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Oasis Academy adapts to distance learning

By Thomas Ranson lvnsports@yahoo.com
Oasis Academy is using social media for its classes to include art on YouTube.
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It was supposed to be a week off to enjoy with families.

Oasis Academy was going into its spring break when the Silver State shut down non-essential businesses and told schools that campuses needed to close, and students and teachers would need to continue education online. The COVID-19 shutdown was extended through April within two weeks of the first announcement but last Tuesday, Gov. Steve Sisolak said students and teachers would not return for the remainder of the school year. 

Spring break, traditionally a time for the students and teachers to go on trips and have fun, turned into the opposite at Oasis Academy. Instead, the school’s leadership team created a training protocol as teachers put together packets for their students. It helped that students in third grade through high school were already accustomed to Oasis Academy’s use of Google Hangouts and Meets, an electronic platform that allowed students and teachers to communicate virtually. 

“Hats off to them. I didn’t hear a single grumble or complain,” Melissa Mackedon, the school’s executive director and co-founder, said of the school’s teachers. “(They students) were familiar with that platform to find and turn in assignments. That was helpful. They really had not utilized Google Chat or Google Meets. Just having the classroom portion down put us in a good starting place.”

Since late March, Mackedon said students have had multiple virtual sessions that they must complete every day and if they’re unable to log in, they can view recorded sessions. Each lesson has an exit ticket, so teachers can tell who completed the task. Mackedon said that attendance is at 90 percent for a school that has an enrollment of 640 students, including 170 high schoolers. The senior class size is 29. 

While the adaption has been as smooth as she hoped for, Mackedon said the school encountered a few issues, like making sure there are enough Chromebooks for the students and households have internet. Webcams and microphones were provided, as well, CC Communications stepped in to offer free internet for homes without the service. 

“It’s wild. It’s really wild. It took a huge equity piece out of the puzzle,” Mackedon said. “By the end of March, every one of our homes that didn’t have it, did. It’s definitely further shown a light on equity issues statewide.”

Another issue that came up was sharing the internet bandwidth and households learning to adjust with multiple family members accessing the internet. More parents working from home coupled with their children accessing the internet, it can lead to bandwidth issues. And then there are those who struggle because parents cannot stay home or have to juggle schedules. 

“Truly, to be successful virtually, you need to have an adult in the home who’s committed,” Mackedon said. “Most homes don’t have someone at home over 18 that can be a learning coach for their kid. If they do, it works out much better. If they don’t, it’s pretty challenging.”

All things considering, though, Mackedon has been pleased with the response from both the teachers and students and their families. 

“They have really embraced this, and they are delivering incredible content and doing a fantastic job under less than ideal circumstances,” Mackedon said of her educators. “It’s not ideal for anybody and they’re making the most of it. I can’t say enough with how pleased I am with the quality of instruction.”

Mackedon said that Oasis Academy did not switch to a pass/fail model because they didn’t want to give students a way out of doing just the bare minimum.  She said the school loosened their expectations and have understood that families are dealing with extreme amounts of stress. To accommodate families in certain circumstances, the school is doing home visits, has set up schedules with special education services and created a plan to help students get their individualized help. 

It’s helped that the community has been supportive, too. From community members visiting the school’s Facebook page to watch morning announcements or a teacher’s reading session to helping the school with its hospital gown and mask project, Mackedon feels fortunate. 

“It’s always a silver lining for me in Fallon when there’s a crisis and people need help. People really stepped up,” she said. “That always reminds you about a great community we live in and how fortunate we are.”

With the school accustomed to distance learning for more than a month, the big question now for the school is graduation. Instead of watching students walk across a stage to receive their diploma, Mackeson said the school’s planning on a virtual graduation that will be prerecorded and using the same program as previous years. The recording will include speakers, students will have their caps and gowns and each will record a 30-second personal message. 

New this year, Mackedon said yard signs for their seniors have been ordered and blue porch lights will be lit by the staff and students’ families every night at 8:20 for 20 minutes starting on Wednesday through next month. 

“It’s a way to honor the seniors. We’re trying to think creatively and outside the box to reach the kids and their families,” Mackedon said.