Teachers returned to campus on August 19 eager to prepare for the upcoming academic year. School began on September 8th with a targeted distance learning model in place. During the school closure, our cross functional response team created several different learning models for students. These models included in-person on campus, online at home, and a combination of both in-person with online. Technology Manager Alexandra Sando was tasked with finalizing technology upgrades which began nearly five years ago.
“We would not be able to provide the first day of school with such a seamless flow had we not been planning technology implementation for several years now. We began with upgrading our Wi-Fi to be able to provide high speed internet into each classroom. As we begin to move toward dual enrollment with Xavier University, technology is essential for that program implementation.” stated President Dot Teso.
Over the summer, new access points were placed throughout campus to provide a stable foundation for daily live class sessions happening in most classrooms on campus. While there are teachers on campus in the classrooms, they appear on students’ Chromebook or iPad screen to their students at home.
The Navajo Nation Department of Health announced in August that beginning on the 17th, the Navajo Nation would be transitioning from the red phase to the orange phase indicating moderate-high risk status according to the Nation’s reopening plan. SMIS’s response to this transitioning phase was to convert to solely online instruction. When teachers returned, they anticipated welcoming students on campus following CDC and APA guidelines of safely returning to school.
However, on August 31, 2020, the decision was made by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the SMIS Board of Directors, and leadership of SMIS to open virtually. In a recent virtual meeting with parents, President Teso said, “Saint Katharine Drexel was respectful of the Navajo leadership when opening the school. Decisions made today by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who own our school, are duly considerate of this longstanding agreement and understanding of the school in this community. We are confident that following the Navajo Nation Department of Health guidelines are in the best interest of our organization and our community.”
For our SMIS teachers, learning the new Microsoft Teams technology was challenging. However, it was not a difficult challenge them to overcome. Microsoft teams is the software being utilized to carry out the daily live recorded instruction. Although many challenges surfaced, our teachers remained positive in their outlook on virtual instruction. “I’m looking forward to seeing interaction between students online and possibly in person,” said art teacher Cody Begay. First-year fifth grade teacher Kellen Denny added: “Our young scholars have so much potential, and it is my job and pleasure to help guide them through their educational journey. I strongly believe in this quote by Ignacio “Nacho” Estrada, he says, if a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” The teachers spent a majority of their first week back at work learning new software and technology capabilities, while finalizing classroom syllabus and schedules for their students.
This year, our schedule allows for kindergarten to 10th grade students to be in class from 8:25 AM to 2:45 PM while juniors and seniors are scheduled for 12:05 PM to 4:55 PM classes. On Fridays, teachers in 3rd to 12th grades work remotely. This schedule is in effect for the virtual learning currently in place.
Since campus closed in March, the food service department served 27,763 meals to children in the community and prepared 150 weekend bags each Friday. Occasionally, there were more families than other Fridays for the weekend bags. The school is currently serving Meals To-Go in a drive thru style on campus Monday to Friday while also driving the buses around to four local stops during the lunch hours to allow for families to pick up meals. School nutritionist Dee Weber (`09) stated, “This school year the school qualified for all students to receive meals which means we have 62% of students normally receiving free or reduced costs for meals through the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch program. Creating accessibility is critical for the students so we run buses to offer daily lunches and weekend bags on Fridays.”
Since many students live as far as 20 miles away from the school, daily pick up is not easy, therefore weekday bags are being provided for students who will get their breakfast and lunch meals for the week every Monday.