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Ahfachkee starts school year with improvements in virtual learning

2020 has been a challenging year academically. At the Ahfachkee School, students and teachers left the campus in early spring and have yet to return.

The school’s industrious educators quickly and successfully switched from in-person classes to online learning.

With the start of the 2020-2021 school year Aug. 31, virtual learning will be the norm but it will be greatly improved.

Ahfachkee is using a new learning management tool, Google Classroom and G-Suite.

The platform is easier to use and more secure than the school’s website, used in the spring, where students had to navigate through a few locations to get the lessons.

“Now everything is in one location and is much easier,” said Principal Dorothy Cain. “Google classroom is much more secure and easier for teachers to use. It’s easy to navigate and for parents to learn. It’s a dynamic environment for the student, they will understand it right away. It was the best match for us and the students.”

Parents have been trained and teachers have been using the platform since they went back to school remotely on Aug. 12.

Ahfachkee Principal Dorothy Cain (Courtesy photo)

Teachers will have a lot of video face to face time with the students through Google Meet or WebEx.

Teachers create their pages, where everything happens from daily lessons to videos of those lessons so students who were absent can view them if they missed a day of school.

Younger students may need some initial help from parents, but Cain is confident once they learn how to use it they will be fine.

“A lot of teachers are using bitmojis, avatars of themselves on their pages instead of photos,” Cain explained. “It is a way to make the website look cute for the elementary students. But the students will see their teachers live during class lessons.”

High school students have personalized pages with their schedules on it. Each has a homeroom and six classes from 8 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.

The elementary school schedule is based on the age of the students.

Kindergarten classes are from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., first grade is from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and so on.

Cain said the state requirements for instructional hours will be met.

Ahfachkee, which expects 215 students this year, is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for safety.

Cain hopes later in the school year they will be able to offer a blended version combining virtual with in school classes, depending on the number of coronavirus cases.

“Elementary school students need face to face time for socialization with other kids and teachers,” Cain said. “Now we have to be virtual, but maybe next year we can be all face to face. Socialization during high school is also important, but some students do very well in virtual school. This is the new norm and we will have to get used to working like this for a while. Time will tell.”

Cain envisions the school possibly offering virtual high school for students from anywhere, not just Big Cypress. She believes it may be a way of the future given the circumstances of Covid-19.

“I feel good about starting the school year off with this learning management tool,” Cain said. “I think students will thrive if we can get everyone connected. We will have to deal with it one household at a time.”

Connectivity to the internet has been a challenge in Big Cypress since they started online learning, but Cain said the Tribe is working on it.

Some families rely on cellular cards to get online. All teachers and assistants are working from home. Students still receive enrichment classes and remediation through Google Meet.

Afterschool care, including homework help, remediation and acceleration, will begin during the third week of September, Monday through Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Teachers have office hours for conferences with parents.

Cain believes there will be a lot more collaboration with parents which will help students stay on track.

“We want to make this motivating so students can’t wait to log-in every day,” Cain said. “This is not going to be a boring environment.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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