By Jodie Aakko, Sandy Hodgson, and Joel Reyes

Thinking aloud about the “new normal” for our kids Jodie Aakko, Brighton Adventist Academy (BAA)

Spring break 2020. That was when we heard the news: schools must close, a return date is unknown, you must use technology (read Zoom) like never before.

While in the planning stages, more than one of us BAA teachers said, “I think when I first see my students on Zoom, I will start to cry!”

Those were hard times—no track and field event, no field trips, no school banquet, no fine arts performance, no school project night. Several times, a hopeful student would calmly ask, in a sweet and honest tone that can only come from a child’s lips, “Mrs. A, can we come back to school yet?” Just a simple question, from an innocent child not asking for much, and I could not say, “Yes.” And my heart was aching for the same thing.

Now, graduation ceremonies are over, student awards were handed out, and Zoom sessions have ended. Looking back, eight weeks of distance learning offered many opportunities and life lessons; but more importantly, it revealed our strength. When the quarantine took us by storm, it showed that our school has a rock-solid foundation that cannot be shaken. Our school’s foundation is Jesus Christ, and that foundation cannot fall.

By God’s leading, learning continued. Discussions and interactions between students and the teachers took place through various forums and video chat rooms. Group projects, such as glogsters, were completed. Students interacted with the community in safe ways, using sidewalk messages and art projects. They encouraged each other and worked together as a team. An endless number of online resources was utilized. As teachers, we discovered that our prior class- room technology practices, mixed with assistance and sup- port from our conference administration, prepared us well to effectively teach through distance learning. We were stronger than we thought.

The fall season is uncertain. What will it look like? We are hopeful that we can return to campus, with added health precautions such as vigorous sanitizing, wider personal spaces, and limited crowds. Yet we do have some guarantees: God is faithful to sustain us. We will celebrate our tenacity to succeed in tough times. We will fine-tune both staff and student technology skills. Our family bond will be stronger. Yes, we realize that since we are all part of the family of God, we are never apart. Our common values, genuine care for each other, and identity in Christ, define our unity.

As a teacher, this has impacted me tremendously. First, I would hope that I did not need a reminder of how much I treasure time with my students; yet the time apart forced me to taste and feel the immeasurable love an educator has for her precious children. Second, I can return to the classroom with a greater passion for the integration of technology, knowing that my students’ expertise levels have increased as well. Third, with an increased sense of confidence, I can boldly accept the next great challenge facing our Adventist schools: standards-based teaching.

What am I worried about? As principal, I wonder how this pandemic will affect our enrollment and budget. As a faithful worker for Christ, I ask God to help me stand today without fear. In fact, I must stand and celebrate! We are certainly in the final stages of Earth’s history. We are close to the end of the sadness of this world; tomorrow we begin our life at home with our Father. All this time, we have been distance learning with God. He has missed us, and He just wants us to come Home. We may feel like we are far away from our Creator, but all we have to do is open the Bible, pray, and Zoom!—we are at Jesus’ feet.

–Jodie Aakko is principal and head teacher at Brighton Adventist Academy. Email her at: [email protected]


Distance learning is here to stay Sandy Hodgson, Vista Ridge Academy (VRA)

Leadership expert John Maxwell states, “A crisis bumps us out of our comfort zone into our creative zone.” How true I found that to be as a teaching principal at Vista Ridge Academy during the COVID-19 pandemic. While our staff and school board felt comfortable in our pursuit of the school’s mission and vision, we had to become creative as we navigated through this crisis. What would “creating a strong student and community engagement and a reputation for excellence in academic achievement and personal growth” look like through remote learning? What would our distance learning program include that would set us apart from the public sector?

Extending our Spring Break an extra week gave our leadership team time to create a plan that would outline our educational goals to support our students and families during remote learning. Every teacher was tasked with making contact with families to see how they were doing and how we could provide assistance. Did we hope that this period of distance learning would last just a couple weeks? Yes! Did we have to plan for it to continue long term? Absolutely!

It was inspiring as I reached out to families to find out how they were holding up as stay-at-home orders were put in place, how the school could assist them, and what supplies they would need for remote learning. Several families asked how they could help the school through this crisis. We prayed together and supported one another as never before.

Teaching my fifth and sixth grade students remotely from my home was a technological wonder. To be able to see them and talk with them as we learned together was bitter- sweet. How I missed being able to see them face to face, to give them a pat on the back or a high-five. But being able to share our morning jokes and cartoons, have worship and share prayer requests, and hear a student say—as soon as the Zoom session opened, “Hey, Mrs. Hodgson, guess what I did yesterday afternoon?” (as though we were in the classroom on campus), brought a sense of normalcy to our day. Being able to use the white board feature on my tablet to show the process for two-step inequalities in sixth grade math or how to answer a reading comprehension question in complete sentence format, was another blessing.

My students enjoyed being able to do assignments in breakout rooms in groups, create atom models with supplies around their home, have scavenger hunts, and present final reading projects via Zoom. Some of the technology and online programs we used during remote learning will definitely be incorporated when we return to campus.

Return to campus? Yes, please! Vista Ridge Academy has created a working group that will explore phases and best practices for the safest return of our staff and students in August. As one student said, “We sit in the classroom and wish we were home, and now we sit at home and wish we could be together again.” I can’t wait!

–Sandy Hodgson is teaching principal of Vista Ridge Academy, Erie, Colorado. Email her at: [email protected]


Flexibility and team work ahead Joel Reyes, Intermountain Adventist Academy (IAA)

Have you noticed how teachers frequently carry large bags? Sometimes more than one. And not just the ladies. I had a wonderful male teacher at a school once who used to pull a carry-on suitcase into his classroom every day. Teachers are creatures of habit. Well-planned, rehearsed and researched habits. We know what we are going to do the last day of school, even before the school year has begun. We study our students and select methods, means and resources available to afford each of them the best education possible. Some teachers have literally buckets systematically labeled and carefully stored, with instructional materials for the year. So, imagine the feeling when the announcement is made that “starting next week, all classes will be online.”

Most teachers had heard of Zoom before, but most had not used it more than a couple of times to join a meeting from afar. I am always amazed at the ingenuity and resolve of Adventist educators when called to arms. I am equally impressed with the resilience and adaptability of our students. As I ponder the events of the last quarter of the school year, a few things in particular stand out.

  1. Don’t underestimate the commitment, resolve and ingenuity of our educators. Someone described what Adventist teachers were doing as “flying a plane while learning to fly it.” I would go further and say that teachers were building the plane in the air and learning to fly it with passengers in it.
  2. Students don’t dislike school as much as they claim. When asked what they missed the most, my students said, “Being at school.” Learning and growing is as much about the social and emotional as it is about academics.
  3. If you want to know anything about Zoom, just call a Rocky Mountain Conference teacher. We will show you absolutely everything Zoom can do, and more.
  4. Classroom management was very easy for most of us, but we all missed the interaction, the wise-crack comments, the lame excuses, and all the laughs and silly jokes.
  5. In order for online school to be successful, especially at the elementary level, strong parent support is vital. We are grateful for all the families who invested so much into making sure the students had a proper place to study and showed up to their online meetings on time.
  6. This pandemic showed us that flexibility and teamwork are just as important as careful planning.

Most of us are now looking back at the school year that just ended and perhaps wishing it had been different. All the unfinished projects. All the hours spent on careful planning for lessons that could not be delivered. All the good-byes we did not say, and the high fives we did not give on the last day of school. Some are also looking ahead and wishing for some type of certainty. Will we be in our classrooms with our students in August? How should we start planning? But the answers are not there.

As I personally look ahead, I feel a deep conviction that when the time comes, we will be ready. And I don’t mean to be facetious here, but I know that the same team of minute- man who just successfully completed an entire quarter of online school with only a day or two of preparation will be ready to tackle whatever may come, now as experienced trench fighters. You can count me in.

–Joel Reyes is head teacher and principal of Intermountain Adventist Academy in Grand Junction, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]