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Local elementary school reports success with distance learning during pandemic 

Almond-acres distance learning

–A recently conducted survey by Almond Acres Charter Academy in San Miguel found that 100-percent of parents (over 104 responses received) were satisfied with the school’s distance learning approach, while 95-percent said the approach “exceeded” or “greatly exceeded” their expectations.

“I am so impressed with the AACA staff,” said parent Ashley Lundy. “I have been an online teacher for eight years and remember what an adjustment my first year was after working in the brick and mortar setting for years. Virtual schooling is such a different world and presents a whole new set of struggles in education. The AACA staff has acclimated wonderfully! My daughter has received full support both academically and socially throughout these challenging times”

The success of the transition to distance learning at Almond Acres Charter Academy is the result of staff finding unique ways to keep students and families connected. The school has maintained a sense of community by hosting virtual events for many of their normal activities. These events include Shared Start (an assembly at the beginning of each day), class meetings, weekly parent forums, and special celebrations such as the annual Maker Faire and talent show.

Shared Start brings the entire school together to celebrate students, focus on weekly habits, and keep everyone informed. Using YouTube Live, Executive Director Bob Bourgault makes all the students feel he is with them and is directing them in a positive direction. Prior to the school shut down, Shared Start had been run by leadership students. These students continue to appear via video cameo to encourage other students to be TeRRiFiC (trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, and caring) students, providing fun challenges for the whole school.

In addition to Shared Start, Bob hosts a weekly parent forum online. The forum provides the opportunity to share parenting strategies and field questions, hear concerns, and celebrate successes with parents.

Keeping students on track, motivated, and engaged isn’t an easy task for teachers.

“We are trying to learn new technology and at the same time we need to be proficient at it, which is not an easy task,” states 3rd-grade teacher Rena Spooner. Still students are greeted every day by their teachers either in live Zoom meetings or in daily recorded video messages. Teachers have created green screens, FlipGrid sharing, Padlet responses, small group meetings, and much more in order to keep students engaged in learning and give them a voice.

In keeping with their commitment to bringing out the best in all types of learners, the school went virtual with one of their most anticipated events of the year, the Maker Faire. From baking to making mini lightsabers to welding, the students shared their own hand-crafted projects via FlipGrid, encouraging others to become “makers”. The Maker Faire highlighted 133 student projects and demonstrations.

In an effort to bring some normalcy to families at the end of the year, the charter school also moved the annual talent show to an online platform. One of the benefits of going virtual is that even more students will be able to participate, including students who feel more comfortable in front of a camera than they do in a public setting. The virtual talent show will give students the opportunity to practice, challenge themselves, be creative, and entertain their friends and family.

Even during this difficult situation, AACA’s dedicated staff has been determined to provide opportunities to help students feel connected, continue to receive academic instruction, and share their creativity during this time.

“This experience has been a source of light in our house amid all the other craziness of the pandemic,” said parent Melinda Ribnek. “The teachers have been engaging and creative. They are informative and effective, yet also so caring in a way that absolutely is known and shines through.”

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. The school is located in San Miguel and is open to all students in all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul.




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