Dear AACA Parents:
I hope you are all healthy and keeping cool during this crazy heat wave. Just prior to school commencing we held classroom specific town hall meetings. Unfortunately, not all parents were able to attend so I did follow up with a brief recap. Now that we have been back in session for a week or so, I have had opportunity to personally interact with many parents and to hear feedback and concerns. Most of the parents I have heard from have the same basic concerns, so I wanted to take a moment to address the biggest elephant in the room……”how is my very unique student supposed to be online for so long”?
Of course there are other common concerns I will address like, “my student has a very specific schedule and can’t have class/service during these (you insert) hours, so can we just change class time”?, “trying to get my student online is like pulling teeth, and its so boring”, “my student is making no progress, in fact he/she is regressing”, “trying to get these kids online to receive education is absolutely ridiculous and as a result I am angry about having to do it”, “AACA is not doing what they promised when we enrolled (you insert name here) because they are refusing to open”, Doesn’t anybody understand that my child misses his community and is suffering from isolation and depression”?...
Like I said during our meetings, I fully expected to open to on campus learning. Having the Governor announce that we would not only have to open with a distance learning model but also one that would have brand new guidelines was not expected. It was devastating for our entire staff. I more than anyone on my staff, because off my clinical background, am acutely aware of the social emotional toll that this type of learning takes on the population we work with.
Between July 17 and August 12, AACA had to move locations, and reorganize our entire framework for the delivery of academics and related services. Our teachers and clinical staff are working harder and longer now than they ever have. Figuring out how to deliver 120 minutes of synchronized whole group teaching everyday via a virtual platform while attempting to keep the students engaged is very difficult because they all have individualized education plans. So we asked ourselves, “Do we do the entire 2 hours at once?” There is probably no way any of our students could successfully engage in 2 solid hours of group learning. But, if we did do a solid 120 minutes, do we do it in the morning from 9-11 or in the afternoon from 1-3? Either way, there will be parents who will not be happy because it does not work for their schedule. Quite honestly, a solid 2 hour block would be best for AACA and internal scheduling but we KNOW it would not be best for the students and they are our focus. So, that having been said; teachers have broken down the teaching times into more manageable chunks. Then there are the “break-out” sessions with the aides and teachers because AACA teachers know that the kids need more individual time so that they can get the type of support they need as unique learners. Now we have to slot in clinical support services like OT, Speech, APE, etc. Our clinicians have learned to “bob and weave” trying to fit themselves into each teachers limited openings. By now we have almost taken up an entire day. We are also sending out packets of individualized work every 1-2 weeks, and any other items such as manipulatives, pencils, special paper, reinforcers, etc; that your student may require.
All the while on the back end, we are taking data, monitoring all the sessions, and compiling information which will either be sent to your students’ districts, or the CDE because AACA needs to be 100% accountable to all our contracted and governing agencies. The irony is that no matter how unsuccessful trying to utilize distance learning may be with this particular population, we are being watched very closely for compliance. If AACA is to keep its doors open to continue to help the kids that need it the most once it is time to return to onsite learning, then we have no choice but to follow the rules without exception.
We can’t control the rules, but we can control the spirit with which we choose to deliver education and supports. For better or worse, we are in this situation and we can either contribute to the success of our students or further contaminate the process. Our students are acutely aware of when anybody in their universe is out of sorts!
AACA staff understand that distance learning is not appropriate for the severely impacted population we serve. For the record, we want on campus learning!! We miss your kids!! We know you are unhappy. We know your children are much better served by being on campus. We have TONS of data we have painstakingly taken ourselves, which support this fact. But for now we can’t change the situation.
So I am asking you all to stay strong, remain engaged, and keep plugging away. Your teachers desperately need your support. When you are engaged in online learning with your student, please be as positive as possible because your positivity has an effect on not only your own student’s emotional reactivity, but also on everyone else in the meeting. A smiling face goes a long way. Please do not talk during the sessions unless you are prompted to do so by the teacher because sometimes, certain comments can be perceived in an unintended way by another parent or student. If you think your student needs additional individual support, please reach out to your teacher via email. If you have criticism, please wait until after the session and voice your concerns to the teacher directly. Please do not ask your teacher to rearrange the daily schedule because your student likes to “nap, eat, play, watch TV, etc” during that particular time because ALL our kiddos are KIDS, and they all happen to be very rigid in their habits, preferences, and thinking so they would all like to be doing something other than learning! If your child is suffering from depression or other social emotional issues due to having to remain at home during COVID19 and the inability to be on campus for learning, please let your teacher know because we can work with you to get counseling for your student.
I know this is not easy and that many of you are just plain exhausted. If nobody has told you lately; you are all amazing. From the bottom of my heart I thank you all for your continued support. AACA will remain vigilant in our goal to get your kids back on campus just as soon as it is possible to do so.