By Bonnie Iversen
Adventist educators have been given the same commission Christ gave Peter in John 21: “If you love Me, feed My sheep.” Teachers recognize that Christ didn’t mean this to apply only when things are going well—He meant it even when schools must shut down for a time.
At San Gabriel Academy (SGA), plans for an alternate education design were already underway when the conference closed its schools. Then the dominos began to fall, from the cancellation of the school’s music tour to Italy to the possibility that the mission trip to Thailand might not happen. Therefore, the administration and faculty, under the leadership of Principal Paul Negrete, decided to implement SGA’s distance learning protocol.
March 24 was the first day of the new education model, and all students from TK to grade 12 showed up for classes at the normal times—from home. The teachers used the Zoom app to meet with students in real time. Attendance has been almost perfect; even chorale, orchestra, and P.E. meet virtually. The curriculum has not changed, and students have readily adapted. Understandably, many students dress casually while learning from home, but some students sign on wearing their uniform shirts, perhaps hoping to bring a feeling of normalcy to an otherwise strange reality.
SGA’s parents have been enthusiastically supportive. One high school parent shared, “As a parent of two children enrolled at SGA, I can say unequivocally that this program has just as much depth and direct instruction as before, and it drives real learning. I’m very proud of what SGA has been able to accomplish in these difficult times.” Another says, “SGA has put student learning first. Rather than using email as the primary means of communicating assignments and lessons, our teachers are helping students learn, answering their questions, and creating real-time virtual classrooms and collaboration.” An elementary parent expressed relief that her children were excited to log in to their virtual classrooms and interact with their classmates and teachers.
Virtual interaction paired with a strong, Christ-centered curriculum is the name of the game. Faith Yeaton, head of the Department of Technology, said, “My students are learning to work with technologies to make presentations in virtual classrooms. They are creating media that can be viewed during video conferencing.” In the first-grade classroom, “Show and Tell” has become “Sharing My Off-Campus Story.”
Christian educators have an enormous responsibility, not only to provide a quality education, but also to point their students to Christ. On the second day of distance learning, Kristi Huynh asked her fourth-grade students to share how they felt by giving a thumbs up, thumbs sideways, or thumbs down. One student gave a thumbs up, and Huynh asked why. “My day is going well, because I get to see all of you guys,” came the reply. It was a simple answer, but it spoke volumes. “In the midst of the chaos and uncertainty in our world,” Huynh said, “it’s such a blessing to provide some sense of normalcy for our students.”
Through distance learning, SGA continues to feed Christ’s sheep.