Mariposa County Superintendent of Schools Jeff Aranguena used a great analogy on Tuesday morning.
He likened the current situation which the Mariposa County Unified School District is in, to building an airplane while in mid-flight.
That’s an accurate analogy. MCUSD officials continue to adjust on the fly with every day that passes in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Basically, I have meetings with the state every day,” said Aranguena. “Everyone is trying to do their best.”
Aranguena announced last week that the district would remain shuttered until April 20 due to the pandemic. After conferring with the State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond earlier this week, MCUSD and other districts around the state are now being asked to provide enrichment opportunities to students.
What does it mean to provide enrichment opportunities? Essentially, it means providing learning opportunities for students, and support tools for parents. It is providing learning materials while students are home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Everything has happened so quickly. Working with the team yesterday, our focus at this time is to switch the mindset to focusing on distance learning and enrichment opportunity,” said Aranguena. “We have to create that. Our team is working with site administrators and our Mariposa County Teachers Association to develop those plans. You are seeing some of those plans rolled out to teachers first. Our big focus at this time is this has turned into a marathon, and not a sprint. To basically re-tool an entire education system to a distance learning enrichment opportunity system, we’re doing the best we can.”
It’s a tricky task to provide, in “real time,” opportunities for 1,700 students.
“That just doesn’t happen overnight. This is going to be a slow process. But I can guarantee staff is working hard. Principals are working hard. Teachers are working hard,” Aranguena said. “Teachers are excited to get into contact with their students. They’re wanting to be helpful, supportive and provide guidance.”
Parents and guardians can expect to see enrichment materials provided to students soon, but how soon remains unclear.
“We’re trying to figure out what this all means. That’s not just for Mariposa. That’s for the 1,007 school districts in the entire state,” Aranguena said.
Aranguena also made it clear that the enrichment opportunities will simply be a way for students to continue learning, but it will be missing an “accountability” component, meaning the work won’t be graded.
“Local school districts are encouraged to provide enrichment opportunities, but the state is being very clear about it’s very difficult for teachers to provide work for students and have that work be graded. Ultimately, they are encouraged to provide enrichment opportunities but discouraged to provide accountability,” said Aranguena. “Without having that accountability piece, you’re basically tossing out the foundation of what your educational system is based on.”
Part of the reason the work won’t be graded is because of the lack of access and equitability for some students.
“One of the big questions at the state level is ultimately, how can we provide a distance learning education to students in an equitable fashion, meaning if you are a kid that lives in Greeley Hill or El Portal, and you don’t have the same access to internet or technology, how can we provide an equitable education and accountability system? The answer is we simply can’t do that,” Aranguena said.
Aranguena said 41 percent of the districts across the state can’t provide an equitable distance education, and “we are one of those” districts.
“Our entire educational institution is founded and based on the idea that students come to us. We have been asked, by the state, to plan and prepare contingency plans to provide distance learning for the remainder of the school year,” Aranguena said. “You simply don’t do that overnight.”
Despite the difficulty, MCUSD staff continues to work toward developing and implementing distance learning opportunities.
State testing put on hold
Normally, spring is a time of testing around the state. That testing is critical in letting education officials know how students are performing, what needs to be adjusted/ focused on and much more.
Aranguena explained all of that has been put on hold for now.
“At the federal level, the state has applied for a waiver when it comes to assessment and accountability. They are asking to put a pause on all assessment requirements,” he said. “Holistically, the state has applied for a waiver to put a pause on testing. At the state level, that testing has (also) been suspended.”
Another area of concern is high school graduation. Many students, including Advanced Placement (AP) students, have worked for years to compete for the top grades in order to gain acceptance to the university of their dreams.
But questions loom around how high school graduation requirements will be met, with schools closed at the moment.
“A lot of the conversations this week have been around high school graduation and how they will handle that,” Aranguena said. “As of my meeting yesterday, there had not been any final decisions at this time. I’m anticipating that decision will be made at the state level. That is a topic of conversation.”
Focus remains on health
One thing MCUSD has been doing during the pandemic is providing free breakfast and lunch meals to children.
Aranguena said he believed the district served over 833 meals last week.
“That’s been good,” he said.
This is occurring at the following sites from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day:
• Drive through location at Mariposa County High School bus loading zone.
• Walk up locations at Woodland Elementary, El Portal Elementary, Lake Don Pedro Elementary, Greeley Hill Elementary and Sierra Foothill Charter School.
The meals will be available for free to anyone in the community 18 and under, regardless of what school they attend. No paperwork is required. Children must be present in order for the meals to be provided. Meals will be provided based on the number of children present.
The program is solely provided for pick up, and meals will not be consumed on-site. Families are encouraged to be proactive in reducing the risk of Covid-19 by not congregating at the school site and by utilizing social distancing.
Those in need of food services who cannot pick up meals should reach out by calling (209) 628-7915 or (209) 742-0250.
He said MCUSD staff is working with county officials to possibly provide food services to homes, and not just pick-up services.
“Our focus continues to be the health and safety of our students, families and community, and then it’s about taking the time to plan and prepare for possible enrichment distance learning opportunities for the remainder of the school year,” he said.