Mar 17 2021

How Cajon Valley Union School District Bridged the Communication Gap

A school district had long strived for better, consistent and sustained communications with the community it serves. Oddly enough, the pandemic helped make that finally happen.

When the Cajon Valley Union School District had to close K–12 classrooms in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we grappled with the same challenges faced by schools around the nation: How could we provide educational continuity and support students’ progress with distance learning?

Technology played a crucial role, of course. But the single most important factor turned out to be trust.

Cajon Valley first began to embrace the digital age long before the pandemic shuttered its schools. In 2014, more than 90 percent of the district’s teachers committed to implementing a blended and personalized learning approach. With this, Cajon Valley was able to launch a one-to-one program to provide students with laptops equipped with the necessary programs and tools for an adaptive curriculum.

A Less Tech, More Human Approach

When the district initially embarked on its blended and personalized learning venture years ago, some stakeholders were concerned that kids would spend too much time in front of screens. Others worried that school officials were attempting to replace actual teaching with computers.

Fortunately, these fears were quickly put to rest when people saw that the focus of conversations and professional development revolved around increasing time for teachers to work with students individually and in small groups.

To emphasize how vital personal interaction is to our blended learning endeavor, we adopted the motto “Less Tech, More Human.” We also looked to other tech-infused industries where computers took on administrative or routine tasks so that employees could focus on the creative and human aspects of their work.

In the medical field, for example, advances in X-rays, scans, arthroscopy, radiology and robotics have allowed breakthroughs in technology to radically improve outcomes for patients. The nurses and doctors haven’t been replaced, but the time and efficiency created by these innovations have allowed them to invest more time in patient care, consultation and well-being.

The same is true in the classroom. Today’s educational technology, for instance, enables more vigorous diagnostics, progress monitoring, adaptive curriculum and corrective feedback. This, in turn, allows teachers to more accurately personalize learning for students and spend more time coaching and mentoring.

READ MORE: These 3 online learning tools help boost remote instruction.

Supporting Students with Technology and Communication

The technological proficiencies our teachers and students built over the past several years served us well in March 2020, when stay-at-home orders took effect all over the nation. In a matter of days, our teachers and support staff transitioned smoothly to remote learning — but we had another significant challenge ahead.

Early on, we realized that not all of our students had equal access to the tools they’d need. It took a few weeks before we were able to ensure all students had devices and were connected to Wi-Fi at home. That barely scratched the surface, however, of the enormous challenges our students and their families faced. In most students’ homes, both parents work. Many students were tasked with taking care of their younger siblings and were sometimes left home alone. Some parents quit their jobs because they had no access to childcare. Knowing this, we did everything in our power to provide constant support and communication.

Cajon Valley Union School District reflects on a successful year of online learning and community building.

Our parents wanted to hear from us and wanted answers to a lot of questions about COVID-19, the future and what to expect. While we didn’t always have the answers, we agreed to meet regularly to stay connected and provide whatever answers and assistance we could.

With this in mind, we strived to establish avenues for active, two-way communication. We held biweekly meetings for educators and school staff, and we shared video of those meetings online. Our principals and teachers offered town hall–style meetings for their school communities as well. Cajon Valley also had a well-established social media footprint, which provided additional layers of communication and outreach.

Online Learning Creates Stronger Connections

From the onset, the actions we took were a direct result of live, weekly videoconferences we held with our stakeholder groups. This rhythm and consistency were essential to establishing the kind of connection and collaboration we sought with our community, and allowed us to respond agilely to problems as they surfaced.

When several families shared that they had no options for childcare and were stressed about balancing work and their kids’ classes, we launched a program offering free childcare for essential workers. Similarly, when our stakeholders expressed concern for the mental and social well-being of our students, we introduced free summer learning and enrichment camps for any families who felt safe sending their children.

Miyashiro
From the onset, the actions we took were a direct result of live, weekly videoconferences we held with our stakeholder groups.

David Miyashiro Superintendent

Ultimately, our ability to provide wide technology access and regularly engage with our families allowed us to safely reopen schools for families and teachers who were comfortable attending in person, while still providing distance learning options for those who weren’t.

For years, we’ve wanted stronger connections between our school system and the families and employees who rely on us. Who could have guessed that we would accomplish that by going online?

What we do know is that we will continue leveraging the power of technology to enable more human connection, and that even as we spend more and more time in the digital realm, our “Less Tech, More Human” approach will remain a welcome concept for the end users we serve.

Hear more about how Cajon Valley Union School District is reinventing career training and education at edtechmag.com/k12/istemiyashiro

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