Ventura County Office of Education shifts to distance learning in wake of COVID-19

The+Conejo+Valley+Unified+School+District+in+Thousand+Oaks%2C+CA.+remains+closed+on+Friday%2C+April+3.+The+district+will+remain+closed+for+the+rest+of+the+2019-2020+academic+school+year+due+to+the+COVID-19+pandemic.+Photo+credit%3A+Ryan+Bough

The Conejo Valley Unified School District in Thousand Oaks, CA. remains closed on Friday, April 3. The district will remain closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo credit: Ryan Bough

By Leslie Mendez

On Wednesday, April 1, the Ventura County Office of Education came to the precautious decision of extending the school closures for the remainder of the school year due to the continued COVID-19 public health risks. Ventura County superintendent of schools Stan Mantooth sent out a letter to the Ventura County community explaining the situation.

“While we would like nothing more than to welcome students back to campus before the end of the year, the health and safety of our communities have to be the first priority,” stated Mantooth in his letter.

With many school districts closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, superintendents are pressed on time to guide faculty and students in this new transition.

Moorpark High School in Moorpark, Calif. remains closed on Friday, April 3, due to COVID-19 precautions in California.
Moorpark High School in Moorpark, Calif. remains closed on Friday, April 3, due to COVID-19 precautions in California. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

The VCOE is working across its districts to implement remote learning programs, referred to as distance learning, to educate students at home.

“All districts are in the process of developing and distributing distance learning in a variety of formats, including online instruction, workbooks and other printed materials and resources such as PBS and other digital platforms,” described Mantooth. “Our districts are sharing what they are doing but all working within their own unique cultures and student groups for what works best.”

Teachers are making great efforts to collaborate with students through various web mediums, all learning material and class assignments will be entirely digital.

Social Science teacher Matthew Doyle from Channel Islands High School, reported that his transition to distance learning has been rather seamless.

“I’ve been using Google Classroom all year so my students understand how to access work, complete it, and turn it in electronically,” Doyle expressed. “I have added screencasting to go over content, and I have been using Google Meet to conference with my classes.”

Distance learning programs are not new but they are foreign to many. Teachers who have been previously exposed to online instruction are having an easier time adjusting to these new conditions.

Sequoia Middle School in Newbury Park, Calif. closed on Friday, April 3, due to COVID-19 concerns in California.
Sequoia Middle School in Newbury Park, Calif. closed on Friday, April 3, due to COVID-19 concerns in California. Photo credit: Whitney Bussell

Jessica Stilson, a teacher from Valley View Middle School described that there has been plenty of research showing that distance programs are just as effective as in-class instruction.

Stilson still holds concern for students aside from the research. “I do worry that it’s not for everyone. Many students who have been historically successful in distance learning programs are able to do so because they have adequate support at home,” Stilson said.

Social interaction plays an enormous role in the development of children. In these times students are restricted from social interaction, but distance learning has not delayed their eagerness to learn.

Walnut Elementary School in Newbury Park, Calif. remains closed on Friday, April 3, due to COVID-19 and order from Ventura County Office of Education.
Walnut Elementary School in Newbury Park, Calif. remains closed on Friday, April 3, due to COVID-19 and order from Ventura County Office of Education. Photo credit: Whitney Bussell

“It is becoming evident very early on that one of the biggest challenges with distance learning will be maintaining the social-emotional component of the face to face classroom,” Stilson said after her first Zoom meeting. She described that her students were extremely excited to connect.

Platforms like Zoom and Google Meet have allowed teachers and students to keep close contact while practicing social distancing. This form of communication has encouraged students to participate in video chat calls to replicate the face to face communication they once had.

This program is a fairly new concept to all, VCOE understands this and has provided students and teachers with multiple guides to maneuver distance learning during this digital transition.

Districts have offered resources to help cope with the pandemic circumstances, such as meal services, loaning Chromebooks to students in need and providing advice on how to talk about COVID-19 with the students.

For more information and updates, please visit the Ventura County Office of Education website.