Distance learning at R. Roger Rowe continues to evolve

R. Roger Rowe kindergartner James Burnell performs in the virtual talent show.
(Karen Billing)

R. Roger Rowe School’s talent show went virtual last week.

For the revamped show, originally scheduled for March, recorded performances were uploaded onto YouTube with talented youngsters singing, dancing, playing piano and doing trampoline tricks— two sisters even did a comedy routine, telling jokes while upside down in headstands.

The talent show is just one way that the school has gotten creative in trying to keep students connected during school closure.

“We didn’t intend the show to be digital but we’re super excited that it still gets to happen,” said Walden, one of four Rowe student council leaders who organized the online show with teachers Jaqueline Cooley and Christine Callaway. “It’s so sad what is happening to our world today and we know it can be scary and difficult at times, but we’ll make it through it.”

Distance learning in the Rancho Santa Fe School District is a work in progress and Superintendent Donna Tripi said their goal is to continue to be curious, listening to feedback from students, teachers and parents as they evolve the program.

“We get smarter with the feedback that we get,” said Tripi. “I think we are much closer to getting it right than we were at the beginning of it but we’ve got ‘miles to go before we sleep.’”

The school board’s priority has been more interactive learning, a more regular daily schedule, weekly visibility of principals, addressing students’ social and emotional needs, and conducting parent feedback sessions—Zoom coffee meetings last week saw nearly 30 parents attend each session to provide input. Distance learning enhancements on the way in Rancho Santa Fe include more consistent schedules, more opportunities for Zoom and more opportunities for collaboration with projects and group chats.

“I think teachers are starting to innovate even more than they had been,” said Tripi at the board’s April 30 virtual board meeting. “We have been building the plane while we’re flying it and we have been trying a lot of different things and we’re refining our work. I think we started with a really good core and we’ve been adding to it every week and will continue to do that through the duration of this.”

At the elementary school level, teachers are combining asynchronous elements such as recorded video lessons with synchronous components including Zoom rooms, class meetings and small group instruction.

Additionally, the school is running PE/fitness and lunch clubs—last week students participated in a “Boot Camp”-style workout with Coach Julie Green and Coach Dave McClurg, crushed cans during one of the science labs and solved riddles and word problems during the Math Challenge Club.

They also hosted the first sixth-grade Zoom class meetup on May 1 with students enjoying the time to connect. Seventh and eighth-graders will have the same opportunity this week.

Middle school students are getting video/audio lessons for all core subjects and electives and the only interactive learning element they have is using live platforms for teacher office hours. Students submit assignments and receive “thorough” feedback from teachers and given a complete or incomplete. Tripi said most kids are submitting the assignments that are being asked of them and there will be mid-semester progress reports.

Assistant Principal John Gaulipalt is also now doing a daily 8 a.m. wake up call/ reveille on Zoom for middle students to motivate them to start their day early and engage them in dialogue. Galipault will take attendance and track the students who attend in the remaining six weeks of school.

“We’ve received lots of positive comments on the interactive learning. Parents are very excited about the Zoom interaction, they have written us saying this is the best part of their child’s week. They are just loving it,” Tripi said. “We have had really good attendance for elementary school class meetings. We’ve had lower attendance at the office hours for middle school so we’re looking at ways to beef that up.”

Board members Kali Kim, Tyler Seltzer and Sarah Neal all said they wanted to see more interactive, asynchronous learning in middle school.

“I don’t want to diminish the importance of having some type of office hours,” Seltzer said. “I think the idea of having them be five days a week and making them optional is not a long-term solution.”

Neal, a parent of a middle schooler, suggested adding a discussion element to the office hours because in her experience with her own child, if a student doesn’t have a question they might not feel like they need to go to office hours. Kim worried about students getting missed if they aren’t required to interact—Seltzer said a middle school student could potentially go a whole week without interacting with their teacher. He suggested having a required office hour and mixing in interactive discussions or class lessons throughout the week.

“By far the most enjoyable, engaging point of my fifth grader’s educational day is the Zoom meetings he’s having with his math teacher and fifth-grade teacher,” Seltzer said.

He encouraged the district to keep adding more interaction whenever they can—if it doesn’t work, they could always dial it back but he said they should at least try for more when possible.

All of the board members said they were impressed with what has been accomplished thus far and that there’s no “perfect” solution as a full school day cannot be replicated at home.

“I believe the teachers are really killing it and I believe it’s a difficult situation for everyone,” said Clerk Jee Manghani. “(The distance learning program) is iterative and I think we’re getting to the point where everyone will be really happy with what’s going on.”