The International School of Arizona, a private school in Scottsdale that offers French and Spanish language immersion programs, will offer a flexible hybrid teaching model this school year.
The model combines innovative technology for remote learners and a slew of new safety measures and protocols for students and staff returning to campus, including mask requirements.
The school offers programs to kids 18 months old through eighth grade.
“We reached out to our families and listened to their needs and realized that we had to offer both in-class and remote learning,” said ISA Headmaster Micheline Dutil-Hoffmann.
This summer, ISA sent two surveys to families to gauge their comfort level with returning to campus and about half of the respondents said they prefer remote learning over in-person.
Scottsdale resident Lyrna Schoon was one of those parents.
Schoon’s two daughters attend ISA; one is enrolled in the French track, the other in the Spanish track.
“With the current COVID-19 caseload in Maricopa County, my husband and I feel safer having our children take classes online. Our family situation allows for our two daughters to stay home,” Schoon said.
In response to the surveys, ISA invested in Promethean ActivPanel Boards – interactive displays and screens that feature integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and allow for educational live-streams and online instruction that maintain a high quality.
ISA equipped all 16 classrooms with a board, which range in cost from $3,000 to $13,000.
“With this technology, our students at home will be able to speak, ask questions and participate as if they were in the classroom,” Dutil-Hoffmann said.
Installing the ActivPanels brought its own unique challenges.
Not only did the staff spend the week leading up to the start of classes learning how to use them, but because the ActivPanels live-stream lessons to remote students, ISA had to increase their Wi-Fi capacity.
“Essentially, you’re streaming live for eight hours a day or six hours a day. So, we had to increase our capacity, which is a financial investment,” Dutil-Hoffmann said.
Schoon said she’s grateful for ISA’s hybrid-model approach and that she feels confident her daughters will receive the same level of instruction as their in-person peers.
“Due to ISA’s small class sizes, the school creates a personalized experience for students. This experience gives us the comfort that the level of our daughters’ education at ISA will remain high,” Schoon said.
Because half of the students are staying home, ISA is able to distance the desks, maxing each classroom out at five or six students, Dutil-Hoffmann said.
“It allows for airflow in the room. You’re not cramming a lot of bodies into that room, so you’ve got the physical space,” she added.
Dutil-Hoffmann said she received zero pushback from staff regarding in-person schooling.
Instead, the instructors were “very eager to come back to work and back to teaching.”
“That’s what they love to do,” Dutil-Hoffmann said. “That’s why they come from overseas, in order to share their language and their culture. Their heart really is in the classroom.”
“I didn’t get any pushback because we’ve gone to extreme precautions in order to make this a safe return,” she added.
ISA implemented safety measures based on CDC guidelines and other practices gleaned from Dutil-Hoffmann’s discussions with other international schools.
Safety measures include temperature checks, health screening questions, and disinfecting students’ hands prior to entering the building; installation of HEPA-grade air filters in all classrooms and community spaces, as well as hand sanitizer and water bottle filling stations; and placing sanitization mats at all entrances.
All large surfaces will be disinfected two to four times a day.
All first through eight graders must wear a mask, unless they have a medical condition.
And the staff will receive face shields to wear over their masks.
Plus, the playground will be divided into separate areas, and the children will rotate throughout the week to those different areas.
“There were many, many countries that were able to return to school in May and in beginning of June, and I was able to get information as to how they did it,” Dutil-Hoffmann said.
“I took best practices from France, from Canada, from the East Coast here, where schools had gone back.”
Dutil-Hoffmann’s plan was put to the test last week when preschoolers returned to campus.
“I have to say, it was a smooth,” she said.
“Parents were extremely happy and extremely appreciative because they could see, we were all wearing masks. We were all following the protocol as I had laid out for them to see,” Dutil-Hoffmann added.
Should a student or staff member test positive, however, Dutil-Hoffmann has a plan in place for that scenario, too.
“According to CDC guidelines, if there is a child or a teacher who tests positive in the classroom, we need to shut down that class for 14 days. People have to go into a quarantine, if you will, or self-isolation; and we have to respect that because if there is a positive case, we have to do our part to stop it in its tracks,” Dutil-Hoffmann said.
That’s where the morning wellness checks come into play.
“The wellness check is you take the temperature and you ask if the person has any symptoms; you ask if they’ve had a good sleep and if they’ve traveled outside of the County for the last 14 days,” Dutil-Hoffmann explained.
“The reason we do that is not to be punitive, but it’s for tracking purposes: If anyone becomes still, we can go back and say, OK, this person was out of the county, out of Maricopa within the last two weeks,” she said.
On Aug. 6, the Arizona Department of Health Services released a set of health benchmarks that schools may use to determine when it’s safe to return to in-person instruction during the pandemic.
This followed Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman’s statement on Aug. 3 that the state is “not currently in a place” to resume in-person instruction or hybrid learning models.
“I absolutely respect what the superintendent of education has to say,” Dutil-Hoffmann said. “This is a decision that was arrived at based on lengthy consultation with our families, based on a consultation with our board of directors because we are a private school.
“Our decision to reopen was based on the fact that 50 percent of our kids would be at home. If we had had 100 percent of the kids wanting to come back, this would not have been able to happen.”
“So,” she continued, “the numbers are small and the precautions are huge.”
ISA grades 1 through 8 start school Aug. 17.