The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan follows our protagonists as they invade the beaches of Normandy. Pinned under inadequate cover and facing heavy German machine gun fire, Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, bellows an order for his men to move out.
Observing with incredulity the heavy machine gun fire, one of the men asks the captain where they should move out to. Miller responds, “Anywhere but here!” If there is a more apt metaphor for 2020, I’m not sure what it is.
We will circle back to Captain Miller in a bit.
Pandemic era K-12 has been a different flavor of interesting in Arizona. Anecdotally, kids did not stop moving around even after schools shut down, although outcomes went unmeasured and schools that picked up students did not receive additional funding.
Looking ahead, schooling, alas, seems in danger of heading toward the political event horizon, seeming to threaten to spaghettify student learning in the process.
The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have demanded huge infusions of federal dollars into schools – or else. President Trump responded by threatening to withhold federal funds from schools that do not reopen. In addition to this polarized saber-rattling, COVID-19 cases have surged in Arizona, further rattling the cage regarding the reopening of schools in a few weeks.
In stark contrast to the panicked nature of much of the conversation, the Scottsdale Unified School District recently held a board meeting to discuss plans for Fall 2020. District staff calmly and professionally laid out three options for families and educators: online learning; in-person learning; and, if families showed sufficient interest, a hybrid model with students attending in-person instruction some days and digital learning other days.
Families and educators will have to weigh their preferences and the district will have to sort through a “choose-your-own-adventure” scramble. Compared to mosh-pits observed elsewhere, this seems delightfully competent. There will be a lot to sort through, but the district seems to be on it, so bully for Scottsdale Unified.
Interestingly, one of the presenters noted the expectation that 20% of Scottsdale Unified students would not enroll in the fall – relatively few overall. The number amounts to approximately 4,000 students, which raises the question of what these families are planning to do to satisfy the state’s mandatory school attendance law in a few weeks.
The plans may in fact be fluid. New options, however, may become available.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey granted $1 million from the governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund through federal CARES Act monies to the non-profit A for Arizona Expansion and Innovation Fund. A for Arizona will combine this grant with support from philanthropists to provide micro grants to proven innovative K-12 schools that have reimagined how best to serve their students in the 2020-2021 school year.
A for Arizona will award micro grants to schools with new ideas that are contingent on seed funding or to proven innovative K-12 schools that have reimagined how best to serve their students in the 2020-2021 school year.
CNN recently featured Arizona micro-school leader Prenda, noting that traffic to the organization’s website increased by 737% in June. Prenda schools feature eight to 10 students and a single adult guide; exposure to a smaller number of people may be helping to drive demand. It’s certainly not the only factor, however, as Prenda students not only learn but have fun doing it.
The Kyrene School District, a K-8 district covering parts of Tempe, Chandler, Guadalupe, Phoenix and the Gila River Indiana Community, has announced the creation of a Digital Academy that is open to any student in the state. “Now every Arizona kid can be a Kyrene kid,” says the announcement.
I wonder if any Cleveland kid can become a Lakewood kid.
Oh wait, I don’t.
A district not terribly distant from Kyrene allegedly sent a hundreds-page-long PDF to families, in English only, and then invited the families to sort through it to fill out worksheets for their child’s grade. I would be eager to explore becoming a Kyrene kid, a Prenda kid, or an anywhere-but-here kid under those circumstances.
K-12 life is tough everywhere during the pandemic, but it’s better for families to have options. Moreover, I do not know about the rest of you, but I’m ready to take my chances on moving on to 2021.