By Tricia Murdoch Zmaj
The first day of school looked very different this year. While educators in Southeastern California Conference (SECC) schools were in their classrooms, their students started their new grades interacting with their teachers and peers through computer screens.
Susie Oliva, teaching principal of the K-8 Victor Valley school, is a veteran teacher of 15 years. “In some ways it feels like the first year of teaching again,” she said. “The new technology has given me an opportunity to reach students in helpful ways.”
Recently, Oliva took part in training offered by the Office of Education to teach principals to use Swivl. The Office of Education also offered teachers three days of training on digital instructional methods and student engagement when they reported to work for the new school year.
“The Swivl system allows the teacher to move around the classroom as they normally would, and the camera will follow them where they go,” said Amy Cornwall, SECC director of instructional coaching. “Teachers can use hands-on instruction while allowing the students at home to see and interact with the teacher and their classmates.”
SECC teachers are mindful that remote education is not merely technically challenging. “The two greatest challenges teachers will experience this year are helping parents feel supported and creating meaningful connections with students,” said Ketita Boren, first grade teacher at Mesa Grande Academy. Boren is providing her class parents with a detailed guide to an organized learning environment at home. She also recently sent out student questionnaires so that she can prepare teaching strategies and activities designed for her students.
Even through remote education, SECC schools offer a unique experience. “Adventist education continues to help students reach their highest potential while recognizing that true education aligns the students’ spiritual, mental, and physical development with God’s ideal for mankind,” said Boren.
Oliva regularly hears from parents who appreciate the family feeling of their Adventist school despite the additional workload that current circumstances require. When the students began learning remotely last spring, Oliva and teacher Carley Holm continued their daily worships, in which students and teachers met for prayer and Bible study via Zoom. Oliva has a screen capture from the final Bible study of last school year. In the picture, students sit at various kitchen tables, by living room desks, and in front of bedroom walls. Though their school experiences look very different, each student wears a beaming smile.