March Madness took on an entirely new meaning this spring when schools, businesses and even day-to-day living came to a screeching halt due to COVID-19.
Everything changed from one day-to-the-next. For school districts, COVID-19 meant transforming the traditional concept of teaching into robust home-to-home learning, which is better known as “distance learning.’’
At IDEA Toros in Edinburg, technology-based Summit Learning is often used. It incorporates a Self-Directed Learning Cycle. The adjustments were minimal in going to distance learning.
“The base of our students’ work is already independent,” said Viviane Castillo-Manzano, the campus principal. “But we wanted them to continue interacting with their teachers.”
Toros teachers now conduct live virtual lessons throughout the day. Students must “attend” each class at least twice a week and complete their self-paced Summit lessons and required projects. Toros student-athletes normally travel to soccer tournaments throughout the United States, which also requires distance learning.
“Toros is more about the culture we’ve built than a building,” said Toros senior Diego Castillo, who plans to enroll at Boston University or the UTRGV Honors College in the fall to pursue a career in neurosurgery. “Because we are able to manage our time and organize our work, at times like this — and in college — we won’t have to adapt as much as others.”
Castillo is making time away from his studies to also volunteer with Project COVID Care, delivering groceries and other necessities to elderly people in the community.
Toros College Prep teacher Nora Cuevas agrees with Castillo on the reach of the school’s culture.
“Summit not only builds content, but it builds habits of success and cognitive skills at the same time,” she said.
For Cuevas, the challenge is the distance part.
“I miss them (her students) so much,” Cuevas said.
Her one-on-one mentoring sessions help, but it is not the same as seeing them in person five days a week.
“I miss their energy.”
Music and Distance Learning
Engaging student-musicians through distance learning is quite a feat, said Alex Trevino, McAllen High School’s Mariachi Oro instructor.
“We had them analyze mariachi videos and write their feedback,” Trevino said. “Then we put up technique exercises and uploaded new music.”
But none of this gave his musicians the opportunity to perform together. They tried using Zoom, but latency issues due to different Wi-Fi speeds created more havoc than music. After exploring alternatives, they decided each member of the group would listen to a recording of the same song through one earphone, using click track as a guide.
The other earphone would be off to make sure he or she stayed in tune while making an individual video. The videos were then submitted to Trevino. A group of Mariachi Oro members, with help from friends from other schools, used video-editing and audio software to mix it, creating a perfect performance.
“It is a great way for the kids to see the whole process, one musician and one section at a time – and to piece it together like a puzzle,” Trevino said.
McHi junior Laert Musollari, a Mariachi Oro violinist, said the process and the finished product helped the group through this unexpected separation.
“We miss it,” Musollari said. “It’s really nice to see us playing together again. We are really proud of each other and proud of the team that put it together so we can keep mariachi alive.”
To see the distance learning performance of the McHi mariachi go to www.facebook.com/McHiMariachi/videos/2617656918516957.
It is not only classroom teachers and students finding ways to continue learning and stay connected. Campus administrators are as well.
Lou Ann Sarachene, principal at Ruben Hinojosa Elementary in the Sharyland Independent School District, is using Google Meet to conduct meetings with her entire staff.
“Our vision is everyone matters; everyone counts,” Sarachene said about including every member of the campus staff in her meetings. “They love the interaction and we all look forward to seeing each other.”
In their Google Meet grade-level meetings with Sarachene, teachers discuss how students are performing, how they are meeting the needs of each student and which parents the team needs to contact.
“I’ve never been prouder to be a principal,” Sarachene said.
She is also proud of her students and their parents.
“Many parents have done a phenomenal job of teaching their kids at home,” Sarachene said.
On April 13, the Hinojosa staff had a Google Meet session to surprise a teacher on their campus with a baby shower. They submitted recorded messages the previous week to Aracely Rios, an assistant principal, who combined them into one video. They presented an Amazon gift card during the virtual shower.
Distance learning is about much more than virtual education. It is also about discovering how strong relationships are within the walls of our schools and exploring new ways to make them even stronger.