Creating a Vibrant Online Campus Community for Young Learners

Altadena Arts Magnet rises to the challenge of online learning
Published on Dec 12, 2020

Magnet Coordinator Regina Major poses with Ms. Ashley Webb, a kindergarten teacher at Altadena Arts Magnet.

Teaching a curriculum that has become primarily online-based has been a challenge for teachers throughout the country. But according to a group of PUSD teachers, their school has found ways to engage even their youngest learners.

Pasadena Now spoke with a group of kindergarten teachers at Altadena Arts Magnet, who shared their large and small victories with teaching in such an unprecedented situation.

Victoria Camargo teaches visual arts to both teachers and students. Camargo visits any number of classes during the school week to provide her arts-based curriculum.

“I’m able to pop in on their classes and teach them a lesson,” she explained. “Sometimes we read a book, sometimes we go through slides and pictures of artwork and learn about artists. And then we practice in our sketchbooks and then we create art.

Ms. Victoria Camargo, Altadena’s Arts Curriculum Specialist, pictured in the school’s Keni Arts Art Studio, named after the local artist.

“And at the end of the lesson,” she continued, “the kids hold up their work. And I’m always just so amazed at what they’re able to get just through the screen, I’m so impressed with their work and seeing their smiling faces and getting a few minutes to let them ask questions or share their work has been a very positive experience.”

She is pleased and surprised at the progress, saying, “It’s going much better than I could have imagined that it would. And, of course, I miss them being in class and we look forward to that happening again, but it hasn’t stopped us from going forward.”

Ashley Webb, an English kindergarten teacher in her sixth year at Altadena—a dual language school—is also delighted in the year so far, given the challenges.

“It’s going great,” she said recently. Webb noted that she does a lot of movement activities and what she calls “brain breaks,” to ease the pace of the school day.

Webb also works with smaller groups—one a day until she has met with each student by the end of the week—but says she tries to create “engaging” lessons that allow the students to be taught more “hands-on.

“It’s so they’re not just sitting and staring at a screen,” she explained, “almost like we’re in school. We’re doing everything we would in school, but just online, as best as we can.”

Sophie Durand, who teaches French kindergarten, also does the bulk of her online teaching mostly in small groups, she explained.

Since Durand’s students are also French immersion students, group lessons consist of French language development skills. To create a comfortable environment for students’ just beginning to learn French, Durand starts each class with a routine called “Good Things.”

‘That’s where they get to share something special or something going on in their life with just that little personal connection that we get to have,” she continued, “because I find that we don’t really have that online, in-person, they would tell us everything about their day. So we start off with that and it’s also a great way to get them practicing French.”

Amanda Gould, who teaches English Kindergarten, along with a number of other courses, also adds a unique element to her own curriculum—social emotional learning.

As Gould explained, “These are the skills that students may be getting less now at home because they don’t really have as many other kids to interact with, as they would in a classroom of 20 students.”

Students get the chance to talk about feelings said Gould, noting that around Thanksgiving weekend, students talked about “being thankful and having gratitude.”

“We’ve talked about sharing and just how to get along with others, dealing with our emotions, and that kind of emotional aspect of the students.”

Though certainly acknowledging that the online experience is unique, to say the least, each teacher would agree that Altadena brings much to what might be a dull, staring-at-the-screen existence.

As Webb described the experience, “What we give our kindergarteners at Altadena is very unique because we do have all of the arts. And so children from the beginning of school are already falling in love with learning because they’re also having fun by participating in the arts.

“The arts curriculum really helps to keep children excited, and really develop that love for learning,” she continued, “beginning in kindergarten. And we’ve been able to maintain that love for learning, even virtually.

And some things are the same, like coming to campus early to meet with friends, she said.

“Children are signing on to the Google Meet early because they’re so excited to come to school and they want to talk to their friends. So that’s another great thing. They’ve still been able to kind of form friendships with people they’ve never met even online.”

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