COVID-19 has dramatically changed the world in a short amount of time. The places we work, play, eat, sleep, and learn have all been confined to one space lovingly referred to as home. One place has been especially rocked by this upheaval — the classroom.
Adventist schools everywhere in North America have closed temporarily, moving classes online. Teachers are instructing inside virtual classrooms. Students are home. We are left with questions about what this means for the rest of the current school year and how this will affect next school year. We are all asking, “What comes next?”
The answer is nobody knows. Ask that question to anybody in any profession anywhere in the world right now and that will be the most honest and accurate answer. That’s the same answer I got from Albert Miller, Superintendent of Schools for the Northern California Conference. I spoke to him in an effort to get a more close-up view of how COVID-19 has changed the landscape for Adventist education. He said it was “anybody’s guess” as far as how this will affect next school year and the academic calendars after that.
Perhaps enrollment will decline as parents may have lost their jobs in the wake of shutdowns and shelter-in-place restrictions. Maybe smaller schools won’t be able to survive financially without enough students or a strong community. The long-term ramifications of this sudden need to change daily life can’t be predicted.
But the short-term looks something like this: full days of phone calls, emails, and online classes and meetings using multimedia video communication services. Teachers have learned how to use Zoom, Google Classroom, and whatever else it takes to make school happen. Most decisions to temporarily close schools happened mid-March, the week before spring break, and most teachers made a very quick transition in that week moving classes online. Speed bumps of the steep learning curve were tackled over spring break and the final quarter of school began in April as smoothly as possible, all considered.
“Overall,” said Miller, “we have been incredibly blessed and impressed with the adjustments everybody has made.” He praised the prompt and efficient work of principals and teachers within the conference making a transition never before experienced to this extent.
But this new era is not without its challenges. Miller said that the larger schools have done better than smaller schools with the temporary switch to virtual learning. The biggest issue is getting enough resources to students who do not have adequate access. The Northern California Conference estimated in early April that approximately 65 students in the conference alone do not have the technology they need to fully participate. Miller mentioned the conference recently got word that they will be receiving funding from the Pacific Union Conference to help in instances like this. “We are really, really grateful,” said Miller. This funding will make it possible to provide Chromebooks for students without a computer, laptop, or smartphone to access resources like Google Classroom and Zoom.
When students do have the resources they need to succeed in the digital classroom, a day of school goes well. Most teachers hold classes at the normally scheduled time as to keep routines the same and not add any extra logistical complications. Students are able to ask questions, interact with one another, and learn in real-time. Homework is submitted digitally and tests are administered virtually.
Class is in session as Rio Lindo Academy chemistry students work on labs together via video call.
While everyone sincerely hopes distance learning is short-lived, Miller noted there are some positives of it they hope to take into the future. It’s now clear that with the technology they have been using, large virtual events like conference-wide science fairs and spelling bees are an option. Schools could gather and collaborate online, saving money on travel and putting students in bigger ponds.
The circumstances are far from ideal and not at all how anybody imagined this school year ending, but it is working. Miller assured that “quality education is happening.” He spoke highly of the “amazing and impressive creativity from teachers who love their kids.” Educators from all over the conference are invited to join an optional weekly meeting via Zoom to share their ideas and talk about what approaches and lessons have worked best in the new environment so far. Teachers are working to keep classes a tangible experience. These schools still have that ideal student-teacher ratio and family-like atmosphere with a spiritual focus thanks to the educators who are invested in their students’ futures.
I was encouraged by the hopeful and positive tone of the conversation with Miller. Yes, leaders in Adventist education are highly aware of the very possible long-term effects this season of life will have on Adventist schools and no, they do not know what the future looks like more than anybody else would in their position. They are also aware of how it has changed the here-and-now and are adapting as quickly and efficiently as possible. Conferences have been advised to prepare to finish the school year this way. Like everybody, they are dealing with the unknown and can only move forward one day at a time.
How can we help Adventist schools right now?
• Pray for our schools.
• Thank and encourage teachers.
• Talk to your schools about volunteering your time to assist in the virtual classroom. (Elementary schools would especially benefit — read aloud to students or let students practice reading aloud to you.)
• Donate to your local conference to help provide technology many students need.
If you would like to help a school in the Northern California Conference, please contact Albert Miller at [email protected]. If you would like to help schools in another conference, find their contact information in the NAD Area Headquarters Directory.
Hallie Anderson is a writer, reader, and freelance marketing and communications specialist based in the foothills of Northern California.
Main image: As schools made the decision to move classes online, science teacher at Rio Lindo Academy, Denise Tonn, quickly prepared lab kits for students to take home with them to keep distance learning hands-on. Images courtesy of Rio Lindo Academy.
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