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Episode 97: Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary Teachers Ready to “Rock” the New School Year with Amazing Students and Creative Classrooms

It is the opportunity of a lifetime for teachers at Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary School. They can’t wait to start teaching in their virtual classrooms this school year, leading the way as pioneers of sorts in personalized learning for students in Jordan School District.

On this episode of the Supercast, we talk with some of the Rocky Peak Elementary teachers who say they are ready to rock the new school year with amazing students and creative virtual classrooms where learning will be fun and engaging.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. It is the opportunity of a lifetime for teachers and students at Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary School. They are thrilled to let the learning begin in their virtual classrooms this school year, leading the way in personalized learning for students in Jordan School District. On this episode of the Supercast, we talk with some of the Rocky Peak Elementary teachers who say they are ready to rock the school year with amazing students and creative virtual classrooms where learning will be fun and engaging.

We are here at Hidden Valley Middle School to talk with Ross Menlove and members of the faculty of Rocky Peak Elementary School, our virtual school, that launches in the fall. Ross, thanks for taking some time.

Ross Menlove:
It's a pleasure to be here with the Superintendent.

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me about some of the preparations that are happening for the fall. We're excited about not one, not two, but three new virtual schools launching, giving students some additional options that they haven't had in exactly this format before. What is some of the preparation that's been happening this summer?

Ross Menlove:
Some of the preparation that has been happening is we brought in all of our teachers from all the levels, from the elementary, middle school and high school, and we did a few days of training on competency based education and personalized learning. So providing that choice and voice for students as they go through their learning process. Part of the training was training the teachers on competency based education and providing time for teachers to work on their curriculum. The teachers have been spending quite a bit of time this summer building out curriculum, specifically designed for personalized learning for their students.

Anthony Godfrey:
One of the more common questions we get as educators is, 'so what do you guys do all summer?'  I know that there's always a lot of work that goes on, and this year in particular, for these teachers in particular, there's a lot of work. Not just to create content and be prepared to help students learn virtually, but also to be, as you say, competency-based and truly shift the way that we look at learning overall. That combination is powerful. You can give us some more details about this, but really this type of approach can work very well for a student who struggles and feels like they need some extra individual help, but also for a student who sometimes may get frustrated because they feel they're beyond the instruction that's happening in the classroom.

Ross Menlove:
So at Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary our mission is personalized education. We focus on the student, what the student needs. So parents as they look at the virtual elementary, they have two curriculum choices for their students. They have synchronous choice in which they are able to learn live with their teachers, and the teachers are designing that curriculum specifically for those students. Or they have an asynchronous choice in which they are able to learn at their own pace, their own place. They don't meet with the teacher live every single day in the asynchronous, but they have the teacher there available to meet with them daily, if they need. It's very personalized and designed specifically for that child and for those students.

Anthony Godfrey:
I think that is uniquely possible through a virtual approach and the way that you structured it. It even gives a lot of choices within the virtual school because we've talked about virtual learning as a choice. Even within virtual learning, you have synchronous, asynchronous, and you have opportunities to come in person as well. Tell us a little bit about that option.

Ross Menlove:
So one of the options we have for students it's called 'Peak Time'. We have two physical locations for Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary, one at Majestic Elementary, at the north end of Jordan District, and one at here at Hidden Valley in the south end of the District. Students can come in two days a week to do hands-on science, STEM, art, P.E., and social studies. Those 'Peak Time' activities are taught by the teachers. So it's a very enriching curriculum, but it's a fun opportunity just to come and learn and grow and be social with other students.

Anthony Godfrey:
So there really are a number of different layers to being able to learn at Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary School, and that's what I love about it. It's all the choices within that virtual option. Let's talk with a couple of the teachers who are on your faculty.  I just am going to note that we had a ton of applicants, so we really have some of the best teachers anywhere that are working on this and launching Rocky Peak. Introduce yourself, tell us where you were teaching and give us a little bit about yourselves.

Kasey Chambers:
I'm Kasey Chambers, I'm the fifth grade teacher at Rocky Peak Virtual. I have been with Jordan School District since I graduated from BYU, for nine years now.  I've been at Butterfield Canyon for all of those nine years, so it was a hard choice to change, but I couldn't resist the opportunity. I'm really excited to be teaching virtually.

Ashley Tanner:
I'm Ashley Tanner. I have been teaching for seven, eight years and I've taught kindergarten through fifth. This is actually my second year in Jordan School District.  I will be teaching third grade this year and I'm really excited.  I taught online last year and I'm really excited to take a more proactive approach to virtual education this year.

Anthony Godfrey:
I think you make a really good point that it's going to be different from the online and virtual learning that has happened previously. I like to look at it in kind of three phases. There was the phase where we just shut down immediately and we all had to kind of do the best we could with what we had. I think we did really well given the circumstances. Then the next year that was really pandemic learning, that was available virtually for every student who wanted it, and every teacher who wanted to teach that way, and some teachers who didn't plan on teaching that way, but were asked to. And again, I think that went very well. There were certainly always things that could be better when you do something that fast and that dramatic of a change. But again, given the circumstances, I thought that teachers and students and families pitched in together and did an extraordinary job of making that available. A lot of those choices were based on the need to be home for personal health reasons, and now going forward, the virtual option is really available for those who feel that teaching and learning in a virtual environment is going to be best for them personally. So Ashley, tell me, what was it about teaching virtually that made you want to continue to do that?

Ashley Tanner:
I think the unexpected part of virtual teaching last year that I enjoyed so much was the support from home.  I would bring to the table the curriculum. The what do we need to learn, and how is the best way to learn it. All of that science and the education that I bring as a teacher. Then I got to combine that with the experts on that child. With their family, with their guardians and we combine that together.  I would present here's what I want to teach, here's what you should learn, here's why you should learn it. Then the parents would say, great, I know my child, here's their strengths, here's their talents. We're going to combine those things together, and I had kids that soared. I mean, it was so exciting by the end of the year to see them above not only where they should be, but they excelled. They did more than I thought they would do. They did more than I thought they would do, even if I were in a brick and mortar school with them. So it was really exciting to be a part of that team where the parents, and the guardians, and me, and the school, all came together and something great, unexpectedly great, came out of it.

Anthony Godfrey:
Kasey, tell us about your experience and what made you want to continue teaching virtually

Kasey Chambers:
Kind of like Ashley, I was asked to go online, and Ross will tell you I went on kicking and screaming. But, we're here and I ended up really, really enjoying it, obviously. One of the things that I loved about it was that there's a lot of things that go on in a school that don't need to go on at home. So like the PE, the transition time, going to lunch and having recess. The 'I need you guys to read a book for 15 minutes while I grade this quiz' type of things. There's a lot in a school day and all of it's great, but what's really cool about virtual is that it's kind of formulaic in a way.  I can say these are the five things we're learning today. We're going to teach it and you can do it on your own time. These are my clear expectations. I taught more social studies, more science than I have any other year just because of how our days are filled if they're just at home. So I don't need to send them to recess. I don't need to have them take a break unnecessarily for a recess or whatever. We don't have to go to lunch. So it was really cool just to see how much I could fit in and the unique ways that kids could tell me that they learned. There's many different ways, they can make a video, they can do all of these things. It felt a lot easier to differentiate for my kids as well.  I had several students who just excelled and loved it so much, which was really unexpected. I think for a lot of teachers, we thought, 'oh, this is just going to be terrible. They're going to miss seeing me every day in person,' but they loved it and they did well, and they helped me keep getting better because they were doing so well. So it was awesome.

Anthony Godfrey:
You both mentioned a deeper level of connection. Connection with family, and the connection between the teacher and the student. When you clear away some of what is necessary when you're in person, but not necessary when you're virtual, it creates some space for additional learning. I find it remarkable that both of you were able to teach more and saw more from students in a virtual environment.  I think that has actually been true of a lot of people I've talked with and in articles I've read about adults who are working from home and productivity has gone up. So it sounds like that's been your experience with students as well, that productivity went up, interest levels went up, and really they were able to focus on the things that they needed or that were important to them.

Kasey Chambers:
I agree. I think a big thing too, is that we all recognize that online learning is not for every kid. There were some kids who needed to be in person and we all recognize that.  I was very surprised at how there's so many different things that we just didn't think about that would help a kid do better at home.

Anthony Godfrey:
What are some of the other positive experiences you've seen as students have learned virtually Ashley?

Ashley Tanner:
Well, obviously every year teachers are trying to better themselves. We're trying to educate ourselves more on how to really teach these children, and we know that students learn differently.  I think one of the things that I really enjoyed about teaching students in their home was that I had some students that were more kinesthetic learners, so they got to move around more and they got to be more physical with their learning. There were some students that were more auditory and they could really doodle. There were so many different ways that these students could learn. They would build things, they would want to talk in groups in breakout rooms, but they would also just want to be introspective. We had the space and the teaching virtually to allow them to process what they were learning and the way that they learn.

Anthony Godfrey:
I hopped online to read as part of a reading initiative. And I read to an entire third grade class in a school. So the whole grade was together on a huge zoom call. A couple of kids hopped on and said, "oh, no, if you do this, then..." They were giving me advice on how to hold the book and angle the camera and turn off my mute button, you know, those types of things.

When we come back, we'll take you on a tour of the new Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary School.

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Anthony Godfrey:
We're here at Hidden Valley Middle School with Ross Menlove, Principal of Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary School. We're excited that there's space in our newest middle school here at Hidden Valley to provide time for students and teachers to interact for 'Peak Time' a couple of times a week, as you have described. This is where the offices will be, with a counseling center, and there are a few modifications being made. Can you kind of walk us through the facilities?

Ross Menlove:
As students walk in, they're going to walk into this really big open area. The open area is designed for 'Peak Time' for kids to be able to come in, interact with their teacher, do some hands-on learning, do some science experiments and STEM activities. We also have three classrooms specifically set aside for 'Peak Time' for kids to be able to come in. One of those classrooms is a science specific classroom.

Anthony Godfrey:
Let's walk over there.

Ross Menlove: One of those classrooms is a science room where we have linoleum floors. We have gas piped in, you have water. So kids are able to do some actual science projects. It'll be fun to see what the teachers do with the students during 'Peak Time'.

Anthony Godfrey:
I can see that this is a totally separate wing with a separate entryway at the back of the school. So really, there isn't going to be any interaction with the middle school students who are here day in and day out.

Ross Menlove:
Yes, that is correct. We're specifically designing this space for elementary, middle school and high school. So as the kids walk in, there's going to be spaces designed specifically for those elementary students. Lower desks for kids to be able to work together in groups, but also for the middle school and high school to come in and work independently on their work they need to.

Anthony Godfrey:
This is a lab that wouldn't normally be available at the elementary level. So they're getting access to some things that they wouldn't normally see.

Ross Menlove:
Yes, it's pretty exciting. We're going to do some really fun science experiments and some STEM to be able to deepen our love of learning. 'Peak Time' is a time for kids just to come and enjoy learning and enjoy being with their teachers. Teachers are able to teach without having to worry about a test or anything like that. Just do it for the love of teaching.

Anthony Godfrey:
Just as a reminder, it's not required that anyone come to 'Peak Time' or that they do anything in person.

Ross Menlove:
That is correct. In our school they can be at home for the entire thing or wherever they're at. We can customize their learning for what they need and wherever their location may be.

Anthony Godfrey:
I saw that there's also a separate counseling area and there'll be computers where students can come and work. That's been something that students have wanted to do over time. We've had virtual students for a long time in the district, not virtual schools, but students who wanted to learn virtually. Now if elementary students need individual, in-person help, they can to get that as well.

Ross Menlove:
Yes, that is correct. We invite the elementary students to come in individually to meet with their teachers one-on-one. The elementary students can be learning from home for their major curriculum, but if they need that individual time, they can either come in during 'Peak Time' or schedule a time one-on-one with the teacher.

Anthony Godfrey:
It's exciting. There's so many different layers, so many different aspects to the way that students can learn directly, individually and in a personalized way.

Ross Menlove:
Yes, we're personalizing the instruction for the student. The student is in the driver's seat and the student and the parents are the ones who get to make the educational choices. What's best learning for them and for their learning needs

Anthony Godfrey:
I love how you're adapting this wing of the school to make it a very welcoming and interactive environment.  I think it's a great component to a virtual school.

Ross Menlove:
That's when it's pretty exciting. Rocky Peak Virtual is going to be pretty awesome.

Anthony Godfrey:
Ross, thanks to you and your faculty and everyone else who's worked to make this possible. I know you've been involved in this type of learning for a very long time. So all of your experience has prepared you so well for this.  I'm thrilled to offer this to families and students in Jordan District.

Ross Menlove:
That's when it's pretty exciting. Rocky Peak Virtual is going to be pretty awesome. The website for the school is rockypeak.jordandistrict.org  It has information there and some videos. Go on and meet the teachers.

Anthony Godfrey:
Thanks again for the time. Great talking with you.

Students can enroll now in Rocky Peak Virtual Elementary School, by going to connect.jordandistrict.org. Thanks for joining us on the Supercast. Remember education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see you out there.

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