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Glendale Unified rolls out online learning with an emphasis on preparing students for next year

A screenshot of Karineh Avanessian's Google Classroom main page. Students log in daily to see the assignment for the day and grades for past assignments.
A screenshot of Karineh Avanessian’s Google Classroom main page. Students log in daily to see the assignment for the day and grades for past assignments.
(Courtesy of Karineh Avanessian)

Karineh Avanessian doesn’t think her colleagues got much sleep since Glendale public schools sites closed to students beginning March 16.

While students’ spring break was extended to two weeks, Avanessian participated in training to reconfigure her sixth-grade curriculum at Cerritos Elementary to be online. Principals scrambled to coordinate the distribution of Chromebooks, hotspots and paper packets of instructions.

The first week of online learning, which started on March 30, was designed for the students to become accustomed to the technology and review previous material. The second week was dedicated to resuming teaching.

“Our students were already used to all these platforms like Google Drive, Google Classroom, Clever, our online math program, online Khan Academy. You name it, we’ve done it,” Avanessian said.

Cerritos Elementary is a computer-science magnet that implements the Code to the Future program, providing training to help schools become immersed in computer-science education.

One of the principal’s missions is to make sure every Cerritos Elementary student has a Chromebook. Instead of purchasing additional laptops, the district had enough Chromebooks in its existing inventory for every student in need to borrow for at-home study.

Avanessian uses a mix of screen sharing, online assignments through Google Classroom and Zoom video conferencing. She opts for screen-sharing videos vs. live lessons because students can pause and replay at their leisure.

When asked about whether teachers are setting different expectations with online learning, Chris Coulter, Glendale Unified’s director of teaching and learning, said, “We want students to be prepared for next year, and we want to avoid gaps in learning over these next couple months. Most importantly, we want students and families to be safe, and we want to provide some connection to their teachers and classmates.”

Coulter also said educators are teaching the state standards but prioritizing what is most important for students to learn during the last two months of the school year.

“I don’t think there’s any way that online platforms can replace the physical classroom. One-on-one attention⁠ — I really feel like it’s going to be very hard to recreate, but every teacher has to make sure that learning continues. It’s not just academics. We need to focus on our students’ mental, social and emotional well-being too,” Avanessian said.

Students aren’t the only school community members dealing with the emotional well-being component of the pandemic. Crescent Valley High School history teacher Pia Hugo is juggling working from home while grappling with the death of her friend who was infected with the coronavirus.

“We try to keep each other’s spirits up because it is stressful, especially for the kids who don’t know how to deal with all the things that are happening,” said Hugo of her Zoom video chats with students.

She primarily uses Google Classroom and Blackboard in addition to offering optional Zoom video chats once a week — not for lessons, but to check in. Hugo was more prepared than some teachers because she taught government and economics classes online for seven years.

She estimates about 80% of her students are turning in their online assignments. She said she’s received emails from parents asking how to motivate their teens, and she interacts with parents more than before.

Out of 25,700 students throughout the district, 2,641 students have not connected with their teachers or turned in assignments as of April 13, according to Glendale Unified’s Student Wellness Services Department.

The department’s director, Ilin Magran, said staff members are reaching out to absent students. Some families still don’t have access to online platforms, as the district’s purchase of hotspots was back-ordered.

Neda Farhoumand, vice president of the Glendale Council PTA, said she’s unsure students will receive equal access to education during the remaining school year.

Parents and caregivers are burdened with the responsibility to make sure their children keep up. Farhoumand said equity will depend on the students’ home-life circumstances⁠ — whether they have the appropriate technology, a quiet space to study or a parent present in the home.

Rebecca Johnson is a parent of a fifth-grader at Monte Vista Elementary and a seventh-grader at Rosemont Middle School. While the fifth-grade teacher posts daily assignments on Google Classroom by 9 a.m., the seventh-grade situation is designed differently. Her daughter has six seventh-grade teachers.

Although she and her husband are staying at home and each student has a quiet space to work, Johnson said, “There’s definitely a learning curve to this. We really appreciate the teachers at this point in time. I know they’re working really hard to help keep the learning going. And this really hasn’t been easy for anybody,” Johnson said.

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