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Distance Learning Brings Work Up-Close

Commentary by: Nick Lum, Founder of BeeLine Reader

If you’ve ever been to an eye doctor, you’ve probably heard the mantra: every 20 minutes, you should spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away. This advice is meant to help office workers combat visual fatigue or eyestrain that can set in if you spend all day doing ‘close work,’ like reading on a computer screen.

These days, it’s not just office workers who are experiencing and overdose of close work. In normal times, students switch between various focal distances (watching a teacher give a lecture, doing close work, working in groups, and socializing with friends). In the world of distance learning, all of these activities are now mediated by a screen—which means that students are spending far more time staring at a single plane that is just a foot or two in front of their faces. Not surprisingly, this lack of focal diversity is adversely affecting students and making it harder for them to do their work.

Close work can be especially taxing because it requires bringing your eyes together (‘converging’) and forming a triangular shape, as shown below. By comparison, looking into the distance allows you to relax your eyes into a parallel position, which is easier and more comfortable.

Reading is even more taxing than merely looking at fixed spot up close because reading involves constantly shifting the angles of your visual triangle and keeping your eyes perfectly ‘converged.

While it is certainly unfortunate that so many students are impacted by these challenges, the one upside is that they bring greater awareness to the need to make reading on screen less burdensome for students. Students with

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It All Counts

Commentary by: JoAnn Mitchell, CEO/Founder of Mission Achievement and Success Charter School, @MAS_charter

Our meetings with community partners and local leaders all have one thing in common. At the end of our presentation, we always get The Question: “So what’s your secret? What’s the magic piece that makes MAS Charter Schools so successful?”

Every time, the answer is as unsatisfying and anticlimactic as the last. “Well, it’s everything.”

It’s a question the whole education community asks, from state and federal lawmakers and district superintendents at the top to our newest teachers in the classroom. How do we aid kids in overcoming odds to read and do math on grade level, to graduate from the public school system to achieve success in the postsecondary and professional world?

At MAS, we’ve built our reputation on improving student outcomes. Despite high rates of poverty and English language learners, our students keep up with or outperform those in affluent Albuquerque or Santa Fe schools here in New Mexico. More than three-quarters of our students in kindergarten and first grade are already reading, where our state hovers at just 25 percent for students at the critical third-grade milestone. One hundred percent of our three classes of high school seniors have graduated–with acceptance to a postsecondary program or a branch of the military. New Mexico’s graduation rate was 74.9 percent in 2019, ten percentage points behind the national average.

So what’s the secret sauce? The whole model.

We teach teachers to grow into the excellent educators they all have the potential to be, through continuous professional development throughout the year. Our educators participate in 45 minutes of professional development every day, adding up to a minimum of 135 hours each year. Most traditional public schools only

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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. 

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