• David Najar

Zoom Classes, Afternoon Naps, & TikTok. (We know.) Still, we aim to engage students; and it works.

We’re a school that’s been open since May. Here’s what we learned…

Like the rest of the country, Global Prep Academy shut its doors on March 13, 2020, waiting “a few weeks” for everything to blow over. We immediately embraced Zoom, created a global calendar, and soldiered on with our students. Four of us continued to come to GPA every day to prepare for classes and be available to students who were still focused on creating value and becoming the most interesting human beings possible. Eric and Zoe founded Six Feet Supplies, a student-run organization that shopped for and delivered groceries to SCV’s most vulnerable community members. We were shopping when there was no toilet paper in aisle 12 and only 2 sourdough starters left in aisle 14. Schools may have been closed, but nearly 40 (engaged) students still found ways to serve the community...safely. Our students didn’t quit - even when their high schools did.

Then, in May, there was a brief glimpse of the blue sky; we thought that we had flattened the curve and businesses started to open up. We wanted to be as safe as possible, so we contracted a UCLA epidemiologist who had worked on the ebola crisis. She told us to keep all of our doors and windows open to keep constant ventilation, utilize The Stadium (our beautiful, large gathering area) and ensure that the students wore masks and kept socially distanced. Thus, began our experiment to continue learning...together...at GPA. Here’s what we learned:

1 . Students are as resilient as Marigolds: as long as you give them regular water and sunshine, they will flourish.

Our students were so desperate to learn and be together that they followed the rules, endured the 110-degree heat (90 degrees inside, which made us relatively COVID safe), put up with the constant smell of smoke, and worked hard to build projects and learn new skills and essential knowledge. They fought against injustice in the city, state, country, and world. They learned to 3D print. They learned to hustle - even during a pandemic. Young people want purpose; they don’t want packets.

2 . Zoom can work as long as you have compelling content and are agile enough to adjust to occasional blackouts and broken HDMI cords.

The reason Zoom is not working for educational institutions across the country is because instructors are trying to simply translate their regular ol’, in-classroom to video. That doesn’t work. You can’t have the students color maps or annotate “The Fall of the House of Usher” on Zoom. You can’t create “breakout rooms” and expect students to discuss the first page of Of Mice and Men. Teachers must adapt their curriculum and teaching strategies to engage the students in conversations and interactive texts that will excite them. This means throwing the analog paper packets and finding ways for students to get their hands dirty (NOTE: Students in this district are privileged enough to have access to technology that allows them to access the internet. We understand that is not always the case and work hard to spread economic opportunities to whoever needs them). Did you know that Blender is a free and open-source 3D creation suite? It supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline—modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, video editing, and 2D animation pipeline. Awesome, right? Our students lose themselves in creation. Did you also know that students can download Adobe Creative Cloud for free? My students do, and they are building resumes in Illustrator, creating flyers in Photoshop, and editing on Premiere. Please let them build and explore. Get out of their way and let them learn. Guide them. Collaborate with me. Facilitate.

3 . While resilient, the students need to be supported in their wellness right now.

There’s a freaking pandemic and these students have missed landmark occasions such as football games and kickbacks and proms and graduations. We can’t expect them to perform as if it is a regular school year. We must make allowances and create spaces for them to vent and cry. What is the point of education if we are going to send broken young people to college where they will drown. Eduwellness, please...now more than ever.

4 . Education needs to change...NOW.

English? Are they learning “English”? No. Then, let’s create a four-year curriculum that builds a student’s critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, initiative, and wellness. STEM departments need to understand that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has changed everything. Be agile enough to change with the times. The pandemic has exposed education as flaccid and out of date. We all knew; we just had to turn on the lights and see all the duct tape and dust.

We are all safe and healthy; thanks for asking. We are also preparing for college in a way that understands that college is not an end but a useful stepping stone to where we wish to be. With that in mind, we continue to facilitate uncomfortable and necessary conversations, develop our voices in our writing, hone our creativity and problem-solving skills. We are looking to the future and know it’s bright because our students will lead the way.

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