By Sam Piha
While the decisions about re-opening schools and afterschool programs are still in process, it is increasingly clear that many afterschool programs will need to incorporate a distance learning model, relying on internet access by their participants. Developing distance learning using internet and video technology is a new skill set for afterschool providers.
We conducted an interview with one afterschool coordinator who has mastered the art of distance learning. Her name is Autrilla Gillis from ISANA Academies in Southern California, and we offer her answers to our questions below. We will sponsor a Speaker's Forum Webinar with Ms. Gillis and the EduCare Foundation on distance learning in afterschool on Fri. August 7th, 2020. To learn more and register, click HERE.
Q: What circumstances led you to develop a distance learning option for your afterschool program?
A: Like many schools in Los Angeles, ISANA Academies closed its doors on March 13th as a result of COVID-19. While school admin and district level staff began to strategize on what distance learning looked like at ISANA, I began to brainstorm ways that the Expanded Learning Program could provide an immediate solution to parents and students in the interim. This led to the formation of EXL LIVE, fun and engaging live lessons centered on Academic, Literacy and Social Enrichment every Monday – Thursday from 2pm – 5pm. The program ran April – June, and during the month of May, we served over 5,000 unique session visitors.
Q: What platform are you using to connect with students?
A: We exclusively use the zoom platform for EXL LIVE, using password protected rooms for each session.
Q: How many hours of programming do you offer and what is the main focus?
A: We offer three hours of programming per day Monday – Thursday. Each day is broken into three, one- hour sessions: Academic Enrichment, Literacy Enrichment, and Social Enrichment. Each session is broken into grade level cohorts and both Academic and Literacy Enrichment are standards based. In the Academic Enrichment block students participate in standards based lessons and activities that are aligned to the work they are completing with their school day teachers. In the Literacy Enrichment block, students in grades K-5 participate in a variety of group reading activities and comprehension tasks and students in grades 6-8 participate in current event activities and discussions.
Q: Were you able to offer any “virtual” field trips?
A: After spring-break we incorporated a weekly virtual field trip. They have garnered our largest single attendance numbers, bringing in up to 200 students in some sessions. To facilitate field trips, we created a master schedule and assigned a school a specific date. Each school site worked collaboratively to determine “where” they would take students virtually. For example, our first field trip was to Disneyland. We created a virtual field trip experience by combining the internet for virtual ride and theme park experiences and compiled them to create “A Day at Disneyland”. Students experienced walking through Main St, riding rides, visiting food stands, and watching a parade. We’ve also partnered with different venues across the country and world to host live virtual field trips. My favorites so far include a live Texas llama farm trip and an actual African Hippo Preserve trip.
Q: Did you establish attendance goals for each session and how are you tracking attendance?
A: Our attendance goal fluctuates each week, I consider 20-30 students per session a success in terms of that number being easily manageable. Ideally, our goal is to add at least 20 students each week. In April, our week one attendance was 266 students and by the time we reached our last session in June, we were up to 900-1200 students per week. Attendance is tracked through a shared spreadsheet. At the conclusion of each session the moderator logs daily attendance on the spreadsheet.
Q: What are some challenges you have overcome to get online programming off the ground?
A: Our major challenge was training the staff on the zoom platform and curriculum design. It was very important that program leaders took ownership of their lessons so that the implementation was natural and not forced. We also faced challenges in shifting program leaders’ perspective. It took lots of conversation to guide staff to the realization that everything was the same, we were taking the same program elements and high- quality implementation out of the school site and into a zoom room.
Q: Were there any surprises along the way?
A: The biggest surprise we’ve encountered is the room capacity for zoom. Prior to our first virtual field trip we had never exceeded the 100-person room capacity. Imagine our surprise when district office and site coordinator phones started ringing off the hook with calls from anxious parents trying to access the room. In response, we’ve purchased a zoom subscription which allows a much larger room capacity to avoid the same outcome in the future.
Q: How did you prepare and support your staff in developing the distance learning modules?
A: It was a rigorous process spread over several weeks that involved navigating the Common Core Standards Website: locating and unpacking standards, finding materials based on the focal point of the standard, creating a lesson plan, and implementing the lesson plan. This was a major shift for my staff, as before we moved to distance learning all program lessons and activities were created in the district office and disseminated to each site. Once that process was complete, the staff hit the ground running. I am very proud of the way that they have risen to the occasion.
In terms of live lesson delivery, we began with a standard Powerpoint training, a demo lesson provided by the District Level Expanded Learning Staff, after which each program leader conducted a demo lesson for the session they’d been assigned. Each received feedback and presented again until their implementation was perfected. Later we held trainings on indoor and outdoor lighting and sound to ensure that the video quality was high.
Q: Can you provide a link that would allow readers to view an example of one of your modules?
A: EXL LIVE is currently on hiatus until August 18th. We are currently running CAMP ISANA, which consist of an assortment of grade level specific, pre-recorded enrichment activities that can be accessed 24/7. CAMP ISANA also includes live instruction on Tuesday (Performing Arts), Wednesday (Physical Enrichment), and Thursday (Virtual Field Trip). The link below will give access to each of the components previously listed and provide access to EXL LIVE when it returns on August 18th. https://isanaacademies.org/distance-learning/
Q: Can you suggest any resources that may be helpful to afterschool programs seeking guidance on distance learning? (i.e websites, videos, papers, etc.)
A: My inspiration came from google searches on online enrichment programs. I would encourage programs to reflect upon what they do well on campus and how that can be transformed into a virtual setting, that will guide their search and help them to formulate a quality program.
(Temescal recommends: The Statewide Network for New Jersey's Afterschool Communities Virtual Afterschool Resource Guide).
Autrilla “Sheba” Gillis is Director of Expanded Learning at ISANA ACADEMIES, Los Angeles, CA. Her family legacy of Long Beach community service dates back to the 50’s and includes her mother, Sharon McLucas and late community activist grandmother Autrilla W. Scott.
As an educator, Sheba has been a middle school History teacher, curriculum specialist, vice principal and principal. On the County level she has twice been elected as the Co-Facilitator of the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s Local Learning Community #8 which provides governance to charter school Expanded Learning programs throughout Southern California and served as a founding member of the CA Charter Schools Association Inaugural African American Charter Leaders Symposium. On the state level, she has served on numerous CA Department of Education Expanded Learning Steering Committees, been featured in numerous training videos disseminated throughout the state, and most recently appoint to the CA Dept. of Education Expanded Learning Policy Committee.
In addition to her work at ISANA Academies, she works closely with the Long Beach Branch of the NAACP, NCNW, Jack and Jill of America – Long Beach Chapter, and Forgotten Images Traveling Museum. Before pursuing a career as an educator, she spent years as an Advertising Executive at the Los Angeles Times and Press Telegram Newspapers. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Educational Leadership while balancing her career and most important role, mother to an amazing 6 year old named Aubree.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.