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PECS excels at distance learning as students, staff, parents work together

The PECS distance learning schedule.

Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students are sheltered safely at home and adjusting to the school’s virtual instruction distance learning, which began March 30.

Principal Tracy Downing began to prepare for the possibility of closing PECS on March 13. Spring break was scheduled for March 16 but was extended until March 30. During that time, teachers created lesson plans for their classes using the distance learning plan developed by Downing. At the same time, electronic devices were distributed to students who needed them.

According to Downing, things are going well.

“I couldn’t be happier and more proud to be working with a community of people (students, parents, Brighton, teachers, staff members) who are dedicated and devoted to the education of young people. There is no profession more noble than that of an educator, and I have seen first-hand the character of the people I work with. I’ve always said that our character is defined by the manner in which we conduct ourselves when faced with challenges and adversity,” Downing wrote in an email to the Tribune.

Tracy Downing, principal of Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School, shown here in her office in September 2019. (Photo Damon Scott)

Teachers are armed with an array of tools including Google Classroom, which has a live stream section where students can post messages to classmates and the teacher, a dashboard where students access their assignments and a place for them to upload their work.

“Remote learning is an adjustment, but students are calling, texting, and Zoom meeting with us teachers daily.  Their dedication to their academics is inspiring given the circumstances we are all trying to survive in,” said Amy Carr, sixth-grade teacher.

Many middle school students have been using the program so they are familiar with it. Elementary students have been getting small group and individual support through Google Hangouts and Zoom, both of which are conferencing platforms where they can see each other and communicate face-to-face in real time.

The school also has a Google Classroom for Creek language, arts and crafts, physical education, media center and morning announcements where Downing gives the daily “Words of Wisdom.”

Downing didn’t let a worldwide pandemic stop the PECS school spirit.  She figured out a way to have a virtual “spirit week” where students upload pictures showing their spirit on the PECS Friends group Facebook page.

As part of its distance learning program, PECS is trying to keep its school spirit intact with virtual spirit weeks. (PECS Friends Facebook)

Each day is a different subject. On Monday of the first week students posted photos of themselves in their pajamas; Tuesday they uploaded photos of them with their pets; Wednesday asked for photos of them in their favorite reading spot; Thursday’s photo was of posters with encouraging words; and the week wrapped up Friday as students posted photos wearing a PECS shirt.

The spirit week was such a success, Downing turned it into a weekly event. For April 13-17, some of the topics for photos include the Easter holiday, reading and working out.  

“It’s a nice way to bond with everyone and stay connected,” Downing said. “We can focus on the students socially and emotionally while they are home.”

During a typical four-hour day of distance learning, students spend about three hours working on academics; thirty minutes in music, physical education, music or media; and 20 minutes in recess.

Downing said the students are involved and completing their work. Although the Florida Standards Assessment tests were cancelled for the year, assignments are still being graded and those grades will be used to determine promotion.

Parents play an active role in the process by supporting the educational process at home.

“They are truly our partners in education. The whole community has been involved in supporting us,” Downing wrote.

The school is still teaching the standards, so the virtual lesson plans are the same as if PECS was still open.

“We must be rigorous so that when our students go back to school, they aren’t behind. We are a high performing school (A middle school and B elementary), so our students are able to complete rigorous assignments independently and with support,” Downing wrote.

PECS parents have been very engaged in their children’s education and Downing appreciates their efforts.

“All parents are communicating with us and instructing their children. Many of our parents have asked to join our Google classrooms, so that they can see what assignments are due and can help keep the students on track. We happily added them to the classroom so they can provide support,” Downing wrote.

Tutoring is available in small groups and one-on-one daily through Zoom and Google Hangout. Students may enter a Zoom Conference at any time during the day and get one-on-one assistance.

The school uses Google Docs to ensure all students are online daily and completing their work. Downing said 99% of the students are completing their work. One family lives too far out for internet or cell phone service, so the school sends packets which the students complete.

“Our students, our parents, our colleagues, and our community are all working together to reassure and provide stability and normalcy to our students during these unprecedented times. The PECS family has been a group of professionals and has conducted themselves in an ethical way and they have been a model for all. They have reassured our students and parents and have reminded them that our stakeholders and the tribe are all committed to taking good care of everyone. I told our staff that when we are on the other side of this, we will all be commended for our proactivity and our well thought out decision making. Our teachers have stood tall, with their heads up, and they are doing this with pride and confidence. I genuinely, truly love my PECS family,” Downing wrote.

Senior editor Kevin Johnson contributed to this story.

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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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