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Burbank Unified Parents And Students Share Perspectives On Remote Learning

Since the first day of school on August 17, families, caregivers and students in the Burbank Unified School District have had to adjust to a rigorous remote learning program as schools in Los Angeles County remain closed to in person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many perspectives – positive and negative – have been posted online via social media recently. We reached out to a few families and their students to share their experiences with online learning.

“So far, my family and I are adjusting as well as we can,” commented Pamela Di Andrea, parent of William McKinley Elementary School students Joseph (fifth grade) and Evelyn (third grade.) “Obviously, none of this is ideal, but with the current situation the world is facing, we are determined to do our best to continue to move forward and accept the challenges ahead.”

“Though we are only a few weeks in, overall, I feel things have been going well with remote learning. When we have had any questions, the teachers and McKinley staff have been helpful and timely. That said, we fortunately have not experienced any major issues these first few weeks,” Di Andrea continued. “My husband and I have spent a lot of time talking with our kids to make sure they were prepared for this new way of learning. We both feel it is very important to maintain a positive morale and keep them on track with everything, which at times can be a big challenge.”

Lana and Georgia Dadekian, eighth- and seventh-graders, respectively, at Luther Middle School, are at home with their remote learning stations. (Photo Courtesy Kristi Dadekian)

“Going into this school year, our family is at a bit of an advantage because of the age of our children. Although they do need assistance from us throughout the day from time to time, they are able to navigate the technology fairly well because they had used some of it before at school prior to the pandemic. They are also at academic levels where they are reading proficiently, which allows them to read directions and navigate assignments on their own. Also, my children do not require any additional services or interventions.”

“I have not personally needed to reach out to the district or school for any special assistance, but they both have made it very clear that they are available to help students and their families with any educational support or assistance they may need,” she added.

“My kids were disappointed when the decision was first announced that we would be having remote learning. They both really enjoy school and because we have been on lock down orders for so long, I think they were really looking forward to leaving the house and seeing their friends! I also think they were somewhat apprehensive towards continuing with remote learning after their experience in the spring since all of the learning had been done asynchronously, with only some occasional live meets with their teachers. This was a bit difficult at times for all of us in trying to maintain some normalcy with school.”

“Though I know they would much prefer going to the school site every day, I do think the addition of synchronous learning via live meets every day has made a big difference in a positive way. Overall, I am okay with how remote learning has been structured for the fall, and with the current situation that we all are facing in the world, I believe this is the best solution for now.,” Di Andrea went on to say. “The health and safety of my children, family, friends and the community in general, is paramount and we need to do our best to make it work and be as patient as possible.”

Burbank High teacher Amy Winn shares remote teaching and learning space with her son Matthew Winn, a seventh-grader at John Muir Middle School. (Photo Courtesy Amy Winn)

Di Andrea talked about what her children’s day of online school looks like.

“It is a big help that the school day begins for both of them at 8:30 a.m. with live, synchronous learning. My husband and I are fortunate enough to work from home, so this synchronous aspect of remote learning is essential with our schedules. Again, because of the ages of my children, they can be self-sufficient for the most part during the times of the day when they need to complete work asynchronously. However, my husband and I are able to provide guidance whenever they need.”

“One of the biggest challenges is keeping track of their schedules. My phone has more alarms than I can count!” Di Andrea also said. “Even though my kids login for their first live meet at the same time, the rest of the day their schedules differ, which has been a bit of a challenge for me to keep things straight. I wouldn’t mind if at least their lunch and recess schedules were the same!”

“Although, now that we are into the second week, we are all getting the hang of their new routines. In addition, I feel that both of my children’s teachers have been working hard to make sure and be available for their students as well as the parents for any questions that we might have. So far, I am feeling optimistic that my kids will be able to learn and be successful in the remote model.”

Burbank High Principal Tom Crowther works from home while his daughter practices piano. He’s wearing a mask because his son is working with a tutor in the next room. (Photo Courtesy Tom Crowther)

“The school has sent out recommendations on how to get your child ready to learn for the day and we definitely have adopted many of the suggestions which were already very similar to our usual routine during a ‘normal’ school year.

For example, we wake up with plenty of time to eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, etc., but now we include making sure to login early to check for any tech glitches and we have our daily talks on expectations for the day and what assignments they will need to work on.”

Tech and internet issues prompted the Di Andrea family to upgrade their services and equipment.

“My husband is working full time from home and I am currently a full time college student embarking on my own journey with remote learning. In order to make it work, we did need to purchase another laptop so we all could have reliable devices. We did encounter issues with our internet connection due to of all of the use, so we made the decision to upgrade our cell data plans to utilize hot spots in the event we needed them.”

“Both the school and district have said that they can provide technology and internet hot spots for families to borrow if needed. We did consider at first reaching out to the district for assistance because we had faced some economic hardship at the start of the pandemic, however, we were able to overcome this hardship, so we no longer required any assistance.”

“I feel good about how we get to learn from the teacher seeing them at a Google Meet everyday,” commented Joseph. “I like Google Classroom because we can ask questions really fast and chat with the other kids in the class about school work also. I do miss seeing my friends and playing with them at lunch and recess.”

“I feel pretty good but not too good because I miss all of my friends, seeing my teacher and past teachers in person,” said Evelyn. “I don’t really like being on the computer because I would rather be in the classroom. But I am glad that I get to still do school at McKinley because I love McKinley. Even though I miss being at school, I like doing the Google Meet everyday so I can at least see my teacher and friends in class.”

John Muir Middle School seventh-grader Matthew Winn pay attention during his remote learning class. (Photo Courtesy Amy Winn)

On Monday through Thursday, the elementary school distance learning plan for grades one through five allows for two 60-minute periods of live instruction in Math and English/Language Arts in the morning, with a break in between, followed by lunch.

After lunch, there are 110 – 120 minutes of asynchronous learning, which includes 45 minutes of live virtual instruction (which can include small group interactions, individual support and teachers answering questions/emails or providing enrichment in PE, Reading, Social Studies, Science, Art or Music, or Math and English/Language Arts if needed.)

On Fridays, one hour of live virtual interaction with students is held. The weekly plan is similar for Kindergarten students, but with the live interaction typically in 40 minute intervals for Monday through Thusday.

Carey Bennett-Dean and Kevin Dean are the parents of fifth-grader Olive Dean, a student at McKinley Elementary. They have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My husband and I both work in the entertainment industry; Kevin is a Key Grip and I am a Costume Designer. Neither of us has had work since school closed on March 13,” Dean explained.

“We are grateful that BUSD pulled together a distanced learning model so quickly,” she said. “Truthfully, one of the most important things my daughter has learned [is] that everyone has challenges and it takes all of us being thoughtful and super patient to sort them out. She’s also really seeing how much stuff parents, teachers and administrators do behind the scenes to keep everything running smoothly.”

“Online learning has been a welcome way to organize our day and serves as a path to keep us learning.”

Olive Dean, a fifth-grader at William McKinley Elementary School, pauses during her remote learning education. (Photo Courtesy Casey Bennett)

“Overall it has worked rather well. There are the occasional assignments that won’t open or are otherwise compromised. Like today, Olive opened an assignment that had already been filled out by another student. In our experience there’s some funny issue like that each day but the kids write their teacher about it and it gets resolved,” Dean continued. “I have yet to need to seek help from the school district or even her teacher. I do have a text chain going with other parents in her class and we communicate any issues and challenges and help each other sort them out.”

Olive says she likes “not being in a rush to finish assignments, doing things at her own pace and having snacks whenever she wants.”

“She definitely gets computer fatigue and often finds learning by herself at home boring,” Dean admitted, and “she says the hardest thing is that she dearly misses her friends and the social aspect of school.”

“This go around, having the teachers there in person is huge for us. Olive would much rather be taught from her teacher than from me and her morale is much better with the enthusiasm and connection from her teacher,” Dean said. “I appreciate that the assignments are posted per day, as opposed to posting all the work for the week on Monday which is overwhelming.”

“Overall, with the computer model, I think creativity suffers greatly as they are no longer drawing or using color in assignments. Being able to communicate that way and express herself through art or artful assignments is really what makes Olive tick. She used to thrive on those type of assignments, even making wonderful doodles on regular assignments and going the extra mile to make the assignment great. Now she keeps a piece of paper next to the key board on her desk to draw on while listening.”

“I think she also learns kinetically, so having to sit for long stretches and be at attention in a computer screen is hard and exhausting for her. Normally, being able to move around and be in the flow of her day, energizes her.”

Fifth grade student Olive Dean works intently from her at home remote learning station. (Photo Courtesy Carey Bennett)

What does Dean find positive about the remote learning model?

“Having the assignments post each day and notated as to when they are due is so helpful! I go over everything with her after the first in-sync session and I do have to monitor to make sure it is all getting done. Olive will talk herself out of needing to do ALL of the assignments, so it takes paying attention on my part and finding the right balance of keeping her motivated but not being too much of a nag,” she explained. “Breaks, snacks and ultimately making sure I hold space enough so she is not so distracted that she can’t get all the reading done.”

“She mostly works independently and only asks for help on assignments here and there. It’s really more the stamina and motivation to press through and get everything done each day that is a true challenge.”

Olive wishes there was “time to socialize.”

“I am acutely aware of how little exercise she is getting,” Dean continued. “It is tough to get her to do the GoNoodle assignments anymore so I really have to work in ways to get exercise. We do a daily walk, for sure, but she never gets to run and scream and laugh with other kids like she got to do daily at recess.”

“I have heard that older kids have to prove that they are exercising; is there something we could do to that end?” Dean wondered. “Some team building or off line challenges that they compare notes on each day would definitely help with motivation and make it more fun.”

What does the Dean family’s typical day of remote learning look like?

“We wake up, do some chores, check in on Teddy Bear the hamster, eat breakfast then she’s off to school. I monitor from a distance and work to keep her motivated to keep going and get everything done. We often read our separate books while sitting together as it’s the only way to create an atmosphere to get reading done. She’s mostly done with all school assignments a little after lunch.”

Six third grade Dual Immersion Spanish students, placed at tables socially distant from each other, from McKinley Elementary meet twice a week for their supervised learning pod. The families manage the pod and agree to a contract about social behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo Courtesy of a Burbank parent who wishes to remain anonymous)

“In the afternoon she has online art classes and we are going to be starting in-person-distanced volleyball and Japanese lessons (her wish because she loves anime so much!) We also make time to play with friends online on Roblox or Minecraft or just chat on the phone together. We are seeing friends safely in person, maybe only once or twice a week. Exercise is the real challenge. We go for a walk everyday but the quality of exertion and silly exuberance is just not the same as what she used to get at school and playing with friends.”

“My husband and I are not working from home in a significant way as we are out of work until the movie studios are able to open up,” Dean added. “However we are all usually on Zoom calls of one nature or another. Sometimes there are three Zoom calls happening at once and the challenge is finding a place to take the call where we are not interrupting each other.”

“Our house has a desktop for Olive, two laptops and two iPads, two phones and an iPod, all of which we have accumulated over the years and all seem to get a work out every day. We have alarms on all the devices to remind us to put them down.”

“Our internet has been seeming slower but we’ve luckily not had any significant issues. We have definitely had issues with Zoom and Google along the way as we learned the little tricks to making things run smoothly, like turning devices completely off more frequently, clearing the cache and sometimes just having to hop onto another device quickly while we sort out the one that’s not functioning. It’s a group effort to keep it all running smoothly.”

Georgia Dadekian is in seventh grade at Luther Middle School. (Photo Courtesy Kristi Dadekian)

Kristi Dadekian has three children utilizing remote education in her household: John Burroughs High School (JBHS) junior Sonya, and Luther Burbank Middle School eighth-grader Lana and seventh-grader Georgia.

The first week of 100% distance learning was “up and down” for the family, Dadekian admitted. “Fortunately for me I have older kids who are more self sufficient and tech savvy so it’s a bit easier than those who have elementary school kids.”

Most of the issues the Dadekian girls faced involved technology.

“For some reason the Google Classrooms don’t work as well as Zoom,” Dadekian said. “My younger girls are using Chromebooks that we got from the school. When they are on Google Classroom they sometimes get kicked off and have to try to get back on. My oldest is using an older Mac laptop that we had and she doesn’t seem to have that same problem.”

“We are trying to work it out here, but might have to talk to the school soon if it keeps happening.  I have given my laptop to my youngest when it keeps happening to her.”

Sonya Dadekian, a junior at John Burroughs High School, shows off her at home education work station. (Photo Courtesy Kristi Dadekian)

Dadekian acknowledged her daughters are doing fine with remote learning “but they really miss being at school with their friends and teachers. I feel the same. I miss them being in school too.”

“In some ways it’s kinda okay because we aren’t running from one thing to the next or having to rush out the door in the morning. I don’t mind the slower pace. However, we all feel more cooped up than ever. Some days my girls don’t even leave the house and it can get to them. I told them they need to walk around the backyard during class breaks.”

“I think the fact that the teachers are actually teaching them live is great. At least for the age of my girls. I think the only thing that could be better is better connection with the computers.”

The Dadekians also had to upgrade their internet service to accommodate learning and working from home by multiple members of the famile.

“My husband is a movie trailer editor. Currently he doesn’t have a steady job, because of the pandemic, but he does do freelance work when he can. When he does, he needs the WiFi at top speed for the videos he edits,” Dadekian explained. “We had to switch over to a different provider with a faster internet during the spring for that.”

“We kept our other internet provider too because it was cheaper, although slower. This way we have two different internets to use when everyone needs to get on. I substitute in the district, and so far haven’t had any jobs for that yet and not completely sure how that will work yet.”

Remote learning is “fine for now, but I want to go back to school!” commented Lana.

“I get frustrated when I get kicked off of Google Meet,” said Georgia. “I miss being in school.”

“I think so far it’s going ok, but obviously I’d prefer real school,” added Sonya.

Eighth-grader Lana Dadekian pauses from remote education work. (Photo Courtesy Kristi Dadekian)

Diana Lucas is a Kindergarten teacher in a charter school outside of BUSD and is currently teaching her class remotely. Her three children attend Burbank schools: seventh-grader Dylan and eighth-grader Jared go to Luther Burbank Middle School and daughter Lauren is a senior at John Burroughs High School.

“We are all adjusting to remote learning and our new settings at home as our classroom. The first week back, the kids experienced delays, glitches and disconnections at times during their live instruction,” Lucas commented. “We anticipated needing a good WiFi signal, so we had our service provider come to the house to relocate our router to the middle of the house where the signal can be reached by all learning areas. This week has been much better.”

“On a typical day, the kids are receiving synchronous, live instruction from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They attend three classes per day. We lunch for an hour, and then  go back to complete asynchronous (online) assignments until they are completed.”

Luther Burbank Middle School seventh-grader Dylan Lucas works on his remote learning lessons. (Photo Courtesy Diana Lucas)

Lucas noted her son Dylan takes about one to two hours to complete his work on those days, Monday through Thursday, “He is a G.A.T.E. student who works hard at his academics.”

“I don’t really need to monitor the kids’ study habits, but like to check on what assignments they are assigned and help answer anything they may not understand.”

“I like the distance learning schedule,” commented Dylan. “I like that the school day is shorter and I only meet with three classes a day. I have less homework because of this. I don’t like distance learning because I miss seeing my friends.”

“I am fortunate to work from home and be with my family,” said Lucas.

“Last Spring, when the kids weren’t able to return to school, it was more difficult for families. We were all new to the challenges we were facing. For example, we were all sharing one laptop! That was tough!” she continued. “The kids were assigned work via Google Classroom without any type of teaching or instruction. So, there were many days where we would take turns doing research and completing the assignments.”

“BUSD was much better prepared for the return of students by loaning out Chromebooks for any student who needed one, and the teachers and students now have class meetings via Zoom or Google Meet, Monday – Thursday, with a full day of asynchronous learning on Fridays,” Lucas also said. “For now, we are taking it a day at a time. We are blessed to be healthy and safe at home, but look forward to the day that we return to in person schooling.”

The Goulet family have also adjusted to the remote learning approach and have marked the differences between the last few months of school in March through May as compared to the current Fall semester.

“Things have, surprisingly, been going very well for Eliza. You can feel and see the difference from how the school year ended in May,” commented Amy and Derick Goulet, who also noted their older son, who graduated from JBHS in May, is currently a college freshman taking classes remotely at home. Daughter Eliza is a seventh-grader at Luther.

“Thankfully, we have only had minor issues with distance learning. A few times last week while Eliza was in a live class session she was disconnected or bumped off. Being disconnected caused her to panic a bit, but she was able to log back in, get connected and carried on. We requested a hotspot from the District before school started and I think that has helped alleviate any major technology issues.”

Eliza Goulet, a seventh-grader at Luther Burbank Middle School, shows off her at home remote learning station. (Photo Courtesy The Goulet Family)

“Eliza has adapted well to distance learning. She enjoys only having three classes a day and likes the slower more leisurely pace of learning from home,” Amy went on to say. “She hasn’t felt the same pressure as when in-person, moving through six classes per day combined with homework and extracurriculars.”

“Her one complaint is that it is still sometimes hard to understand assignments, especially those given for asynchronous or independent learning. She knows she can always seek help or ask questions through the Google Classroom or via email, but because you are not face to face the response is not always immediate. Because you have three classes per day, not seeing and connecting with teachers daily is difficult too.”

“As parents, our biggest concern is that these students are only experiencing three classes a day. Are they learning half as much as they would if in-person? Will they be prepared to advance to the next grade? Are they forced to learn/complete material independently that they would have otherwise learned in person and therefore risking not grasping the concept correctly?”

“Eliza is extremely self sufficient and responsible. She needs to be monitored very little. She knows how to log in, be on time, navigate the Google Classroom, ask questions electronically and submit homework assignments. We are very lucky in that respect, but with that said, I still log into the Aeries Student Portal to monitor attendance, grades and missing/incomplete assignments.”

“The typical day of distance learning consists of getting up and ready for school, having breakfast and being logged in to class by 7:55 a.m. There are three classes per day, each consisting of a 45 minute ‘live’ instruction followed by 35 minutes of teacher support where the teacher is available and ‘live’ to answer questions and help with classwork or independent learning assignments. There is a 10 minute break between classes. The last class of the day ends at 12:20 p.m. followed by a lunch break until 1:30 p.m. Students are expected to be working on asynchronous or independent work from 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.”

“My husband is currently working out of the home due to COVID, so he’s able to provide support and answer questions for Eliza as well, in real-time,” continued Goulet. “The hotspot allows Eliza to have her own WiFi dedicated to schooling, even though my husband is working only ten feet from her. It has alleviated the strain on our network provider so far.”

“Our son started remote learning at UC Berkeley just this week, though, and he’s already expressed issues with our current WiFi situation. We have been able to manage our computers pretty well and are conscious of each other’s virtual calls and schedules. If two people are having Zoom or Google Meets at the same time, things can slow down. We will have to see how it plays out in the next week or two, if we have to bump up to a better network.”

“What I would like to say to parents and fellow students is, I know it’s hard and I’ve had my hard days too, but I’m telling you, you will get used to it for the time being,” said Eliza. “I believe in each and every one of you!”

George and Michelle Robinson’s son Dylan is a sophomore at Burbank High School. So far, their experience with 100% distance learning has been positive.

Dylan Robinson, a tenth grade student at Burbank High School, pauses from his remote education work. (Photo Courtesy Michelle Robinson)

“Thus far it has been going well. One of the benefits was our son took an online class over the summer. It helped him prepare for some of the technology hurdles students are facing today,” they said.

“As expected with technology, some days it works seamless. But we have had the internet go down but thankfully we were able to reconnect, or have the backup device that does not require WiFi,” the Robinsons continued. “We ended up upgrading our WiFi system just prior to school start. Especially because we have two students and both parents working from home.”

“With the support of teachers and counselors, the routine, class expectations and Zoom etiquette laid out, this week is going better,” they acknowledged. “Also, our employers are very supportive and are aware of the challenges. As parents we are here to support Dylan in any way needed.”

“I feel more comfortable with it now, especially with what I learned with online learning with World History over the summer,” commented Dylan. “Especially with uploading assignments and calendaring.”

“What I like about it, is that all we are all learning and working in Zoom, with Google Classroom and Google Meets,” he continued. “My assignments are easily accessible in Google Classroom. I check what I need to do and what I am missing with Google Classroom, which is great. I’m currently liking the class structure, and the amount of time spent in each class.”

“What I dislike is not being with my classmates and interacting with my teachers in person,” Dylan added. “Especially, when there may be a time that we could all discuss a problem or assignment, and sometimes it’s hard when everyone is talking at the same time on Zoom.”

“Being on Zoom means making sure you pay attention, that is important. It’s important for the time we have with the teachers to listen and understand. You just can’t go back to the classroom and ask a question,” he explained. “That doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to the teacher, it’s just different and not as immediate. I also miss seeing everyone on campus. Especially the excitement that is normally felt the first week of school. I’m an athlete as well, and missing my Football and Baseball teammates. Not being on campus affects students in so many ways.”

“We like that we are able to be there for Dylan if he needs us. We dislike that he is missing out on the interaction with teachers and friends,” the Robinsons also said. “We do provide tech support when needed. Making sure the headphones are still working, connectivity works, or if there are issues with the mic which are challenges anyone can face.”

“Dylan has a zero period and Zoom begins in our house at 7:00 a.m., Monday through Thursday, and goes until 1:30 p.m. each day. He also has class check ins on Friday. He continues with assignments after school.”

“It can be challenging at times, with both parents online, and two students, one of whom is a college student (recent BHS 2020 grad Justin Robinson,)” they said. “We each needed our own computer set ups, whether hardwired or WiFi based, so that we are all able to be successful throughout the day. It’s being mindful of the student needing to focus and have an area they can do that. Along with parents needing to balance phone calls and Zoom calls.”

“We support each other through it all, as we navigate through these ever changing times,” the Robinsons added.


Burbank Unified High School Teachers Talk About Remote Education

Four Burbank High School teachers took time to share their perspectives on remote teaching and education, now that the Burbank Unified School District has had two full weeks of 100% distance learning since the first day of classes on Monday, August 17.

Overall, teachers responded positively to the new learning model, noting they spent a lot of time over the summer preparing for the new approach. Their general consensus is that remote education is a viable approach, given the constraints of a national and international pandemic, but it is not without some very real challenges.

Many noted the limited social engagement that students receive through virtual classrooms and breakout groups with other students and their teachers. Additionally, teachers have taken on a huge amount of extra work in order to teach the required materials, connect with students and manage their classrooms to the best of their ability. Technology access and resources and special equipment or software, particularly for advanced or specialized classes, remain a top concern.

Burbank High AP Stats and Algebra I teacher Robert Hammell shows off his at home remote teaching setup. (Photo Courtesy Robert Hammell.)

Robert Hammell teaches AP Statistics and Algebra I this year at BHS, so his students are from all grades 9 – 12. He teaches from home, “My wife is also a teacher in the district and she is teaching from school as it is hard for both of us to be teaching at the same time because the noise travels very easily in our house.

His average class size is about 30 students, over two sections of AP Stats and four sections of Algebra I. His classes draw students from all grades 9 – 12.

As a statistics teacher, I must point out that my average is a slightly misleading number as I have one class that is much smaller than the rest. If I remove the small class, my average is 32.4,” he said.

“To prepare for the remote/online learning approach, I went through the district created modules which covered instructional modules, digital classroom community, supporting special populations and grading and assessment,” Hammell explained. “These modules were created by colleagues throughout the district and had a lot of useful information and ideas. They were organized in the format: learn and explore, create, and share. There was enough material in these modules to spend at least a week exploring and learning.”

“In addition to the district modules, I also self reflected on what went well and did not go well last spring, read student feedback from surveys I had my students fill out last spring, talked to colleagues and read many articles online.”

“At this point, I think the biggest thing that needs attention is how to get my students to interact with me and each other more during live instruction,” Hammell continued. “I am quickly learning the best way to utilize some of the features in Zoom to help with this including the chat window, breakout rooms, nonverbal feedback, reactions, virtual and literal hand raising, waiting rooms and controlling mic/video settings.” 

Burbank High School’s front entrance is devoid of students currently. (Undated file photo by Ross Benson)

“I feel one of my strengths is adjusting my teaching in real time based on student feedback and interactions and I am missing that piece in my class right now.”

“As far as what worked well, I think I was successful in communicating a mathematical mindset to my students,” he continued. “I want students to change their perspective in my class from earning points for a grade to receiving feedback to help them master learning objectives.”

“With this change in perspective, I’m hoping students will find the value in asking questions to gain understanding of concepts, learning from mistakes, being creative, learning math (and not just performing/memorizing), communicating their thinking and appreciating depth over speed.”

“I am confident that my students will learn the material and that I will be providing a rigorous course.  However, I would not say I feel comfortable yet, but I am getting there,” Hammell also said. “We ask students to have a growth mindset, ask questions, learn from mistakes and think critically to problem solve. This is the perfect time to model that as teachers as this is a brand new model for teaching for most of us in the district.” 

Burbank High AP Biology teacher Rebecca Cooper believes in a “dress for success” approach to remote teaching from her dining room table office. (Photo Courtesy Rebecca Cooper)

“The hardest part for me is figuring out how to build a classroom community where all the students can share their thoughts and I can adjust my teaching in real time based on students verbal and non verbal feedback,” he added. “The virtual classroom setting makes it very difficult to get feedback in the usual way, but I am quickly learning new ways to get the feedback that I need to be a more effective teacher.”

Rebecca Cooper, who has taught for 18 years – 16 of those at BHS, is currently teaching five periods of AP Biology from home. She is also the Burbank High Science Department Chair.

“If it becomes too challenging (due to technology and materials needed), then I may start working more at BHS,” she said.

Cooper has a lot of students this year; she is averaging 37 students per class.

“Preparing for remote learning has been an ongoing work in progress. Fortunately, I was already using Google Classroom (GCR) with my students last year for a variety of purposes, so that made the shift to going all online for distance learning a little smoother for me,” she commented. “However, with that being said, distance learning/teaching is about far more than simply knowing how operate GCR.”

“Over the summer I was part of the district Professional Development team that helped build the training modules for the staff this year. They were designed to help everyone have supports in place as they started preparing individually for this new format.”

“And from that moment on, it has been read, learn, create, discuss, share,” Cooper continued. “The same model we try to impart on our students. I am in a number of teacher groups on social media where I am constantly getting or sharing ideas and am in constant communication with my colleagues as well  I am always looking for ways to engage my students better, or to help them feel supported and more connected to one another.”

“I have mixed feelings about teaching this way. While I am grateful for the opportunity to maintain safety and good health and feel confident that I can do a good job teaching, it is still overwhelming,” she acknowledged. “It’s hard to not have the opportunity to engage naturally in conversation with people. For students to have to sit silently in class, rather than socialize and build relationships between classes.”

“On the logistical side of things, it’s challenging to manage Zoom windows, chat windows, student ‘hand raise’ icons, screen sharing, etc. AND develop a natural flow to the class. And building classroom community takes a very intentional approach – it’s not just going to happen on its own in this sort of setting.”

Burbank High AP Bio teacher Rebecca Cooper’s Zoom profile includes a background of her classroom view. (Photo Courtesy Rebecca Cooper)

For AP Bio students and other high school classes that usually incorporate lab work, that hands on approach can be a real challenge for distance learning.

“We’re going to do the best we can to still make lab experiences happen. Many of the labs are possible to do at home with some basic materials (like cups, water, seeds, soap, etc.), so for some classes, students may be surveyed for their home access for certain materials, and can be provided with the additional supplies,” said Cooper. “In other cases where material distribution is too cumbersome (or involves supplies that are not safe to use at home), students will be provided with live or prerecorded demonstrations of the labs, or alternatives such as virtual labs, or samples of lab data that they can then be asked to analyze.”

Burbank High AP Bio teacher Rebecca Cooper watches her students in a Zoom call work in teams to build a presentation as they work on a shared document that is projected on a wall behind her computer. (Photo Courtesy Rebecca Cooper)

“It’s certainly not the same experience, but we will do our best to make it as interactive as we can. In my AP Biology class, we will be attempting our first at home lab on Monday where students will be investigating the properties of water. Students were provided with a materials list, and if they are able to gather materials, then great! And for those who are not able – no problem!”

“I have embedded video clips into the lesson that are demonstrating the activity,” she explained. “They can use these videos as their experience to assist in answering their lab questions and doing data analysis.”

“Overall successes so far include pretty great student attendance and overall improved communication between students and their teachers (lots of students reaching out via email and comments in GCR),” Cooper went on to say. “And in my classes, most students have been doing an excellent job of keeping up with their assignments, and putting in good effort not only with their work, but attempting to get comfortable with a room full of digital strangers.”

“It continues to be very difficult to manage all of the responsibilities that need to be done daily, while also remembering the importance of self-care. For the last 10 days, I have spent the better part of every day (probably about 12 hours is a fair estimate) sitting in front of my computer – just to stay caught up.”

“We want to do a good job, but sometimes that means catching up with 100s of work-related emails gets put in front of working on our lesson plans, activities, building presentations/lessons and providing feedback on student work,” Cooper also said. “And all of those listed responsibilities end up getting put in front of our home responsibilities (cleaning, cooking, exercising, tending to our own families, resting, etc.)”

“I think for everyone – both teachers and students – we need to establish some healthy routines, schedules and boundaries. Today [Thursday, August 27] I started my day at 4:30 a.m. just so I could make time to exercise (for the first time in two weeks) and accomplish some work [before] school started, and before the new emails for the day started pouring in.”

“Same goes for students… several shared that their work was pretty manageable last week until Friday, when they became overwhelmed,  as they didn’t realize there would be so much new work assigned on Fridays for their classes (and they had procrastinated on assignments from earlier in the week.)”

“Several students recognized it is their responsibility to hold themselves accountable, and mentioned their new goal for week two was to tackle their school work on the day it is assigned, during school hours (from 1:30 – 3:00), rather than waiting until it was due.”

“I think eventually, we will all get more accustomed to how the different technology tools we are using work, and we will start to figure out a groove of routines that work well for us,” Cooper also said. “I’m enjoying getting to know my students a little more everyday, but am going to have to work on having a cut off time to be looking on my phone or computer, or doing work for school – my brain needs a forced break every day.”

“I’m sure right around the time where it all starts to feel comfortable, will be the same time where we get to go back to school in person and will have a whole new set of norms to learn and establish.”

Burbank High teacher Amy Winn shares remote teaching and learning space with her son Matthew Winn, a seventh-grader at John Muir Middle School. (Photo Courtesy Amy Winn)

Amy Winn is in her 19th year of teaching at Burbank High. Before taking over the Digital Video Production classes five years ago, Winn taught Special Education and English classes at the school. She  teaches seven sections at BHS, covering grades 9 – 12, and averages 37 students in her Video Production and Yearbook classes, 27 in Broadcast Journalism and 10 in Advanced Video Production.

“The first week was very challenging personally – it was probably the most anxious I have ever felt in my 19 years of working in Education,” Winn commented. “Overall – my classes went great, the students were great and it was good to be back with them again. It was just a lot to prepare for, fear of technology not cooperating and I had true anxiety about trying to maintain an academic setting on a Zoom call in my living room.”

Burbank High Digital Video Production teacher Amy Winn logs in students to her Zoom classroom. (Photo Courtesy Amy Winn)

“I collaborated with Richard Lightfoot at JBHS [John Burroughs High School] who teaches Video Production, he was a huge help as we figured out together how we could even attempt to do this,” Winn added. “It’s taken hours upon hours to prep for four different classes and transform the material into a new digital, virtual format.”

Winn is very concerned about her students not all having access to video editing software at home that the school typically provides in the physical classroom.

“The real test will come when the students will work independently on video assignments at home which they would normally have in class to use software and edit their work. It’s a gamble right now if they will be able to complete projects at home not having the right technology.”

“I am not confident at all in my ability as a teacher or in my ability to adequately teach my subjects this way without the proper tools,” Winn continued. “I am constantly working – I don’t think I leave my desk at home all day… continuously answering emails, figuring out lesson plans, having Zoom call classes, grading, etc.  I know every teacher is going through this, but it’s A LOT of extra work that I didn’t expect.”

“The kids were happy to be back and interacting with each other,” she acknowledged. “There is still a lot that needs to be addressed like technology access. It feels impossible to be able to teach these Arts/Digital Media classes which are hands-on and interactive in this particular format.”

Digital Video Production teacher Amy Winn in her at home remote teaching office. (Photo Courtesy Amy Winn)

“I have computers and editing software that students are able to use at the school and I am not sure what editing software or apps my students have access to at home, meaning then my whole curriculum is having to be modified and manipulated to take on this challenge of distance learning.  I have a huge broadcast studio that we film our announcements in at BHS and now are forced to do them on a Zoom call.”

“We have a Yearbook to produce with no activities, no sporting events, we aren’t even on campus… so, everything in my digital media world is a challenge and will be until we are able to be physically back at school.”

“Until then, we do what we can – I teach the subjects the best way I can and pray that this all works out. The students are definitely not getting at home what they could be getting in the classroom, especially in my classes and I feel like I’m failing them already and the year hasn’t even really started yet.”

“I know it’s no one’s fault, but this is very very difficult for me and I’m doing the best I can,” Winn also said. “I like things to be perfect and they aren’t and it’s hard for me to accept that – it is what it is.”

John Wells teaches the Associated Student Body (ASB) class in addition to Phys. Ed. classes at Burbank High.  His classes average 40 students per section.

“I am working from both home and BHS. I live in Burbank so makes it easy to go back and forth,” Wells said. “I have a young son, age three, that my wife and I share duties teaching and entertaining right now so that determines when I go in and when I don’t.”

“I am beginning to feel more comfortable. It isn’t easy being on screen for hours a day but [I’m] making it work,” he added. “The confident side is a bit harder because shifting Physical Education to all online has challenges and I think as we go on I will get more confident with what I am teaching each day.”

Burbank High ASB Advisor and Phys. Ed. teacher John Wells works from his remote teaching setup. (Photo Courtesy John Wells)

Wells talked about how Burbank Unified is handling Phys. Ed. classes.

“These are a bit challenging but I think are slowly getting better. As a Physical Education department, our goal is how can we get these students as active as possible while maintaining the necessary social distance and health protocols.”

BUSD requires two years of Physical Education classes and passing the State Physical Fitness exam (or additional semesters of Phys. Ed. until passing the exam) for graduation.

“We are creating at home workout videos that the students will workout to during class as well as they create their own and share them with us. We will also have different activities and sports that will be covered. Those will be covered with videos in and out of class that students can watch and answer questions to.”

“We hope to get creative when it comes to demonstrating different sports and lack of equipment students have access to. So that will be a challenge and fun at same time.”

Wells notes that ASB, which runs school spirit campaigns and a lot of special activities at the school, has really been impacted by remote learning.

“With the distance learning ASB activities have shifted. Students are disappointed at this time there isn’t our annual Foam party, which kicks off the year, and then into homecoming celebrations which are postponed at this moment, with hope they can happen in the spring,” Wells explained. “So ASB students have shifted their mindset of what they can do to engage and keep that Bulldog pride alive.”

“We will be having our first virtual spirit week next week. This is where students will dress to different themes each day for their classes and can post their outfits in Burbank High ASB Instagram. ASB will choose a most spirited for each day.”

Student members of Burbank High School’s Associated Student Body (ASB) class meet with advisor and teacher John Wells via Zoom. (Photo Courtesy John Wells)

As ASB advisor, Wells seeks to “[encourage] the students to continue to think outside the box and get creative. Which these students are. As their advisor I support and help with any logistics they need with their ideas. I really try to make ASB about them and creating excellent leaders.”

“For our virtual classes, I meet with ASB president Carmen Blanchard and ASB VP Bella Bowman at [the] end of each week to plan out the following week,” he added. “We are currently engaging in a lot of leadership activities and having ASB students create their own lesson plans and then present their leadership lessons to rest of class. These are going well thus far.”

Currently, Burbank Unified remains focused on providing 100% distance learning for its students’ education, while planning for an eventual return to in person education.

“Reopening will depend on current health conditions and guidelines,” Superintendent Matt Hill has stated. “Current guidelines require six feet of physical distancing, so when it is safe and appropriate to reopen we would phase in with a hybrid model.”

Hill has also emphasized that the District does not want to reopen schools, only to have to shut them down again. Thus, BUSD’s approach to reopening to in person education will be cautious and follow County and State guidelines.


Burbank Unified Elementary and Middle School Teachers Provide Perspectives On Remote Learning

Burbank Unified teachers spent much of their summer preparing for remote teaching, working intently to adjust teaching approaches and plans to fit an online format. What have the past few weeks of 100% distance learning been like for them since classes began on Monday, August 17? We spoke with teachers at William McKinley Elementary and Luther Burbank Middle to find out.

“Our grade level started preparing for distance learning early in July, and I am happy I started when I did. Our preparedness has truly eased the transition into distance learning,” commented McKinley third grade Spanish Immersion teacher Judith Toscano.

Toscano has taught Spanish Dual Immersion for seven years, and the past four years at McKinley. She currently teaches from home and thanks her husband for his help in setting up her kitchen table with “an awesome technology hub” including a “laptop, a document camera, a webcam and an extra monitor to see all my students’ faces while I navigate the lessons on my laptop.”

“These past two weeks have gone really well!” she added. “Prior to class starting, I make sure to set up all of my tabs so that I don’t waste time looking for sites when the kids are in a meeting with me; we have a saying, ‘Cada minuto cuenta – Every minute counts’!”

Laura Mixon, McKinley first grade teacher, works online with her students. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“Distance learning is a rewarding challenge; it takes a lot of preparation, and energy. I say it takes a lot of energy because I find myself in a cheerleader role celebrating and cheering students’ learning!” she continued. “No really… we cheer! We sing, we learn new content, we dance and we share our feelings all while practicing our Spanish!”

“In addition, it is also important to focus on children’s socio-emotional well being. Children have been home for so long, it is nice to finally have some sense of normalcy in an education setting. Even though we started the year off distance learning, my students are so excited to finally see their friends, excited to get the year started, and catch up on their Spanish studies.”

“One of the challenges I am seeing is students not having strong home internet signals. This causes them to get kicked out of our Google Meetings,” Toscano said. “It is frustrating for these children and for their families. Many times all it takes for them to log back in. If they are unable to log back in, I have a separate meeting with students that have been kicked off, so that I can catch them up on what was missed.”

“I am so thankful for my students’ parents,” she also said. “Throughout this process they have been kind, patient and really supportive! I view my students’ parents and myself as a team, a unit, and we just want the best for these children, we want them to be successful.”

Another McKinley teacher, Amanda Pohlman, who has been teaching for 12 years, has chosen to teach her fourth-grade class from the school site.

Fourth grade teacher Amanda Pohlman teaches her class remotely from her empty classroom. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“It’s nice to have all my teaching materials and tools handy, including my document camera I use daily,” she explained. “I try my best to keep a normal schedule for my 24 students, as I would if teaching in person.”

“I expect students to arrive at 8:30 a.m. ready to learn, participate and engage in the learning process,” she said. “The first few days of school had been a positive learning experience for all students, parents and teachers as we identified and worked through issues such as computer glitches, sound malfunctions and connection issues.”

“On top of all of that, community building was a challenge as students are meeting their teachers for the first time through a camera. It was difficult for me to show my personality without my students reading my body language. I believe building a classroom community is the most important piece of starting a new school year.”

“It was a new experience doing that online and will take some time, but I already see the results in just one week,” Pohlman continued. “My students have been so responsive, attending all our live sessions, participating in discussions and community building activities, and completing independent work in the Google classroom. I am utterly amazed at how responsible my 24 fourth graders have been thus far.”

Kindergarten teacher Maria Esquivel connects with her class online at McKinley Elementary School. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“A lot of credit is due to the parents for the support they are providing,” she acknowledged. “Students are set up in a quiet area with headphones on, materials all nearby, and they are dressed as they would for a normal school day! Having that type of environment embedded at home helps our students to focus and learn as they would at school.”

“I am confident that this way of learning can be successful and effective. Although this is not an ideal situation for everyone, parents and teachers who work together will make an impression on students,” Pohlman also said. “I believe it is important now more than ever to communicate and check in with our students and families. I recognize that this is our current normal for now, but if we remember why we teach in the first place and put our students’ needs first, we will see tremendous success.”

Luther Burbank Middle School seventh grade Social Studies teacher Stefanie Enokian, who has been teaching for 15 years, has some additional perspectives to share on aspects of remote education that work well and others that are challenging.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many of my students are attending our synchronous [live teaching] sessions. I am also amazed at how well behaved my learners in particular have been and well-mannered they are in the chat. I can only speak for my own experiences on this one but it has been a nice treat,” she said. “It is also interesting that some of my periods have more kids with their cameras on and then some periods there are very few kids. But the majority of my students are participating in the chat and answering questions even if their camera is off.”

McKinley first grade teacher Lisa Fuentez works from her empty classroom. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

Enokian teaches from her classroom at Luther and averages 33 students per class in five periods.

“Collaboration amongst the teachers as worked really well. Not just here at Luther but there has been more collaboration District-wide than any other year. There has been a lot of work to support each other and share what we have learned.”

“I’ve also been trying to help support my fellow teachers at Luther by holding technology support meetings where they could come and ask questions or we could trouble shoot some of their issues or even talk about their successes. Many of them feel like this is a safe place to come for help when needed.”

“As of right now the part that’s not working well is the amount of time it is taking to do what feels like the right thing to do for kids,” she said.

Enokian attempted to describe the actions she took to prepare for remote teaching, “There really is no way to put in to words all that went in to preparing for this in a short amount of time.”

Luther Burbank Middle School seventh grade Social Studies teacher Stefanie Enokian records a lesson for her students at home. (Photo Courtesy Stefanie Enokian)

She “reviewed and utilized District Provided Professional Development which consisted of four modules for secondary and elementary around the topics of Instructional Models, Digital Classroom Community, Supporting Special Populations and Grading and Assessment.”

“I spent a lot of time considering my content and learning and researching how I could cover the material in this new format. I did research on the Flipped Classroom model and was able to embrace these ideas and transform my teaching so that I could maximize the limited face to face time I would have with my students. This was especially important for me as I have made videos to give to my learners for their Friday asynchronous lessons.”

Asynchronous lessons are self-guided sessions, during afternoons and Fridays in which the students are expected to check in for attendance and review, complete or work on supplemental material. This is a complementary aspect of remote teaching in addition to the live online class times they have with their teachers during the week on Monday through Thursday.

“I learned new skills such as using Screencastify to do screen recordings so I could record my lessons,” Enokian continued. “Thankfully, the District purchased the upgrade so we could all utilize this great resource without limitations. I’ve even featured my cats and bearded dragon in some of my recordings for my students and they LOVED it.”

First grade teacher Dug Gutierrez teaches his students remotely from McKinley Elementary School. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

She also collaborated with colleagues about “what would be some of the best practices, how to keep students engaged, whether or not we should require students to keep their cameras, how to meet the needs of kids who don’t have the best access to technology, what we could do to build relationships with kids in this new way of learning and to support their social emotional needs.”

“I am at an advantage because utilizing technology and Google Classroom is not something new for me because they are both things I used regularly when we were in the regular classroom setting before the pandemic hit,” Enokian explained. “I also did some trainings this summer for teachers in this video conferencing type format so it gave me an idea of what it would be like to teach through a screen and how I need to phrase my questions differently to elicit responses and engagement from my students.”

“I could no longer ask them to turn to their shoulder partner and RallyRobin ideas back and forth so I needed to come up with other ways to get them engaged. Whether it be they give me a thumbs up, or I have them stand up if they agree or type their responses in the chat, I am constantly having to think of new ways to keep our learning novel.”

McKinley fourth grade teacher Shawn Mulloy teaches from her empty classroom. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“Despite having this comfort with technology and practice over the summer with how to teach to a screen, all of this work is really hard. I not only had to learn how to teach in this format, but learn how to best utilize new programs to keep the kids’ interest,” she also said. “In the first two weeks of school there are already fifteen assignments in my Google Classroom for the kids to complete.”

“Providing meaningful feedback on that amount of work has proven to be challenging. It is something I am still trying to navigate.”

Enokian also talked about other challenges facing teachers with the remote learning model.

“A couple challenges are finding enough time in the day to respond to all parent, student and school related emails and answer all student correspondence when they leave private comments on their assignments. It is also difficult to maintain the separation from school work to home as it feels like there are not enough hours in the day to get it all done.”

Second grade teacher Amber Edwards engages with her students remotely from her empty classroom at Burbank’s McKinley Elementary School. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“Communicating with families has been key,” she continued. “I have worked to foster direct lines of communication with all of my families as it is more important now than ever to maintain the partnership with the families and make sure they are up to speed on the information they need.”

“Honestly, there is no perfect right now,” Enokian admitted. “We are constantly learning and changing things together every day. There is always room for us to grow and learn. I am providing my learners and their families with surveys to see how I can make this experience better and support their needs.”

Dina Harney teaches two sections of sixth grade English, two sections of seventh-grade English and is the Associated Student Body (ASB) advisor at Luther Burbank Middle School. She sees the need for socializing and community building as an important aspect of school that students are lacking with remote learning.

Second grade teacher Jennifer Timoney teaches her class remotely at McKinley Elementary School. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“Our ASB team is small this year, but I’m excited about the things our ASB leadership team will be able to accomplish in our digital environment. So much of our distance learning has been difficult to navigate, but this year our mission in ASB is to promote school culture in our virtual space and build relationships with one another despite the distance between us,” Harney said. “We already have a few ideas brewing to help with socialization and community building at Luther.”

“I’ve been teaching for over 20 years now, and I never imagined that I’d one day be in this position – teaching from campus in an empty classroom to kids I have yet to meet in person,” Harney said.

“I’ve taught online before, received my Master’s Degree in Educational Technology, and I consider myself pretty comfortable with many of the digital platforms we use to deliver instruction, but on the first day of school this year, it was like I was teaching for the first time all over again, uncertain of what I might encounter or how I might react, and hoping that it all just went well,” she continued.

“Our learners were the best part of all of this – so many of them have shown their resiliency and excitement and their willingness to make the best out of a bad situation, and I think that’s a true testament to the amazing community of parents that we have and the support they have shown to all of us during this time.”

Fifth grade teacher Rorry Hadden engages with his students from his empty classroom at McKinley Elementary School. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“With the exception of ASB, most of my English classes have between 32-36 learners in them. I’ve only had a few absences in total over the past two weeks. Even though we have had some technical issues and glitches, we have been able to roll with the punches and carry on.”

“There is a lot of frustration on the part of students, parents, and teachers as far as that is concerned, but on the whole, I’m pleased with the amount of content we have been able to deliver and the overall engagement of the students,” Harney acknowleged. “Perhaps that might change over time.”

“I am exhausted at the end of the day. There is so much to prepare for, stay on top of, and to learn about in this new environment. I do feel like I have to be ‘on’ for the kids when we have our live sessions in order to keep them engaged and to feel connected. I worry about a myriad of things that go beyond lesson planning and grading.”

“As a parent myself of two children in BUSD, I can appreciate many of the challenges and concerns that come up in this model,” Harney also said. “It is difficult, but it is doable. A strong support system is key, as it is in anything having to do with education.”

Superintendent Matt Hill has stated in the most recent Board of Education meeting, on August 20, that the District wants to help families and students be successful with remote learning and encourages caregivers and parents to contact their school site principal if there are needs for technology support and access, child care, Nutrition and Lunch and more.

“Some may be having technology issues, others may be having issues at home. Some people may be out of work right now,” Hill said. “Connect with us. We want to help you. For all of the above, we have resources available that we can help you with that. Or put you in touch with the right individuals.”

Burbank Unified School Principals Weigh In On Fall 2020 Remote Learning

Nearly two weeks into remote learning since the first day of school on Monday, August 17, Burbank Unified School District teachers, administrators, parents and students are getting used to their new normal. What’s remote learning like? We talked to three BUSD principals, one each from an elementary, a middle and a high school, about some of the challenges and successes of the 100% distance learning experience from their perspective.

“I am proud of the collaborative efforts of our district. Burbank Unified was very strategic to create a reopening committee to ensure that all impacted stakeholders were involved in this process,” commented Luther Burbank Middle School Principal Oscar Macias. “At one point we were in full discussion of a hybrid model. Unfortunately, the reality and sudden turn of the Covid-19 pandemic in our Los Angeles County had us have to reshape our opening of the school year to 100% distance learning.”

“This has not been an easy undertaking for all impacted stakeholders. We had to change our entire school settings and deliver instruction 100% online,” he continued. “There have some hiccups here and there, but I am so impressed that all our school sites have worked so hard for all our learners and parents/guardians.”

Luther Burbank Middle School Principal Oscar Macias has created a welcoming digital image for his school community. (Image Courtesy Oscar Macias.)

“I think everyone is working really hard to make this learning model a success,” said William McKinley Elementary School Principal Liz Costella. “I think the biggest challenge has definitely been technology. It is of course unpredictable. Even if we are doing everything correctly but sometimes there is a glitch – microphones don’t work, websites won’t stream, students get logged off of meetings. We are doing our best to overcome those challenges.”

“We have seen so many positives. Teachers have really embraced the challenge. They are being so creative and re-imagining instruction,” Costella continued. “Families and students have been so supportive and engaging. Our students have been so excited to reconnect to each other and their teacher. The students have really embraced using new technology and are jumping right into the tasks.”

“Burbank High School opened this month short-handed with transitions in a site assistant principal and in counseling, so it is hard for me to determine if our challenges were more a result of this, or of the challenges associated with launching distance learning,” commented Burbank High Principal Tom Crowther.

“From a teaching and learning standpoint, however, I couldn’t have been happier with the first week of school. The live virtual sessions are so important,” Crowther added. “Seeing three or four teachers each day connects students to their learning and to BHS. Students also enjoyed catching-up with one another, albeit virtually.”

Burbank High School’s front entrance remains devoid of students. (Undated file photo by Ross Benson.)

“I also think we saw right away adjustments teachers made for the virtual setting. We know asking them to lecture into a camera for an hour isn’t the most effective way to deliver instruction, and we know students cannot be expected to sit in front of a screen for hours on end,” he added. “I feel that our Monday – Thursday instruction has really found that sweet spot.”

“The first Friday went fairly smoothly as well. Students are working on asynchronous lessons and teachers are hosting office hours to connect with students on a more personal level,” Crowther also said. “It will take some time to find our stride with Fridays, but I see them as a real opportunity to connect on a level that may not be possible otherwise. I hope most teachers will take some risks and see Fridays as an opportunity and extension of what they are doing in their virtual classrooms.”

One of the biggest challenges facing remote learning is technology, the uneveness of access and a not always reliable internet, interfaces and applications.

“The biggest challenge is to overcome any digital divide that exists with our BUSD learners and families,” acknowledged Macias. “Our district has developed a comprehensive approach to lend out Chromebooks and hotspots to families/learners in need.”

“The feedback I have gotten after the first week has been highly positive in terms of connectivity,” Macias continued. “There have been some hiccups as I mentioned, but we are experiencing issues with some things beyond our control, like Spectrum in extreme heat with some power outages.”

“The work at school sites is and always will be there. This is not any different in distance learning,” he added. “What stays the same is the constant of hard working BUSD teachers, CSEA support staff members, administrators and district officials working hard behind the scenes to do what is right for all our learners.”

Empty hallways are an unusual sight at William McKinley Elementary School in Burbank. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“I think students and teachers are connecting well. I think we have been successful for this only being the second week of school,” commented Costella. “I think there is always work to be done, we wouldn’t be successful educators if we felt that there wasn’t room to grow. We are always looking to adjust things and make instruction more engaging and accessible to all.”

“Our challenges have never been greater, but so too, are our opportunities. Challenges are largely logistics – getting tech to students and a new found reliance on technology on a daily basis, attendance monitoring efforts, keeping staff safe who elect to work on site and supporting staff who may need to continue to work remotely,” Crowther commented.

Crowther also pointed out another challenge of 100% distance learning.

“The other real challenge is giving students something that resembles the high school experience they want and deserve. We miss each other, we miss sports, we miss hanging out in the quad,” he said. “I worry about our students’ stress and anxiety during this pandemic and want us to identify ways to tap into their social and emotional well being.”

Burbank High School has approximately 2500 students enrolled, including students in community based instruction and students dual-enrolled in the online only program Independent Learning Academy.

Luther Burbank Middle School Principal Oscar Macias gears up for on site work at the school. (Photo Courtesy Oscar Macias.)

Luther Middle School currently has 910 students enrolled. Principal Macias has seen a lot of positive feedback already for remote learning.

“At Luther Burbank Middle School, I have received positive feedback from our parents and teachers/support staff. We knew going in that all was not going to be perfect, however, after one week of instruction, there have been lots of positive comments,” Macias said. “I expect to see more in terms innovative and creative instruction from our teachers. I have been privy to some outstanding instruction and activities that are not only engaging, but instructionally appropriate and challenging.”

“I can also share that the collaboration between school site principals and assistant principals has been tremendous. For me, I have been in constant contact with Dr. Miller from John Muir Middle School and Dr. Meglemre from David Starr Jordan Middle School,” Macias continued. “The virtual meetings with them have been so inspiring and powerful. I am forever grateful and indebted to them I expect our professional and personal friendships to continue.”

“I feel so blessed to be a part of this community,” said Costella, who noted that McKinley’s enrollment is currently at 475 students. “I have been so impressed with our students and families and their commitment to education.”

“I am grateful for the patience and kindness they have shown,” she added. “Most of all I want our families and students to know how much we miss them and that we look forward to seeing them again in person just as soon as it is safe.”

Another view of the empty McKinley Elementary School playground. (Photo Courtesy Liz Costella.)

“Opportunities we have is to inspect what we expect,” commented Crowther. “For example, we must evaluate our standards to determine what is most essential as less minutes than our norm means clearly identifying what is most important for all students to learn and what all teachers must teach.”

“We should align what we do from a pedological standpoint. If something is effective in your distance teaching, share that success with colleagues,” he also said.  “If something isn’t working well, share that frustration too. Learn together. As young scholars, our students have to resist the distractions of being at home. They might have others in the house, they have television and their cell phones, but they need to stay present and engaged.”

“We are all in this together!” said Macias. “Every school site needs and wants to create a positive partnership between the home and school. This is necessary for our learners to have the opportunities to succeed.”

“We also all need to be patient and flexible given that 100% distance learning is a new undertaking in Burbank Unified,” he added. “I would also like to express how I and my colleagues all have a lot of confidence and trust with all our teachers, support staff members and district officials.”