The vision of Aspen Academy in Greenwood Village is to be a “national leader in innovative and transformative education.” When the COVID-19 crisis hit Colorado, Aspen Academy was called to make its vision a reality with a whole new twist.
Aspen Academy Faculty and Staff Creating Learning Experiences to Cultivate Community, Engage and Inspire Students Pre-Kindergarten Through 8th Grade During Social Distancing
Greenwood Village, CO– March 20, 2020 – Throughout the United States, COVID-19 has closed schools for nearly 30 million students. Within 12 hours of Governor Jared Polis’ request that schools across Colorado close their campuses, Aspen Academy’s team pivoted its entire learning platform to a digital model and by the next school day (Monday), students were fully engaged in virtual classes. “We did not skip a beat,” said Kristina Scala, Founder and Head of School at Aspen Academy. “On Friday, while parents and students came to clean out lockers and cubbies, and check out technology, our faculty gathered with purpose and focus to create continuity of learning for our students. Our team accomplished a magnificent feat in preparing to transition to online instruction. These Herculean efforts have ensured that all of our students can continue their learning journey.”
The school launched a Virtual Learning Hub that incorporates a combination of the learning management system, Canvas; video conferencing tool, Zoom; and teachers available for office hours via Google Chat or email. Some anticipated technical glitches and issues, but there were few. Parents have responded with a mix of relief, inspiration, and gratitude: “We are incredibly thankful for the seamless transition to online school that Aspen Academy provided. To turn that around in one school day -- and one weekend -- is truly remarkable. I have spoken to multiple families who are surprised and impressed that our daughter is already able to continue her education from a distance,” said Shannon Mackenzie, parent of a 7th grade student.
Virtual learning at Aspen Academy spans from Pre-Kindergarten through 8th Grade. Educators have been going the extra mile to make online learning engaging and rewarding for students, whether filming videos of themselves reenacting scenes from a book students are currently reading or creating “green screen” effects that make it appear as though they’re teaching from the North Pole.
Octavia Betz, Visual Art Instructor, explained that the magnitude of being able to engage with students despite our social distancing has exceeded her expectations: “The best part of this week has been logging on to Zoom to see and talk to my students. One of them reached out through video for support, and I was impressed that even though the video aspect was not required, she used it to get the answers she needed. I did not realize how much I missed seeing them until I saw her face and teared up a little when I got off the chat. It made me feel that the consistency of our presence and the relevant nature of our content were all needed and welcomed during this time.”
Beyond online classes, faculty members are also leveraging social media to connect with students -- and keep their bodies fit. Fitness Instructor Drew Weisel and his wife, Joanna Weisel (3rd Grade Instructor, Language Arts), issued a fitness challenge for students on the Aspen Academy Facebook page, encouraging them to share their own videos of themselves completing the challenges.
“We are extremely grateful for the heroic efforts of Aspen Academy teachers under these tenuous circumstances,” notes 2nd grade parent, Dr. Natalie Abramson. “The positive energy, structure and attention at Aspen Academy is unparalleled.”
Students are adapting in creative ways to support their learning. In a typical setting at Aspen Academy, 7th grade students create content for a bi-weekly variety show, Aspen Morning Program (AMP’d). In light of the campus closure, students pulled together a website to host these and have bumped up to a weekly schedule to foster increased connectedness at a time when they miss performing together. Each Friday at 8:30AM, the community jumps on the site to celebrate, connect, and experience a ritual that allows the students to demonstrate their ability to grow, learn, and lead.
For schools hoping to adopt remote learning, one big obstacle is technology. When on campus, 3rd and 4th grade students at Aspen Academy are each assigned an iPad that travels with them throughout the school day. When the school transitioned to a virtual learning platform, each of those students checked out that device so they could use it at home with many apps preloaded, including Canvas, SeeSaw (a learning tool for sharing work), Zoom, Khan Academy (for math). Although students in 5th grade and above each have their own devices, school-owned iPads were also made available to those students if needed.
Chris Lazartic, Aspen Academy’s Middle School STEAM Coach and faculty member responsible for much of the heavy-lifting with the conferencing software explained, “I am invigorated and inspired now, more than ever, to continue to provide meaningful education experiences to students. I am amazed at how adaptive and flexible our teachers have been.”
Young learners often require more hands-on attention, but for parents who are juggling working from home, this solution brings them incredible relief and allows faculty members to care for these students -- who feel like an extension of their families.
This week’s announcement of school closures through April 17th hit the community hard, but was not unexpected. “We’re only a week into virtual learning and the Governor’s announcement to close schools through mid-April made me sad, but I understand it,” said Torri Parker, PreKindergarten Teacher, Student Leadership & Entrepreneurship Coach. “I miss my coworkers and my little friends! While I get to see their little faces through Zoom, it’s not the same as hugging them, laughing with them, rubbing their backs at rest and hearing multiples of us say, “Sweet dreams, I love you.”
“In all things, especially in crisis, as individuals and as a community we each must wholly commit to living out our shared values to be kind; do good; work hard; and make the world better,” said Scala, who continues to work tirelessly to keep the community unified. “Never in our lifetimes have we experienced something that so fundamentally ties us all to a singular moment of adversity and also gives us an opportunity to choose who we will be for ourselves and others in it.”
About Aspen Academy
Aspen Academy is the premier independent school for academic, leadership and entrepreneurial development. Located in Greenwood Village, our 400 pre-k through 8th grade students exemplify our core values: be kind, do good, work hard and make the world better. With a focus on academic rigor, character and leadership development, and community strength and service, our small classes are led by exceptional faculty who offer a personalized approach to instruction. Since our inception, we have remained steadfastly focused on developing passionate, lifelong learners who graduate from our school empowered to be confident, curious and innovative. For more information, visit: www.aspenacademy.org.
Media Inquiries and Speaker Requests
We welcome those seeking to schedule interviews, inquire about Aspen Academy or for editorial content to contact our team. Our Head of School, Kristina Scala is a sought after speaker on topics of leadership, entrepreneurship, nonprofit management, cultural responsiveness and strategic planning. We also have members of the Aspen Academy leadership team that regularly participate in speaking engagements.
For media and speaker requests please contact Theresa Letman.
As technology continues to develop at a rapid pace, educators also continue to leverage it as a way to engage their students. There is no doubt that technology is both essential to preparing students for the future and a fun way to hook learners of any age. That being said, it is important to use technology in the appropriate ways to facilitate appropriate development and understanding. Below are some tips and examples to consider when engaging your students with technology.
Recent weeks have been a rollercoaster for educators all over this country as new and sometimes conflicting orders, regulations, and guidance comes from multiple sources. Over recent weeks, school districts have announced major start date delays and/or that they are only able to offer an online model to their students for the coming year. Barring a new order from the state or county health agency, that will not be happening at Aspen Academy. Our HyFlex Model supporting on-campus learning and virtual learning, for those that cannot be on campus with us, is ready and will begin as scheduled on August 26 (with a staggered First Day based on grade level).
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