The Auburn School District took a unique approach to education during the COVID-19 pandemic by offering night classes, something no other district in Washington offered.
When the news came in summer 2020 that in-person classes were cancelled, district officials held a meeting to discuss the upcoming year with parents. The district heard a lot of concerns from parents that online classes during the day might not work, said Vicki Alonzo, director of communications.
For online school to work, especially for younger students, they need an adult there to help them along. If a parent is out working during the day, the student might not have the help they need to be successful in class, Alonzo said.
After that realization last summer, the district worked with teachers, and together they developed a plan to offer classes in the evening. The classes went from 4:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. with a dinner break in the middle. Students from 15 different schools all enrolled in the p.m. classes.
“Enough teachers volunteered that we actually had about 400 K-5 kids go through the p.m. classes,” Alonzo said.
Julie McKenzie, a kindergarten teacher in Auburn, volunteered to teach p.m. classes because it worked with her schedule as a mom.
“I’m the mother of four kids, three in elementary and one in middle school, so I was thinking, how am I going to help my kids with online school while also teaching a class all day?” McKenzie said. “So when the district offered the p.m. classes to our students, it worked for me. I could be a mom during the day and help my kids with their classes and then teach during the evening.”
Despite some challenges, McKenzie said overall the online p.m. classes worked well for her students.
“I have only positive things to say about it. I received a lot of positive feedback from parents and my students had tremendous academic growth,” McKenzie said. “Some students started the year not knowing any letters and finished the year as readers and ready for first grade.”
The partnership between teachers and parentsis what made the p.m. classes so successful — parents were able to help their kids navigate online classes, McKenzie said. McKenzie taught a class of 15 students from a variety of schools, and despite this, they developed a real sense of community, she said, and kids became friends through online class.
“To me it speaks volumes that our district leaders care about the students and families and that they had in their heart what was best for our families,” McKenzie said. “It was a lot of work to take kids from 15 schools and make an online school, create class lists, and find staff. They could have done nothing, but instead they said, ‘we hear you, we care, what can we do?’”
The Auburn School District has created a permanent online school like many other districts in the state have done. Although p.m. classes won’t be an option, the online school will function like a traditional brick and mortar school, with permanent teachers and a principal.
“Most kids learn best in-person, but some students thrive in an online environment,” Alonzo said. “Previously if a student wanted that option, they would have to transfer to a different district that offers online classes. We’re planning on offering online classes for grades K-12.”