Community Opinions

COMMENTARY: Anzar High School staff go far beyond distance learning expectations

Former principal Charlene McKowen writes that staff worked hard to adapt and sustain a high-maintenance, high-reward vital program for graduation during the school closure.

This commentary was contributed by former Anzar High School principal Charlene McKowen. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.

I’d be willing to bet that 100% of teachers from around the globe are agreeing about at least one thing these days: there is no truly worthy substitute for the interactive, engaging, creative and applied instruction that happens with stellar teachers and curious students learning together in real time and real place. That said, the efforts that school staffs all over the world have made to keep some semblance of learning happening with distance learning: videotaped lessons, packets, phone calls/ FaceTimes, Google meet-ups, Zoom meetings… I am in awe of these efforts that keenly illustrate what dedicated professionals teachers are, and underscore to the rest of the world how so much of excellent teaching and maximized learning is a matter of heart and relationships.

Since the school’s inception 25 years ago, the graduation exhibitions have been a cornerstone program at Anzar High School. Required for graduation, the exhibitions have three basic components: a research paper, an oral presentation and a question and answer session with trained community judges. Students prepare a variety of subject area exhibitions, based on their personal passions and interests, during their junior and/or senior years, and presentations happen during five different cycles during the school year. Even with this truncated program description here, it should be evident that the normal logistics rely heavily on in-person protocols (the oral presentation and Q&A session—both highly interactive).

Fast-forward to this spring’s school closures, and now what? The teaching staff knew that it was perfectly appropriate to extend some accommodations to this year’s seniors who still needed to finish their exhibitions, but the logistical obstacles to keeping the integrity of the program seemed insurmountable. In true collaborative fashion, though, and through an incredible amount of hard work, self-taught technology professional development, and hundreds of hours working remotely with students to coach and edit projects and to teach them how to record their presentations….the program goes on, with coaches, student presenters and judges all having to change their mode of function. Students have submitted their final draft papers online. They have videotaped their presentations, and these have been posted as well. Each presenter has been assigned a 30-minute question and answer session time through GoogleMeet, and judges sign up according to the times that are convenient for them, as well as subject issues that interest them. Judges download the papers online, and must read them, watch the presentation, and prepare their questions and scoring materials before the Q & A appointment time.

These Q&A sessions started Thursday, May 21, and extended through the end of May. I recently experienced my first session as a judge with senior Sarahy Curiel presenting, and it was just as rewarding as always. Transforming the process to allow for continuity of program has been a team effort amongst the staff, but Principal Angela Crawley has been the ultimate driving force behind making it happen—she has been in the trenches as a coach, in an IT role, as a motivator and problem-solver for both teachers and students, as a wise educator gauging the accommodations that needed to happen this spring to make this program equitable for all seniors presenting.

This program assures all Anzar graduates of an experience that gives back multi-fold, in confidence and self-assurance that is invaluable in both the workplace and further educational experiences. I am so very impressed that the Anzar staff has managed to keep the basic structure and intent of this amazing program intact during this challenging time. Bravo to Anzar staff, to Anzar seniors (go Class of 2020), to Anzar community exhibition judges! Anzar continues to be an awesome, college-prep and student-centered gem of a high school here in San Benito County.

charlene mckowen