These Central Oahu Schools Join Forces To Offer Distance Education

Terri DeAsis, a resident of Wahiawa, was initially concerned when she learned how the distance learning option offered by her 10-year-old daughter’s school would be structured.

It would not be a standard online program based at Iliahi Primary School, but a complex, area-wide program that includes children from other K-5 schools within its boundaries, from Leilehua to Mililani in Waialua.

Virtual program students – called the Pineapple Academy – would come from different schools, but the teachers would be from Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School, with one assigned to each grade level with about a dozen children per class.

“It was very foreign to us,” DeAsis said.

Public schools have reopened with most students returning to class, but many parents are still waiting to enroll in the state’s distance education plan. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Several days after the start of the new school year, which for most public schools began on August 3, DeAsis is relieved to have secured a place for her daughter in Esther Kwon’s fifth grade virtual classroom.

“We are currently in uncharted waters, so receiving this welcome from the teacher was truly refreshing,” she said. Last school year, DeAsis decided to home school her daughter, who suffers from a health problem.

The new online academy, with around 70 students to date, offers a unique approach to distance learning as educators attempt to balance the Hawaii Department of Education’s focus on in-person learning with the desire of many parents to keep their children at home amid the ongoing pandemics.

Supervised teacher

Scheduled since spring, it features Hawaiian teachers leading lessons and discussions similar to those taught in a classroom setting.

All schools were forced to go online after the pandemic started early last year. To make it easier for students to learn, many relied on an online program called the Acellus Learning Accelerator, but it proved problematic and was phased out.

This year the DOE bought licenses for a new online program called Stride K12. But there is still no one-size-fits-all approach to distance education, with few schools offering a curriculum involving real teachers guiding students.

the Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua complex area had faced demands for a more comprehensive remote program even before the pandemic. Three of its elementary schools are on military bases and have a high student turnover each year.

As a result, many parents home school their children rather than enrolling them in area schools for a short time, according to Bob Davis, the complex area superintendent.

Twelve of the 14 elementary schools in the complex area participate in Pineapple Academy. The other two had already made their own plans.

“We already expected that we would have something (online) from this year,” said Yuuko Arikawa, principal of Inouye Elementary School. “Instead of working separately on the same initiative, we thought, why can’t we work together?

Participation in the program is strictly limited to students from the complex area. Students remain enrolled in their home school so that they can participate in that school’s extracurricular activities or activities, if they wish.

Children are admitted to the academy, which is free, depending on the health issues and performance of the student last year in distance education plus a parent’s ability to be an active learning coach.

“We have to be allowed as schools and complex areas to have our own design,” Davis said. “It wasn’t a spur of the moment, it didn’t come from board meetings, it was something we wanted to create in LMW for our LMW students.”

DOE Acting Superintendent Keith Hayashi speaks during a press conference at Prince David Kawananakoa Middle School.
DOE Acting Superintendent Keith Hayashi stressed the need to bring students back to campus. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Virtual education has taken a big step backwards this school year after DOE and health officials prioritized getting students fully back to classrooms following the academic and social setbacks suffered in the past. a year and a half into the pandemic, with many students falling behind or dropping out altogether.

Given the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12 and over and school safety measures, health officials – nationally and locally – have insisted it is best that children are back to school for their academic, social and emotional well-being.

But Hawaii’s DOE may have miscalculated how high interest would be in an online option this year, especially with a new spike in coronavirus cases driven by the aggressive delta variant.

Although former superintendent Christina Kishimoto told members of the Education Council in mid-July that interest in distance learning was low, at 1-2% in complex areas, some regions like the Campbell-Kapolei complex area have an interest rate of 3%, Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami said earlier this month.

Many households were still opting for full distance education at the end of last school year, according to a DOE dashboard. In the Leilelua-Mililani-Waialua complex area, this included 16% of students – compared to 26% of students statewide.

With distance learning plans scarce at the school level, the DOE was forced to develop a statewide option under the leadership of the Board of Education, just days before the news began. school year.

Parents must make a commitment for the entire school year and extracurricular or sports activities offered at the child’s school are strictly prohibited.

These statewide seats are extremely limited amid high demand. Earlier this month, DOE officials told state lawmakers that 460 students are enrolled in the statewide distance plan while another 146 are on a waiting list.

“We are still in the process of hiring more teachers for positions,” Unebasami said at the August 5 hearing. “As we get these teachers on board, we can open more seats. “

Federal grant sets things in motion

Inouye Elementary School, located in Schofield Barracks, was at the forefront of virtual learning long before “COVID” became part of the everyday vernacular.

Under former principal Jan Iwase, the school was awarded a grant from the Department of Defense which allowed it to try out hybrid virtual learning during the 2013-2015 school years.

The fourth and fifth graders came to school two and a half days a week and learned at home the rest of the time. The teachers uploaded the entire self-created curriculum and the kids adjusted very well, Iwase recalls.

“I think kids need to have this experience of being on their own and actually working on projects with others,” Iwase said. “It doesn’t have to be in person, it can be virtual. It can be very successful.

Dalen Izumo, Grade 4 Honowai Primary School teacher, with a large screen and students using laptops.
This past school year, many teachers had to teach students concurrently both remotely and in person. The new virtual Pineapple Academy relies on teachers dedicated to distance learning. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Inouye teachers received technology training, which made the switch to online teaching easier last year, while other schools struggled to adjust to the sudden new environment.

“Technological change was not an extreme curve for us,” Arikawa said. “While not for everyone, we’ve honestly seen some students thrive in this setting. “

The teachers at Pineapple Academy did too. They can telecommute, work some days at home and some days at school.

Every day, DeAsis’s 10-year-old daughter is joined by nine other students in Kwon’s virtual classroom.

They log into Webex at 7:50 a.m. and have 10 minutes to chat freely with each other before the start of the official school day.

To foster a sense of community, Kwon encourages her children to call home school when they introduce themselves to class by name.

A constant requirement is that students show their faces on screen to encourage peer-to-peer connections, she said.

The day takes place with a mix of teacher-led instruction for a socio-emotional curriculum and blocks of time set aside for independent study of major subjects. Overall, there are around three hours of live instruction each day, plus office hours.

“It’s definitely a new collaboration, we’re trying a new thing,” Kwon said. “We want to be successful so that this continues. “

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