have access during the closure. We also began to plan how instruction would look in a hybrid model for the 2020-21 school year. This planning including the following: which online tools teachers and students would use; what the instructional day would look like in a hybrid format; how parents would connect to teachers and the school; which social and emotional resources would be available to students and families; and more.
Even with all of this planning and additional resource supports from the state and federal governments, we know that the current learning model is not ideal for students. Research
indicates that students have regressed in their learning, especially in mathematics in Grades 2-6. Research has also demonstrated that there are higher levels of social and emotional issues with students and families as they cope with quarantine and the added financial stresses brought on by the pandemic. Throughout the school closures, we have not lost sight of our students and families, knowing that they are experiencing these types of losses.
Now that we are beginning to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, we have moved from 100% online instruction during the first semester to bringing back students by grade-level. We currently have students in grades TK-6 grade learning in person on our 26 elementary campuses. Our hope is that we return Grades 7-12 back to campus for in-person learning by March 25, 2021. Having students in classrooms with their teachers is the optimal learning and social and emotional model.
While we wait to have all students return, we have not waited to see how we can serve our students and families since March 13, 2020.
We are now planning how we take all of those efforts and align them in a single expanded learning plan. This plan will be developed by internal and external stakeholders to align those same resources to support Visalia Unified students and families. Not one group alone will be able to meet the needs of every one of our students and families; but If we do this together, as one community
with one mission and vision, then we will stand a better chance of eradicating learning loss and the social and emotional toll that the pandemic has placed on all of us.