Jhe International School of Arizona, a private school in Scottsdale that offers French and Spanish immersion programs, will offer a flexible hybrid education model this school year.
The model combines innovative technology for remote learners and a host of new safety measures and protocols for students and staff returning to campus, including mask requirements.
The school offers programs for children from 18 months to eighth grade.
“We reached out to our families and listened to their needs and realized that we needed to offer both in-class and remote learning,” said ISA Director Micheline Dutil-Hoffmann.
This summer, ISA sent out two surveys to families to gauge their comfort level with returning to campus and about half of respondents said they preferred remote learning over in-person.
Scottsdale resident Lyrna Schoon was one such parent.
Schoon’s two daughters attend the ISA; one is enrolled in the French stream, the other in the Spanish stream.
“With the current COVID-19 caseload in Maricopa County, my husband and I feel safer having our children attend online classes. Our family situation allows our two daughters to stay at home,” Schoon said.
In response to surveys, ISA has invested in Promethean ActivPanel – interactive screens and displays with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and enabling educational live streams and high-quality online instruction.
ISA has equipped all 16 classrooms with a blackboard, the cost of which ranges from $3,000 to $13,000.
“With this technology, our students at home will be able to talk, 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 staff spend the week before classes started learning how to use them, but since ActivPanels classes are streamed live to remote students, ISA had to increase its Wi-Fi capacity.
“Essentially, you live stream 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 was grateful for ISA’s hybrid model approach and was confident her daughters would receive the same level of education as their in-person peers.
“Because of ISA’s small class sizes, the school creates a personalized experience for students. This experience gives us confidence that the educational level of our daughters at ISA will remain high,” said Schoon.
Because half the students are staying home, ISA is able to move desks further away, maximizing each class at five or six students, Dutil-Hoffmann said.
“It allows the air to circulate in the room. You don’t cram a lot of bodies in that room, so you have the physical space,” she added.
Dutil-Hoffmann said she received no feedback from staff regarding in-person schooling.
Instead, the instructors were “very eager to get back to work and get back to teaching.”
“That’s what they like to do,” Dutil-Hoffmann said. “That’s why they come from abroad, to share their language and culture. Their heart is truly in the classroom.
“I have not received any rejection because we have taken extreme precautions in order to make this return a safe return,” she added.
The ISA has implemented safety measures based on CDC guidelines and other practices learned from Dutil-Hoffmann’s discussions with other international schools.
Safety measures include temperature checks, health screening questions and disinfecting students’ hands before 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 place disinfection mats at all entrances.
All large surfaces will be disinfected two to four times a day.
All students in grades one through eight must wear a mask, unless they have a medical condition.
And staff will be given face shields to wear over their masks.
In addition, the playground will be divided into separate zones and the children will rotate throughout the week in these different zones.
“There were many, many countries that were able to go back to school in May and early June, and I was able to get information on how they did it,” Dutil-Hoffmann said.
“I took best practices from France, from Canada, from the east coast here, where the 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 smooth,” she said.
“The parents were extremely happy and extremely grateful because they could see that we were all wearing masks. We were all following the protocol I presented to them,” Dutil-Hoffmann added.
If a student or staff member tests positive, however, Dutil-Hoffmann has a plan in place for that scenario as well.
“According to CDC guidelines, if there is a child or teacher who tests positive in the classroom, we must close that class for 14 days. People have to quarantine, if you will, or self-isolate; 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.
This is where morning wellness checks come in.
“The health check consists of taking the temperature and asking if the person has symptoms; you ask if they slept well and if they traveled outside the county in the past 14 days,” Dutil-Hoffmann explained.
“The reason we’re doing this isn’t to be punitive, but it’s for tracking purposes: if someone freezes, we can go back and say, OK, that person was out of line. county, out of Maricopa for the past two weeks.” she says.
On August 6, the Arizona Department of Health Services released a set of health benchmarks that schools can use to determine when it is safe to resume 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 able” 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 made based on extensive consultation with our families, based on consultation with our board because we are a private school.
“Our decision to reopen was based on the fact that 50% of our children would be at home. If we had had 100% of the kids wanting to come back, this couldn’t have happened.
“So,” she continued, “the numbers are small and the precautions are huge.”
Students in grades 1 through 8 at ISA start school on August 17.