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Ohio Connections Academy on the COVID Pandemic

Commentary by: Marie Hanna, Superintendent, Ohio Connections Academy, @OCApride

During the pandemic school closure announcements and updates, our governor decided that virtual schools in Ohio should remain open and operate without interruption; while brick and mortar schools closed their doors and shifted to some form of remote learning. As a leader of a full-time virtual school during this unprecedented time, I felt the responsibility to showcase the value of virtual education and that Ohio Connections Academy could be a model in Ohio for digital education delivery.

Our first thoughts were how to best support both our families and our staff members as we were cognizant that all members of our community would likely be facing changes in their normal routine.  I immediately met with our staff and assured them that I understood that they might have to work with some modifications to their schedule due to the brick and mortar buildings closing as well as due to potential job changes for their family members and day care closings. In addition, our school counselors got busy with plans to support families and staff. We met with families virtually and had frequent communication with them regarding state testing, graduation, and other pertinent school topics.  We also sent lists of resources to the families and checked in frequently with those that we were aware of needing extra support.

One of my concerns during the shutdown was service to our special education students.  As services at OCA were already well functioning and adapted to the online learning environment, staff was able to provide services quite seamlessly.  The students were able to get related services such as speech and occupational therapy online.  I am pleased that our special education students continued to be fully served.  We have some students who do require face-to-face services or one-on-one psychological testing, and we will be able to meet those needs once the psychologists and other service providers are able to safely set those up.

We asked our teachers to spend their time engaging students and identifying families who needed extra support and interventions.  Our staff had virtual spirit events and planned fun activities for our students in order to keep engagement up and morale high! Since state testing was canceled, our teachers enjoyed using the time they would have been traveling to administer tests to instead engage with our students and provide additional personalized instruction and intervention.

I know that many of our staff felt additional stress from balancing child care and other at home adjustments with their full-time teaching load, but they took this opportunity to shine.  Teachers and school counselors were able to remain focused on the most important aspect of our program – helping all students achieve success. They were able to assist families in maintaining attendance rates very close to where they were all school year.  I am very proud of the resilience of our families and my staff has shown this school year.

 

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