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New APS school year begins from a distance

Angel Spain, left, is preparing to send her son, Hayden, 9, to fourth grade at Albuquerque Public Schools’ online eCademy. With them are her daughter, Mia, 3, and husband, James Spain. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Angel Spain didn’t want her 9-year-old to be worried about keeping his mask on or staying 6 feet away from his friends this school year.

“Kids don’t want to stay 6 feet apart on the playground, and I knew that would be so hard for him,” she said. “That’s not really something I want him to have to worry about.”

Spain considered home schooling but decided on online learning as the best fit for her family.

While public schools in the state are not scheduled to start in-person classes until next month at the earliest, Spain decided to enroll her son, Hayden, in Albuquerque Public Schools’ online eCademy with the aim of keeping him there for the rest of elementary school.

The first school year starts this week for the expanded virtual school, which now includes grades K-8, in addition to high school.

eCademy and all other APS schools started remotely Wednesday, bringing a very different look and feel to back-to-school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of the hustle and bustle of getting lunchboxes and backpacks ready and ushering kids onto the bus, families will be plugging in their computers and logging on for their classwork. The district has been distributing laptops and iPads at the school level – committing to provide a device to each student during remote learning – and has helped families obtain internet access. The first week of school across the district will include technology distribution and virtual visits with students, in addition to the start of lessons.

In the remote learning model, APS students will learn from a distance Monday through Friday.

“Students are expected to attend their online classes daily and turn in assignments, just as they would during a more traditional school year,” the district wrote in a newsletter. “Attendance during remote learning is based on engagement.”

There is a guide to the new school year at APS.edu with frequently asked questions and other resources. Under state direction, the district plans to eventually phase students back into the classroom through a mix of in-person and online school.

Spain admits it’s hard not to have the sentimental experience of dropping Hayden off at the schoolhouse doors for his first day of fourth grade.

“It was a little heartbreaking, probably more for me than him,” Spain said. “He’s been going to (North Star Elementary) since kindergarten.”

But the mother of two said this was still the best option. Besides, Hayden took to online learning in the spring when schools across the state ended up shutting down for the rest of the 2019-20 school year due to the pandemic.

“He didn’t mind it and was actually all for it,” she said.

APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said over 2,000 students had registered at eCademy as of Tuesday.

Students who transfer to eCademy from another APS school can go back to their previous school, if needed, according to the district. Spain transferred Hayden from North Star Elementary in July and plans to revisit the option of traditional school when he gets to sixth grade.

“Our intention is to build a very close community of learners for our students and not to let this nebulous thought of a virtual environment stand in the way of allowing your kids to have some continuity and consistency in their educational time this year,” K-8 principal Katherine House said in a video to families.

For the Spain family, health and safety were also at the heart of their decision during this unpredictable time.

“Our main reason was because I work a couple of days during the week and his dad works all week, and so my main babysitter is my mother. Living with my mother is my 80-year-old grandmother, who we didn’t want to get sick,” Spain said. “We figured we’ll just put him in the online academy so he’d mostly be home and at her house.”

Interim APS Superintendent Scott Elder acknowledged a remote start for all schools will look different and require flexibility, but it’s a critical time.

“No one knows how long this pandemic is going to last or when we can return to the normal school setting we all prefer. Still, we will never get this time back,” Elder said. “We have to do everything possible to support our teachers and students so the educational process doesn’t suffer.”

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