Scholar Academy, the sole K-8 charter school in Tooele City, was the first Utah charter to be granted its own Technology Endorsement Program by The Utah State Office of Education in 2018.
In 2016 Scholar was also one of the first Utah schools to be awarded the state Digital Teaching and Learning Grant, providing four years of funding to support the school’s technology mission. The school plan was to upgrade teacher tech skills by educators either completing a technology endorsement through classes, and the Utah Education Network or completing a three-year schedule of technology classes and workshops to upgrade their skills. Scholar already had an excellent student to computer ratio, so purchasing hardware was a secondary goal.
The principal and tech team, led by Tech Specialist Karen Morgan, knew they wanted teachers to do more than have students using a computer or iPad for word processing or to work within a program. We wanted students to move to higher levels of research, problem solving, analyzing and creativity through technology.
The quality of the Scholar program was recognized by the State Board of Education technology coordinator and our own endorsement program was granted by the USBE. All teachers completed the tech professional development classes and 60% of the teachers were granted tech endorsements through UEN or Scholar.
When the pandemic hit last spring, Scholar teachers had the expertise to step up and go digital.Their background knowledge in technology, levels of learning and curriculum planning gave them the insight needed to plan for online instruction.
Although Scholar administration believes online learning should not be implemented for the majority of K-8 students, our teacher’s efforts were amazing throughout that last term of the year. Online learning has been hard for families and administrators knew a COVID fall plan with a five-day school schedule for most students was essential to student success.
A well- developed school COVID Plan was critical to the success we have seen this far in handling the pandemic. The Tooele County Health Department has been outstanding in their guidance and assistance and availability in answering questions.
This fall Scholar principal Traelle Gailey had a complete plan written and in place to start the year off with students learning online and in the classroom. An application had to be submitted and approved for a student to attend online classes.
In August, 9% of the student population began online classes, 91% returned to full day classes, five days a week. Teachers split up the online teaching assignments by grade level and subject and all teachers are receiving stipends for the extra work they are doing. A teacher online coordinator was hired to work with the families attending online classes.
The Scholar COVID Plan was implemented with staff fully trained in August by the administrative COVID Team, including administrators Traelle Gailey and Jeff Hall, and past principal Sandy Shepard. Here are some highlights of the plan:
All students and staff have their temperature taken each morning as they enter the school. Students were placed in learning pods and contact tracing maps were developed for every period throughout the day.
Lockers are still used, but on a staggered schedule.
Structured scheduling was instituted so that tracing a student became an easier task if a student or staff member needed to be quarantined at home.
Staggered release times were also implemented.
All students have online credentials, so if at home, they can easily transition over to online classes for the 14 days. An outdoor eating area was constructed last summer, and each grade level has a separate lunch schedule with assigned seating with four or less students assigned to a table for tracing purposes.
Sign-in protocols were strengthened so documentation is kept on all students leaving the classroom.
Scholar parents attended a few zoom meetings to be trained on the COVID Plan and new school procedures. Additional cleaning is done at night and between every class transition, and protocols are in place for spraying and extensive cleaning if a student or staff member goes home to quarantine or isolate.
Separate holding areas for students exiting to quarantine were added.
Teachers are compensated for the extra work they are doing for online courses.
The pandemic has had a tremendous effect on the Scholar school community, as it has on all schools, but working closely with teachers and the parents of our 679 Scholar students has been the most rewarding experience for Scholar Academy.
The challenges continue, but with parents closely monitoring their students and everyone proactively following the health mandates we have been given, Scholar continues to operate successfully.